CALDWELL, Idaho — Sydney Nederend, who gradated with a degree in finance, has no problem getting her hands dirty in her tender young vineyard in the Snake River Valley.
She digs working with two of the Pacific Northwest’s top winemakers on the wines for her Scoria Vineyards and Winery brand, and she and her husband already are enjoying some of her success as a winery owner.
“The Orchard House has our 2013 Syrah by the glass,” Nederend said of the Sunnyslope restaurant. “James and I dropped off a case of it and had dinner there. It was the first time we’d ordered a glass of our own wine. I had the Chicken Caesar Salad and glass of the ’13 Syrah. It was really cool.”
Scoria’s initial releases are products of the 2013 vintage, and both wines were made by Earl Sullivan of Telaya Wine Co., near Boise. They pulled the Syrah pulled from Sawtooth and Skyline vineyards, and it received lofty praise from critics. The three-barrel lot has allowed her to create a mailing list and begin building a wine club. Sullivan also made the Nederends a delicious barrel of Mourvèdre from Sawtooth. Both bottlings amounted to a mere 97 cases.
Over time, the focus of Scoria will be on estate wines made with four classic Bordeaux varieties — Cabernet Sauvignon, Malbec, Merlot and Petit Verdot. They are grown on land that’s been in her family for generations and offers a stunning panoramic of the Snake River and the jagged Owyhee Mountains. Scoria Vineyards sit at 2,600 feet elevation between Lizard Butte and Lake Lowell.
By design, Greg Koenig of nearby Koenig Vineyards and Sullivan each bring different techniques and approaches to Scoria. The 2016 wines in barrel will serve as distinctive examples, as they are developing productions of 100 percent Malbec and 100 percent Petit Verdot. Her goal is to provide an educational experience for consumers.
“Telaya’s version for me is in French oak, and what I’m making with Koenig is going to be in American,” Nederend said. “And the fruit that was picked for Telaya was picked about 2 1/2 weeks earlier than the fruit that’s being picked with Koenig, so there are going to be some major differences.”
As the production of her vines increase, so will the grapes going to Koenig, Telaya and Scoria.
“Once I established the relationships with Koenig and Telaya, they were interested in my fruit so I’m going to be working exclusively with them for where my fruit goes,” Nederend said. “Half of it goes to Koenig, and then at Telaya, half of it is used for their wine and half of it is for me.”
In 2014, Nederend established Scoria by planting 6 acres of Malbec and 2 acres of Petit Verdot. In 2015, the shortage of vine material throughout the Northwest stalled her expansion, but last year, she added 9 acres, an equal split of Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot. She has chosen to stay away from two late-ripening Bordeaux varieties - Cabernet Franc and Carmenere, grapes known for some herbaceous qualities.
“The entire site is 250 acres, with 200 of it perfect for red wine grapes,” Nederend said. “I’d like to reach about 100 acres by 2022. We do have other property that definitely would be suitable for some whites, but there’s a larger demand for high-quality reds right now.”
Nederend, 24, a Boise State grad, tends the vines with a crew of her family’s workers. Sometimes, that includes her mother, Kristen Pentz-Weitz. The Weitz family (pronounced wheats) has farmed the Snake River Valley for nearly a century, arriving from Los Angeles to plant orchards. One of the state’s leading mint oil producers, they’ve grown their holdings to 3,000 acres, and winemakers in the region say the family is a sure bet to succeed as grape growers. They already own heavy equipment and have an experienced workforce at their disposal. The biggest hurdle Idaho winemakers face each year is access to enough quality grapes in their state.
“As the orchards came out, our family tried row crops here — including potatoes — but the soil was too sandy and there was enough slope that it wasn’t ideal for row crops,” Nederend said. “It was used as pasture for quite a while and just sitting there, but I could see the potential for wine grapes.”
At this point, hers is the definition of a boutique winery focused on young estate grapes. It’s one of the more fascinating plantings in Idaho as its roots will reach into soil filled with volcanic cinder and scoria rock.
This year is when Nederend begins to fully open up the door to her industrial-chic tasting room near her home and flips the switch on her large eclectic dome light. She will be offering a combined 500 cases of Cabernet Sauvignon, Petit Verdot, Syrah, Mourvèdre, Chardonnay and Riesling from Sawtooth, Skyline and Williamson.
“In 2016, we started using only our own fruit, which was awesome,” she said. “We had 9 acres in production for that vintage.”
Sadly, the stretch of days at sub-zero temperature appears as if it will decimate her young vineyard.
“Oh my gosh, it was the worst winter in 80 years,” she said. “In Huston, it got down to minus 23. Ours was only down to minus 12.6. Welcome to the fruit business.
“Luckily we have a good site that’s one of the warmer sites, but it’s looking like 50 percent of a crop would be our best case scenario. A lot of other vineyards are looking at 90 to 100 percent loss.”
She’s facing the reality of cutting vines back to the ground and promoting root development.
“I’m surprised my dad wasn’t more upset, but we’ve been through some tough years before with our businesses,” she said. ”It’s definitely a bummer, but there’s no sense in getting too upset about it. There’s just nothing you can do.”
Eric Degerman is co-founder and CEO of Great Northwest Wine. Learn more about wine at www.greatnorthwestwine.com.