GARDEN CITY — The life of a performance dancer brought Travis and Mallory Walker to Boise and introduced them to the Snake River Valley. Making wine on a professional level has turned out to be their next move, leading to their deliciously choreographed Par Terre Winery.
“I’ve been making wine as a hobby for a long time as a garage and basement kind of project, and when our dance careers ended, we needed to be educated in something,” Travis said. “We knew a desk job would never work for us. We can’t stay still.”
He’s proven to be a quick study, thanks in part to graduating from Walla Walla Community College’s Institute of Viticulture and Enology in 2016. The early results prompted Wine Press Northwest to select Par Terre Winery as its Idaho Winery to Watch for 2019.
Last year, the debut for Par Terre included a 2017 Rosé of Syrah that proved to be one of the top rosés in the Northwest. Acclaim for it included a gold medal at the Idaho Wine Competition and then a sweepstakes win at the Great Northwest Invitational Wine Competition where more than a dozen of the Pacific Northwest’s top wine buyers voted it the best rosé of the judging.
As a member of the Trey McIntyre Project, Travis and others in the nationally renowned dance company used Boise as their home base, touring 35 weeks a year throughout the U.S.
“We felt like rock stars in Boise and were treated almost as well as rock stars,” Travis said. “It’s what sold us on Boise — the support for the arts community, local wineries and local anything. It’s been super cool.”
In 2014, the TMP’s namesake choreographer closed down the company after a six-year run out of Boise. The Walkers not only wanted to start their family in the Snake River Valley, but they also were aware of the need reinvent themselves.
“We just explored what options we had next, and it was something we had to be passionate about,” he said.
Mallory developed a following as a Pilates instructor and received a business administration degree.
His first-year work in the classroom, the cellar and the vineyard earned Travis a scholarship through the Walla Walla Community College Foundation.
“I grew up in the Finger Lakes region of New York, where the nearest winemaking school is Cornell, and there’s UC-Davis (California), but it made sense to go to Walla Walla, which is an easy commute,” Travis said. “I wanted to learn the physicality of winemaking and not just the theory, and that’s one of the great things at College Cellars. You get the theory, but you are living it starting on Day One. Either you sink or swim.”
The Walkers named their winery for a dance term that translate to "on the ground,” and they found the stage for Par Terre Winery a few minutes northwest of Boise in Garden City. The bedroom community for the state capital has become the home for a growing number of craft beverage producers, which include Idaho Winery of the Year alumni Cinder Wines, Coiled Wines and Telaya Wine Co.
Their winery’s soft opening last spring with 530 cases featured Merlot, a Syrah, a skin-fermented Sèmillon and that stellar rosé. That rolled into a debutant pouring at Savor Idaho, the Gem State’s signature wine tasting at the Idaho Botanical Garden in Boise. Guests waited in line for five minutes, sometimes longer, to chat with Mallory and taste the wines poured by these locally famous dancers.
“I wish I could have attended, but as small business owners our time is divided between winery/tasting room duties and watching our 1-year-old,” Travis said.
Starting in 2014, Travis dived into winemaking, starting by working crush at Indian Creek Winery in nearby Kuna with winemaker Mike McClure, who has taken over for his late father-in-law Bill Stowe.
“I was recommended for an internship in Walla Walla at Doubleback, but I knew that Indian Creek only uses Idaho fruit, and I thought that if I’m going to be working with that, it made sense for me to stay home,” he said. “I owe Mike so much, and we wouldn’t have been able to get to where we’re at without him and Bill.
“I’m amazed that Mike does so many wines and does them well, and he does it all himself,” Travis added. “He’s doing about 98 tons and he’s so chill. I’m stressing out about 4 tons.”
Travis, 34, tries to follow the work of former College Cellars classmates Brad Binko (Eternal Wines/Drink Washington State), Jason Fox (Lagana Cellars), Doug Saar (Blue Rooster Wines) and Joshua West (Elephant Seven).
“It’s hard to keep up with the wines from everybody who went through that program,” Walker said.
Starting in 2015, Mallory joined the Sunnyslope Wine Trail.
“When you are a dancer, there is mingling with donors, and I’m naturally a social person, so I do enjoy that,” said Mallory, age 31. “I’m an administrator for the Sunnyslope Wine Trail, which is a nonprofit, and I’m able to help our group with marketing efforts. I’ve fallen in love with the people in the Idaho wine industry because they are so kind and helpful. And I’ve learned so much from folks like Amy Bitner.”
Mother Nature in the Snake River Valley didn’t do the Walkers any favors during the 2017 vintage because winter kill trimmed available grapes in Idaho by about 70 percent. They found 30-year-old Syrah at Kamiak Vineyard, an established site belonging to Gordon Estate and overlooking the Snake River near Pasco, Wash.
“We were lucky enough to get some fruit from the Gordon family and brought juice back to Idaho to ferment,” he said.
Fortunately, 2018 brought a bounce-back vintage to Idaho, and the increased tonnage means more time in the cellar and less devoted to hiking outdoors.
“Dancing is a passion and occupation that you live and breath, and it’s still part of our lives every single day,” Travis said. “When it comes to winemaking in Idaho, I’ve basically benefited from the kindness of others, and they’ve allowed me to learn.”
Eric Degerman is co-founder and CEO of Great Northwest Wine. Learn more about wine at www.greatnorthwestwine.com.