72 hours touring Boise and its wine scene

December 19, 2016 

A decade ago, it might have been difficult to picture Boise as a hub for wine tourism.

Thanks to a number of winemakers who have fallen in love with the outdoors, the weather and culinary delights that the Snake River Valley has to offer, there’s no looking back.

“We’re very approachable, and that’s one of the things I really like about our industry,” said Moya Dolsby, executive director for the Idaho Wine Commission. “I don’t find that the wine scene here is intimidating at all. On the other hand, I still get intimidated whenever I go to Napa.”

Dolsby arrived in 2008 to take over the Idaho Wine Commission after spending several years at the Washington State Wine Commission, and the Great Recession stalled growth of her industry in Idaho. There are 52 wineries and 1,300 acres of vineyards in the state, about the same as a decade ago.

Most of those wineries and nearly all the vines are in the Snake River Valley, a vast growing area that stretches roughly from Ontario, Ore., nearly to Twin Falls, Idaho. The state capital is nearly in the middle, and Boise restaurateurs — particularly those with a farm-to-fork approach — are recognized as a major factor in the growth. Dolsby made sure to reach out to local chefs when she launched Savor Idaho, the state’s largest food and wine celebration. And the continued buzz surrounding these restaurants draws both tourists and residents downtown, where many of Boise’s historic buildings have been preserved and/or renovated.

“It’s amazing to see the restaurant wine lists now compared to eight years ago,” Dolsby said. “Idaho wines are on almost every list all year long.”

A recent study indicated the Idaho wine industry meant $169 million and 1,250 jobs to the state’s economy. There are exciting new plantings coming online in the next few years, including those by the Martin brothers on the Oregon side of the Snake River in Adrian, but the lack of new sources for Idaho fruit have prompted many of these top winemakers to reach into Washington state for grapes to help slake the thirst for locally produced wines.

Seattle-based Precept Wine, the Pacific Northwest’s largest privately owned vintner, owns Ste. Chapelle and Sawtooth wineries, and it recently consolidated production for both brands at its Sunnyslope facility next to Ste. Chapelle. Its investments include the recently remodeled the tasting room and deck as well as plans for a 5,000-seat amphitheater.

Within view of Ste. Chapelle are two new tasting rooms for established brands Koenig Vineyards and Williamson Vineyards. And 2016 began with the opening of Telaya’s remarkable winery/tasting room in Garden City next to the Riverside Hotel and the Boise Greenbelt. There are bike racks for daytime visitors, a fire pit for nighttime and hotel guests can take a bottle of wine back to their room because they don’t cross a public street.

“People in Boise always ask me, ‘Where should I go?’ ” Dolsby said. “I tell them, ‘Well, how much time do you have?’ If it’s only a couple of hours, then it’s Garden City. If it’s all day, then I tell them to go out to wine country in the morning, have lunch at the Orchard House, and stop by the urban wineries on your way back to Boise.”

Beyond Boise, the region is behind in terms of lodging and wine-country cuisine, however, there are two on-premise restaurants — Parma Ridge in Parma and Tannins at Crossings Winery in the Hagerman Valley southeast of Boise.

Some of best times to hit these wine trails are June — which Gov. Butch Otter has declared Idaho Wine Month — August during the Sunnyslope Wine Festival and throughout Thanksgiving Weekend. However, it’s quite common to meet thirsty winesters from Nevada or Utah throughout the year.

And since most of these tasting rooms are owner-operated, it’s always best to call ahead when planning a visit.

Urban Wine District

For wine tourists who start off from downtown Boise, it’s a drive of less than 10 minutes — or a 25-minute bike ride — to reach the popular tasting rooms in the bedroom community of Garden City.

Cinder Wines: Melanie Krause studied at Washington State University and trained at Chateau Ste. Michelle before returning home to Boise and launching her winery. She and husband Joe Schnerr have turned their industrial-chic tasting gallery on 44th Street into a regional success story, keyed in large part by the gold medals for her Syrah, Tempranillo and Viognier. An expanding tap program and live music build upon the fandom. Call (208) 376-4023.

Coiled Wines: The most diversified portfolio in Idaho might be that of frenetic talent Leslie Preston, who worked at famed Stags’ Leap Winery in Napa before coming home to raise her family. She sparkles with muscular reds, bone-dry Riesling and classy bubbles. Call (208) 820-8466.

Mouvance Winery: Julon Vineyard in Oregon’s Eola-Amity Hills is the estate source of Pinot Noir for this winery in Boise’s Linen District, and Lonnie Krawl makes these wines in his hometown. Call (208) 629-7781.

Potter Wines: A web search for this Garden City winery brings up jalapenowine.com. That’s correct. Von Potter makes pepper-influenced wines to use in cooking and cocktails. He also bottles Riesling and Syrah. Call (208) 866-7765.

Split Rail Winery/Strange Folk Wines: Jed Glavin makes serious, award-winning wines more approachable with his eclectic labels, fun names and edgy formats, which includes a GSM-style red wine in a can. He’s shared his facility with Syringa Winery, across the alley from Cinder, and the thirst for his wines has led him to sourcing grapes from Washington’s Columbia Valley. Call (208) 490-0681.

Snake River Winery: Arena Valley Vineyards near Parma is one of the oldest sites in Idaho, and Scott DeSeelhorst uses it to make stand-alone wines of Barbera, Blauer Zweigelt, Malbec, Tempranillo and Touriga Naçional. His tasting room/gift shop is in Boise near CenturyLink Arena. Call (208) 345-9463.

Telaya Wine Co.: Earl and Carrie Sullivan built a showpiece tasting room along the Boise River Greenbelt. Their program focuses on Bordeaux-style wines from famous vineyards in Washington state and Rhône-style wines from the Snake River Valley. The 2016 Idaho Winery of the Year, Telaya shares its woodsy digs with Coiled. Call (208) 557-9463.

Terra Nativa Vineyards: Boise developer Richard Pavelek grooms red Bordeaux varieties grown in perhaps the state’s highest elevation vineyard (3,100 feet) in the foothills east of Boise. Annual production is about 600 cases, and he’s open by appointment only. Call (208) 863-5204.

3100 Cellars: Telaya assistant winemaker Hailey Minder pays tribute to Idaho and its 3,100 miles of whitewater rafting with Idaho’s first sparkling wine house. Call (208) 949-6613.

Sunnyslope Wine District

In 2002, there were just 11 wineries in the state. Most of those had sprung up within view of Ste. Chapelle, Idaho’s oldest and largest winery at 120,000 cases, and the historic Sunnyslope growing region remains the Treasure Valley’s quintessential wine country experience. And in 2017, Ste. Chapelle will make room for a separate tasting gallery featuring Sawtooth Winery.

Wine tourists can expect consistent quality throughout the Sunnyslope, in large part because of the presence of Greg Koenig. He heads up the winemaking for his own brand as well as Bitner Vineyards, Williamson Vineyards, 3 Horse Ranch and Scoria. His production manager, Martin Fujishin, also succeeds with his own two brands and tasting room.

Bitner Vineyards: Bee biologist Ron Bitner planted Chardonnay and Riesling in 1981 for Ste. Chapelle. Thanks to Koenig’s winemaking, Bitner’s Riesling is nationally recognized, his young Tempranillo is garnering acclaim, and his wife’s Menopause Merlot project continues to grow. Their deck and B&B offer relaxing views of the Snake River Valley. Call (208) 455-1870.

Fujishin Family Cellars/Lost West Winery: Martin Fujishin pours his eponymous reserve-style wines (Rhônes, Tempranillo, Gewürztraminer), fruit-forward Lost West wines and fills growlers inside the historic packing shed for Robison Fruit Ranch. Call (208) 649-5389.

Hat Ranch Winery/Vale Wine Co.: Tim Harless went to winemaking school in Texas while training Air Force pilots, then chose the Sunnyslope over Washington and Oregon. He’s planted 5 acres of vines and is making beautiful dry Muscat and balanced reds. Call (208) 994-6416.

Hells Canyon Winery/Zhoo Zhoo: Just beyond the crest south of Ste. Chapelle is longtime grower/winemaker Steve Robertson. His Hells Canyon labels are popular with hunters and anglers. His daughters - Bijou, Hadley and Jocelyn - continue the winemaking tradition under provocative labels painted by retired model Babette Beatty.

Huston Vineyards: Gregg Alger established his tasting room and vineyard along Chicken Dinner Road, and he works with Melanie Krause on marvelous Malbec, Riesling and the popular Chicken Dinner Red. Call (208) 455-7975.

Koenig Vineyards: In 2015, Greg Koenig celebrated his 20th anniversary as an Idaho winery, and the Notre Dame architecture grad renewed his commitment by designing and building a beautiful new tasting room adjacent to his winery and vines. His work with Syrah, Zinfandel, Cabernet Sauvignon and Viognier might be surpassed only by his rare TBA-style Rieslings. Brother Andy’s well-crafted brandy and whiskey can be purchased here, too. Call (208) 459-4087.

Parma Ridge Winery: Chef/winemaker Storm Hodge left Seattle to enter the wine industry in his home state, purchasing this estate in 2014. Folks drawn by his gastropub fare become fans of his Storm Red, a blend of Cabernet Franc, Merlot and Syrah. Call (208) 946-5187.

Ste. Chapelle: Sawtooth’s revival as one of the Northwest’s most exciting brands is because of Boise native Meredith Smith, and the 2016 vintage marks her first since also taking on Ste. Chapelle and its 30+ bottlings - many of them bargains. Call (208) 453-7840.

Scoria Vineyards and Winery: Sydney Nederend began her 100-acre vineyard project at the age of 21 in 2014 and hired Greg Koenig and Earl Sullivan to make her bold reds. In fall 2016, she opened her industrial-chic Walker Lake Road tasting room. Call (208) 550-2472.

Williamson Vineyards: After closing their folksy fruit stand, the Williamson family opened an inviting new tasting room along Highway 55. They farm its 50 acres — and counting — of vineyard and work closely with Greg Koenig on their growing lineup, which particularly shines with Syrah. Call (208) 459-7333.

Eagle Foothills/Eagle

In 2015, Martha Cunningham successfully petitioned the federal government to establish the Eagle Foothills American Viticultural Area, the Snake River Valley’s first sub-AVA.

3 Horse Ranch Vineyards: Gary and Martha Cunningham operate the largest family-owned winery in state. It’s a dusty gravel road to their scenic vineyards and tasting room, yet the wines made by Greg Koenig, particularly the red Rhône styles, are worth the effort. Call (208) 863-6561.

Cellar 616 Winery: Ken Rufe of Spreng-Day Vintners pours his Cellar 616 wines at the Eagle Art Gallery, focusing on Carménère and Primitivo. He offers 10 percent discounts to military and first responders. Open by appointment only. Call (208) 906-9590.

Southwest Wine District

While Parma and Caldwell are due west of Boise, the breadbasket for the Idaho wine industry is south of the Sunnyslope at the 400-acre Skyline Vineyards and 50-acre Sawtooth Vineyard. The tasting room for Sawtooth Winery is closing, but ownership wants to lease the former home of Sawtooth to another winery.

Indian Creek Winery: Mike McClure and Tammy Stowe-McClure in Kuna made this a second-generation winery, and the popular couple combine to offer some of the most affordably delicious and engaging consumer experiences in the Pacific Northwest. Call (208) 922-4791.

Vizcaya Winery: While young to the winemaking, Larry and Kay Hansen entered the industry in 2004 by planting Tempranillo at Windy Ridge Estate Vineyard. Wine Press Northwest’s 2016 Idaho Winery to Watch created a tasting room/winery near their second vineyard south of Meridian. Call (208) 870-8354.

Syringa Winery: The winemaker for Vizcaya — Mike Crowley, a graduate of Walla Walla Community College’s wine program — transitions from Garden City for the convenience of the Hansens’ new facility in conjunction with his 10th anniversary. Call (208) 440-1616.

Hagerman Valley

Much of the country’s restaurant trout is raised in this valley, an hour’s drive southeast of Boise and near Mountain Home Air Force Base. This group of vintners continues to develop the Thousand Springs Wine Trail, which also takes in Frenchman’s Gulch Winery in Sun Valley.

Cold Springs Winery in Hammett began in 1998 with 30 acres of plantings by Bill Ringert, who recently hired acclaimed Neil Glancey to take over his wine production. As members of the Harvest Hosts network, self-contained RVers may stay overnight without charge. (208) 366-7993.

Crossings Winery in Glenns Ferry long was known as Carmela, and the winemaking by Neil Glancey has taken this riverside resort to the next level, achieving Platinum awards in 2016 for its Cabernet Franc and Bleu Noir - aka Lemberger. It’s a fun destination with its cozy cabins, golf course and on-premise Tannins restaurant/tavern. Call (208) 366-2313.

Holesinsky Winery takes an organic approach to its vineyard and winery in Buhl. James Holesinsky earned a gold at the 2016 Idaho Wine Competition for his Fat Man red blend and recently released a 13-year-old sherry. Call (208) 543-6940.

Snyder Winery in Buhl, founded by Salt Lake City refugees Russ and Claudia Snyder, is open by appointment and includes a weekend steakhouse that also requires a reservation. Call (208) 543-6938.

Sweetbriar Vineyard and Winery is a young project near Mountain Home created by Air Force retirees Mike and Tamara Mackenthun. Their early estate wines include two styles of Vignoles, a North American hybrid. Call (208) 599-1502.

Feathered Winds Wine serves as a retirement project of certified sommelier Marguerite Janes, and her husband, Bernard. In addition to their young Chardonnay and Syrah vines, they also operate Thousand Springs B&B just a stone’s throw away from the Snake River, where moorage for anglers is available. Call (208) 352-0150.

RESTAURANTS

Many winemakers in the region credit the husband/wife team at Cinder Wines for making breakthroughs at these restaurants and serving as ambassadors for the emerging Snake River Valley wine industry. We asked winemakers for some of their favorite spots, so here they are:

Alavita is the beautiful little Italian sister of locally focused Fork next door (read below), and 90 percent of its menu can be prepared gluten-free. Call (208) 780-1100.

Barbacoa Grill near Boise’s Parkcenter Park is a flashy, fun and serious steakhouse with a Latin influence that supports a number of local wineries. Start with the tableside guacamole. (208) 338-5000.

Bella Aquila in Eagle offers Italian-themed dining with a large patio overlooking the Boise River. Call (208) 938-1900.

Bodovino in downtown Boise features more than 140 wines available via the Wine Emotion dispensing system, allowing guests to insert a card, push a button and sample Idaho wines by the glass alongside world-famous wines. Small plates, flatbreads, artisan cheeses and charcuterie add to the experience. Call (208) 336-VINO (8466).

Brick 29 in Nampa’s Masonic Temple building spotlights the work of James Beard-nominee Dustan Bristol, who showcases local wines with seasonal flair. His Sunday brunch rivals any in the Northwest. Call (208) 468-0029.

Capitol Cellars is in the basement of the historic Belgravia Building just a few blocks from the state Capitol, and it’s headed by Logan Smyser, a sixth-generation Idahoan who came back home after working at some of Napa’s most famous wineries. More than a dozen Idaho producers are featured, and Telaya produces her house wines. Call (208) 426-9777.

Castle Ranch Steakhouse at the Boise Hotel and Conference Center near the airport — thanks to chef/wine director Dean Fuller — was the first in the region to go all-Idaho with its wine list. Call (208) 914-3952.

Chandler’s Steakhouse offers Boise guests a marvelous meal with Idaho wine and then an elevator ride up to your room at Hotel 43. Wine director Ryan Robinson is part of the 2017 Somms Under Fire national competition. Call (208) 383-4300.

Cottonwood Grille overlooks the Boise River near Boise State University and remains a staunch supporter of Idaho wines, including by the glass. Executive chef Jesus Alcelay grew up in Spain with Basque cuisine, making him a perfect fit for Boise. Call (208) 333-9800.

Fork might be the most popular dining spot in downtown Boise, attracting attention with its farm-to-fork approach, seating outside the historic 808 Building and that 75 percent of their adult beverages are from the Northwest. Corkage is $10, but that fee is donated to a local nonprofit. Call (208) 287-1700.

Juniper is always jumping, and on the other side of its famous brick wall is Boise’s Freak Alley. It’s a go-to spot for the industry, and the chef’s table menu is paired with all Idaho wines. Call (208) 342-1142.

Mai Thai, recognized as the region’s best Thai spot, employs two certified somms who know the Idaho wine industry. Call (208) 344-THAI (8424).

13th Street Pub and Grill in Boise’s Hyde Park neighborhood features local suds but spotlights Idaho wines, too. Call (208) 639-8888.

Red Feather Lounge and sister restaurant Bittercreek Alehouse on popular Eighth Street, founded by David Krick, set the table for Boise’s local movement. His picturesque two-floor, glass-walled cellar is filled with regional producers. Call (208) 429-6340.

State & Lemp is at the corner of State Street and Lamp Street in Boise. Kris Komori’s hyper-local menu is prix fixe, and the James Beard nominee has just one seating on weeknights with two seatings on Saturday. Call (208) 429-6735.

The Orchard House in Caldwell provides comfort food morning, noon and night for Sunnyslope Wine District vintners and tourists, and most of the state is represented on its wine list. Call (208) 459-8200.

Breakfast is the most important meal of the day, especially for wine tourists. In downtown Boise, there’s Bacon, the morning side of Berryhill Restaurant and Bar, and Goldy’s Breakfast Bistro on Capitol Boulevard. On weekends, expect to see a line at Goldy’s, but it’s worth the wait. For coffee, there’s Flying M Coffee House, two blocks from the state Capitol, but the Flying M’s remarkable flagship location is in downtown Nampa — not far from Brick 29. And if you crave pizza, the huge pies at Messenger Pizza in Nampa might be the best I’ve ever tasted. For those with a nose for Mexican food after touring the Sunnyslope, there’s Alejandra's in Marsing, just across the Snake River from Lizard Butte near Ste. Chapelle.

WINE MERCHANTS

If there’s a winery you didn’t make it to, don’t despair. This area features a few savvy wine merchants, including Bodovino, the Boise Co-op and A New Vintage Wine Shop in Meridian, which Ilene Dudunake launched just prior to the 9/11 attacks and continues to earn the trust of her customers.

The groundswell of support shows up in grocery stores, too.

“I stopped by an Albertsons the other day and the entire endcap of an aisle was an all-Idaho wine section,” Dolsby said. “I was like, ‘Wow! Look at all these Idaho wines.’ ”

LODGING

Some of the Pacific Northwest’s top wines come from the Sunnyslope Wine District, but lodging options are limited. For an authentic wine-country experience, make reservations to stay under a winemaker’s roof at Bitner Vineyards B&B or Hat Ranch Winery’s B&B.

Boise downtown — aka BoDo — continues to evolve as a destination for dining and lodging. Hotel 43 offers convenience, class and comfort with its modern rooms, parking garage and ground-floor relationship with Chandler’s Steakhouse. A few blocks away, The Grove Hotel includes parking, Emilio’s Restaurant and third-floor “arena rooms” that open up to concerts or sporting events at CenturyLink Arena. The Modern Hotel and Bar is a retooled Travelodge in Boise’s Linen District that serves food and craft beverages at its hip, open-air courtyard.

Wine country lodging options in the Hagerman Valley both are near little more than a fly rod cast away from the Snake River at Crossings and Thousand Springs B&B, the sister business for Feathered Winds Winery.

ASIDE FROM WINE

A number of cideries have popped up, including Meridale Cider Co. in Garden City and Longdrop Cider Co., near Eagle. And if you don’t leave time to explore Boise’s downtown Basque Museum and Cultural Center, swing into the Basque Market. Other popular outings include tours of the World Center For Birds of Prey, Old Idaho Penitentiary, Boise Train Depot, the state Capitol building and the Idaho Botanical Garden — home to the Savor Idaho festival each June.

Need more help? Start with www.idahowines.org.

ERIC DEGERMAN is co-owner of Great Northwest Wine, an award-winning news and information company. Learn more about wine at www.greatnorthwestwine.com.

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