In many ways, Brad Pintler can be viewed as the Johnny Appleseed of the Idaho wine industry.
Thirty years ago, he began planting in the Snake River Valley what has grown into the largest vineyard in the state. He also started the winery and built the brand that is Sawtooth Winery in Nampa.
And as of Feb. 6, he's general manager of Ste. Chapelle -- Idaho's largest winery -- in nearby Caldwell.
"It was fun to be back at the wine commission meeting the other day," Pintler said. "I had been gone for three years, but I've put a lot of my heart and soul into the Idaho, so I'm excited about moving into this position."
Pintler, 50, now works for Ascentia Wine Estates in Healdsburg, Calif. The group also owns Washington brands Columbia Winery and Covey Run, but his appointment was big news in Idaho.
"I think it's going to be great for the industry," said Moya Shatz Dolsby, executive director of the Idaho Grape Growers and Wine Commission. "Brad is wonderful, and this not only will help unite everyone, but he was one of the key faces in the Idaho wine industry. Now that he's back, it will bring us more into the limelight."
Last summer, Ascentia dismissed Chuck Devlin, who served as general manager and head winemaker. Maurine Johnson, Ste. Chapelle's longtime and well-liked assistant winemaker, was promoted to lead winemaker.
"Maurine's a good winemaker and stepped right into that position," Pintler said. "She's got tons of experience."
Pintler spent the past three vintages on the sidelines after parting ways in January 2009 with the owner of Sawtooth Winery -- Seattle-based Precept Wine.
"I was ready to take a break, and they wanted to do some label changes and style changes," Pintler said. "I was the one who started that winery, and I was the face of the winery. I always liked our wine style, and we definitely had a style."
Precept brought in California winemaker Bill Murray to replace Pintler, who went back to his roots.
"I've always run a farm and done that while running the winery and the vineyard, so I went back to doing that 100 percent," Pintler said. "I have partners, and we started a vodka company in the last couple of years. And I've done a bit of real estate with some other friends, but I was excited to get back into the Idaho wine industry, so I sent a resume."
Pintler would seem to be a solid fit for Ste. Chapelle beyond his winemaking and viticulture knowledge. He graduated from Boise State University with a degree in business with an emphasis on accounting, which he relied upon when he sold the family vineyards and the Pintler Cellars label to Corus Brands and the Baty family in 1999.
Corus rebranded the winery as Sawtooth, and Pintler oversaw the expansion of Sawtooth Vineyard and the development of Skyline Vineyard. Those sites represent 450 acres and more than 30 varieties of grapes, and Pintler made as many as 24,000 cases for Sawtooth one vintage.
"A lot of the grapes that come to Ste. Chapelle are from Sawtooth, and Ste. Chapelle makes up to 140,000 cases some years," Pintler said.
The differences between Ste. Chapelle and Sawtooth go beyond the scale of production, but Pintler said he doesn't foresee a major change in winemaking style among the three tiers.
"Ste. Chapelle is the largest winery in Idaho and does a terrific job making wines that are more of an easy-drinking style," Pintler said. "We have to be mindful of what the market expectations are and conscious of the price.
"The Riesling and the Soft Red and Soft White are good quality wines. They just have a little sweetness left in them," he continued. "Those are big sellers for Ste. Chapelle, and a lot of people like those sweeter style of wines."
And although Pintler became a national pioneer for screwcap wines while at Sawtooth, he said there's been no discussion with Ascentia about an alternative closure for Ste. Chapelle.
"That was a Corus thing," Pintler said. "I think as far as wine quality, screwcaps worked really well. I think we started that with the 2006 vintage, and those wines are still drinking really well."
He enjoys the perspective for many reasons.
"I just turned 50," Pintler said. "I started in this business in 1982 when I was 21 and still at Boise State. I had a dream of growing wine grapes. I remember our first production was 1987, and we did that at Indian Creek, so I got to know Bill Stowe back then. In 1988, we built the winery where (Sawtooth) still is now."
At one point, the Baty family owned Idaho's two largest wineries. They bought Columbia Winery in 1980 and developed Corus Brands by acquiring Covey Run, Ste. Chapelle and Sawtooth.
The Batys kept Sawtooth and 2,400 acres of Northwest vineyards when selling the other Northwest wineries to Constellation Wines. Ascentia bought Columbia, Covey Run and Ste. Chapelle from Constellation in 2008 -- the year before Pintler cut ties with Sawtooth.
"It's amazing how he's just resurrected," Shatz Dolsby said. "I was surprised and so excited at the same time. He was the one who recruited me to Idaho."
Pintler sounds re-energized and ready to play an important role in the Snake River Valley wine industry once again.
"I was president of Idaho Wine Commission over a lot of that time, so I've put my heart and soul into the Idaho wine industry," he said. "We did plant that big vineyard -- and it's a really nice vineyard. So the next step is the largest winery in the state and the most successful winery in state."
This story was originally published March 15, 2012 7:17 PM.