Winter 2011

Why did the Chicken Dinner cross the road?

Why Huston Vineyards has named two of its wines Chicken Dinner Red and Chicken Dinner White isn't too difficult to figure out; the young winery owned and run by Gregg and Mary Alger is on Chicken Dinner Road near Caldwell, Idaho.

The Algers planted Huston's first vines in 2007, Gregg Alger said, and offered its first vintage in 2008, a Private Reserve Red of 100 cases, which quickly sold out, mostly to friends and area wine enthusiasts.

This year, Huston has built on that by opening its tasting room in April and releasing a 2009 Merlot and a Reserve Chardonnay, in addition to two blends, the Chicken Dinner White and Chicken Dinner Red.

Made by winemaker Melanie Krause of Cinder Wines, the red and white blends were well received and good sellers, Alger said. The 2010 white, which has already sold out, is a snappy blend of Riesling, Muscat and Viognier that more closely resembles a Sauvignon Blanc, he said. The red is a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Syrah, which he described as a delicate red with lots of fruit on the front and a light finish.

The Algers chose the Huston name to honor the late 18th century farming community of Huston where the vineyard and winery is located.

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So how did the road come to be named "Chicken Dinner?"

"Usually what we tell guests who come to the tasting room is that we can't tell them the story; they have to buy a bottle of wine," which tells the tale on the back label. And usually, they relent, and tell the story, anyway.

Across Chicken Dinner Road from Huston Vineyard is an 18th century two-story farmhouse, currently owned by a friend and neighbor who uses the historic structure for his farm's office. And it's that neighbor, a man in his 80s, who told him the story.

Just at the change from rail to automobiles, the community of Huston was eager to see its roads upgraded from wagon-wheel-rutted dirt roads to more vehicle-friendly oiled roads, so Idaho's governor was invited to the farmhouse in Huston for dinner, and was directed to the home by an arrowed sign that read, "Chicken Dinner."

"The governor was lobbied for a better road, I'm sure, with a nice bottle of wine, and the road was oiled and the name stuck," Alger said.

But there are other versions of the story, Alger admitted.

"It's funny how people will come in and say, 'That's not the right story,' " he said.

Boise Co-op Wine Shop employee Leil Cardoza, who was told the story while in college, has heard other explanations, including that the chicken dinner was meant to ply a county road commissioner. As the commissioner was eating dinner, Cardoza said, he was also offered an organized helping of dust through an open window as cars and a truck drove up and down the road.

Either impressed with the demonstration or put off by the blatant lobbying, the road commissioner named the road Chicken Dinner.

But considering his neighbor's connection to the farmhouse involved and the family, Alger is inclined to go with his neighbor's telling.

Travelers, including many heading along Highway 55 to the ski slopes north, have developed a relationship with Chicken Dinner Road, Alger said, even stopping to take pictures of themselves in front of the road sign. It's a conversation piece and a fun bit of local history.

And Alger recommends continuing the debate over a bottle of Chicken Dinner wine, preferably with a chicken dinner.

This story was originally published December 15, 2011 11:43 AM.

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