GARDEN CITY, Idaho — When Idaho native Melanie Krause left the Treasure Valley for Washington state to learn viticulture and enology in 2001, she wasn't sure if she would return home to make wine.
She grew up loving the conditions that allowed her to ski, mountain bike and cast her fly-fishing rod, but she doubted if the Snake River Valley could produce the quality of fruit necessary.
Proof sits in her award-winning bottles of Cinder Wines -- our 2012 Idaho Winery of the Year.
"After six harvests in Idaho, we are convinced that we made the right choice to come back here," Krause said. "We have a great climate and even with the high elevation, it's proven that it's not more difficult to grow great fruit here. We have no more damage here than you'll find anywhere else in North America.
"In fact, we've had better luck the past six years in the Snake River Valley than Washington has," she added. "They've had two straight vintages of significant damage, and we didn't have that."
The 2010 vintage paved the way for the Chardonnay that took a gold medal at the 2011 Idaho Wine Competition. And 2009, her favorite vintage thus far, allowed her to produce the Syrah that also garnered a gold medal, making Cinder the only entrant in the judging to win a top award in both red and white categories.
"In 2009, that was a dead-on average vintage considering temperature profile, growing season and everything, and we've made beautiful whites and beautiful reds," Krause said. "That was important -- to have a perfectly average year and later see how the wines turned out."
When Cinder earned our Idaho Winery to Watch award in 2009, case production was 1,000 cases. She's nearly tripled production in the past three years, and the lineup continues to be an easy sell for Joe Schnerr, her business partner/husband. He left Micron in 2009 to dedicate himself to Krause & Schnerr Family Cellars.
"There have been enough grapes to grow at a rate to sustain the business," she said. "Joe keeps selling out the wines as fast as I can make them."
And that doesn't include the 1,000 cases she also creates for upstart Huston Vineyards in Caldwell, Idaho.
"They are selling their wines faster than I can make them, too, and they started in 2008," she said.
Aside from using Riesling as the base of the popular Chicken Dinner White wine for Huston, Krause does not work with Idaho's most widely planted grape. Instead, the former Chateau Ste. Michelle assistant winemaker prizes Rhone varieties Syrah and Viognier. Her delicious dry rose comes from Syrah, and she crafts three styles of Viognier, doubling her production of that grape every vintage. She also is bullish on Tempranillo, and her 2009 Temp was featured last fall in Washington State University's Wine by Cougars Club program.
Krause, who earned biology and Spanish degrees from WSU, works primarily with seven vineyards in the Snake River Valley, including the organic Rocky Fence in Emmett and the young Martin Brothers Vineyard, an east-facing site in Adrian, Ore.
The relationships allowed her to launch a second brand called Laissez Faire, a 250-case project under an Old World-style label and priced at $17. The debut 2010 vintage, a fruit-forward red blend, spent nine months in barrels more than a decade old.
"These are not our leftover lots," Krause said. "I'm making it in a radically different style from Cinder wines. They are made to drink on a burger night or pizza night or like you would an inexpensive label from Europe."
Last fall, Krause and Schnerr hired their first full-time employee to keep up with the stock-keeping units as they prepare for the arrival of their first child, a daughter who is expected early this spring.
"We already have 10 (wines) in our family of wines, so she'll be the 11th," Schnerr said with a chuckle.