BOISE — By the sounds of it, Bill Fraser might try to convince you that the best part about being a winemaker in Idaho is that it doesn't get in the way of his winter fun.
"I only work April to October," Fraser chuckled. "We just got back from Mexico, and then we're heading to Sun Valley because I like to ski. This really is a great job."
It's obvious there's much more work being done at Fraser Vineyard in the Snake River Valley than he lets on. Sure, he works with small lots and his total production doesn't top 1,000 cases, but Fraser dotes on his vines in Caldwell and the barrels at his winery near Boise State University's famous football stadium.
The results make it easy to name Fraser Vineyard as Wine Press Northwest's 2011 Idaho Winery of the Year.
"Idaho needs five more winemakers like Bill who want to increase production to 10,000 cases a year," said Gary Cunningham of 3 Horse Ranch Vineyards in Eagle, Idaho. "Nothing would make me happier than to get Bill to change his mind and get bigger."
The consumer stands to benefit from there being more Fraser Vineyard wines. After all, his 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon was voted Best Red and Best in Show at the 2010 Idaho Wine Competition. Two others that still haven't been released - 2008 Cabernet Sauvignon and 2009 Malbec - also earned gold medals at the October judging.
Last spring, his 2008 Randonee, a 50/50 split of Malbec and Syrah, received an "Outstanding!" from Wine Press Northwest's tasting panel. The 2007 Couloir Cuvee, a blend of Merlot (76 percent) with Cabernet Sauvignon, rated an "Excellent" and appeared in our Best Buy category because it retailed for a mere $14.
"I prefer the Bordeaux varieties more for my personal drinking, and Syrah is not one of my favorites, but you've got to plant and grow what does well here," Fraser said.
So he makes Syrah from Skyline and Sawtooth vineyards. This spring, he'll release his first Petite Sirah, which came off Williamson and Skyline.
Only three varieties are planted at his estate - Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Petit Verdot, and Fraser, 62, seems content. That's because it took such work getting to this point after spending more than three decades in the Boise construction business.
And starting a winery outside of Idaho wasn't a consideration, either. After all, he's a fourth-generation Idahoan, starting with his great-grandfather who ran a ferry across the Snake River during the Civil War.
"My wife and I planted the vineyard in 2003, and we did all the work ourselves - including the trellising, the drip irrigation and the 4,000 postholes," he said. "It's pretty frightening when you think about it. You spend three years just to get your first crop, then it goes into barrel for two years, then you bottle it and say to yourself, 'Geez, I hope someone is going to buy it.' "
The wines off his 5 acres practically sell themselves, which is a good thing.
"I'm very shy, and this is difficult talking about this," Fraser said.
On the other hand, his ponytail attracts attention.
"It drives my wife nuts," he said. "It goes back to the Bush years. I should cut it off, but it's kind of the winemaker affectation."
Over the years, Fraser leaned on several winemakers for advice, including Steve McCarthy of Frenchman's Gulch Winery in Sun Valley, who also sports a ponytail. There's also Leslie Preston - "Leslie is really good at chemistry, and I certainly wasn't a chemistry major in college" - Gina Davis (Davis Creek), Greg Koenig, Melanie Krause (Cinder) and Angie Riff (Periple).
"We're all pretty close, and we get together quite a bit," Fraser said.
And who wouldn't want to drink his wines?
"We've started this up, and it's taken off," he said. "I was in construction for so long, and this is an entire new group of people - the restaurants, the retailers, the farmers and the people who stop by to buy wine. It's all been fun."
10004 La Pointe St., Boise, ID, 208-345-9607, fraservineyard.com.