The University of Idaho’s Agribusiness Incubator on Chicago Street in Caldwell has provided the critical spark for a number of the Snake River Valley’s award-winning winemakers.
This year, Will Wetmore and his Veer Wine Project join that list as Wine Press Northwest’s Idaho Winery to Watch.
“Veer has been really small up to this point, but this is the year when I move into one of the open bays,” Wetmore said. “It’s going to be more than just a project.”
Veer Wine Project is the sixth brand with ties to the UI incubator to have earned either the Winery to Watch or Winery of the Year award. Wetmore, 34, has worked with three of them, most importantly Hat Ranch Winery, where he is the assistant winemaker for Tim and Dr. Helen Harless.
“They are so great to me,” Wetmore said. “I ask Tim a lot of life questions, and we’re together almost 30 hours a week.”
Wetmore’s second vintage under his own label earned a gold medal at the 2020 Idaho Wine Competition for the Veer Wine Project 2017 Avignon Red Wine, a GSM blend of Grenache, Syrah and Mourvèdre from Red Heaven Vineyard on Washington’s famous Red Mountain. With a production of 98 cases, that bottling ranks as Wetmore’s largest release to date.
Veer Wine Project also received praise from critics for his 2016 Le Compére Red Wine, a two-barrel blend driven by Syrah and Mourvèdre, two other reds from Red Mountain and a 2018 Gewürztraminer.
The story surrounding his Gewürz helps explain Wetmore’s approach to making delicious wines that are executed in distinctly different ways. Some of his inspiration stems from working the 2018-2019 harvest in New Zealand for Dom Maxwell at Greystone Winery, renowned internationally for taking innovative angles to fermentation.
“He’s really into skin-fermented white wines and will ferment Pinot Noir in bins in the middle of the vineyard they were picked in,” Wetmore said. “So I’ve done 30-day ferments on the skins with Gewürztraminer. I’ve barrel-fermented rosé from Sangiovese where some of the barrels were wild ferments and some were with commercial yeast. Last year, I did a whole-cluster, wild fermentation of Malbec for a month on the skins out there in the vineyard. I’ve done whole-berry cluster Merlot, which added some spice and interesting flavors and tannins.
“Ever since my trip to New Zealand, I’ve been more interested in trying different things, and the name of my brand is Veer Wine Project,” he added. “The name is literally a reminder for me. It’s just a project, and you can change it.”
There’s no doubting Wetmore’s work ethic. When he began working at Hat Ranch in 2014, he was already bartending and helping in the cellar at Cloud 9 Brewery in Boise — which claims to be the state’s first and only certified-organic brewery.
“I was five days a week at Hat Ranch and five days at the brewery in the evenings, so I was working 40 to 80 hours a week,” Wetmore said.
At the same time, his wife, Dr. Jaclyn Cooperrider, was in her residency program for family medicine followed by a fellowship in sports medicine in Boise. She grew up in nearby Garden City, starred on the soccer pitch and played two years at the University of Redlands near Los Angeles, where she graduated with honors in biology ahead of medical school at the University of Washington.
Coincidentally, Wetmore was also a student-athlete, starting on the University of San Francisco's baseball team before suffering a torn rotator cuff and labrum. That led to time away from the game and a transfer to Redlands, where he played for four years.
“Sports had been my whole life up to that point,” Wetmore said wistfully, “so I thought that I should study what I liked. I always liked science.”
He met Jaclyn in an organic chemistry class.
“I’m kind of the opposite of her,” Wetmore said with a chuckle. “I’m slow, and I don’t always have the best plan to get where it is I want to go. We complement each other, I should say.”
Even though the Santa Cruz native moonlighted for a time as a brewmaster, it would seem that wine has been Wetmore’s destiny.
“My father was the tasting room manager for Korbel Winery and then Simi Winery until I was 8,” Wetmore said. “I have memories of running around wineries as a child, so that might have planted the seed for what I do!”
A distant relative is Charles Wetmore, viewed by some as the founder of the California wine industry. He led the state’s viticulture commission and made the white wine that won the Grand Prix at the 1889 International Paris Exposition.
Wente Winery in the Livermore Valley produces an estate Cabernet Sauvignon from Wetmore Vineyard.
This year, Will Wetmore plans to double the production of Veer to about 400 cases and open his own office space at the Agribusiness Incubator. While the industrial park doesn’t offer the ambiance of wine country, it will be a more convenient location for Wetmore and his supporters at just half a mile north of Interstate 84.
Down the road, don’t be surprised to see Veer buy a ton or two from the Lewis-Clark Valley where his golfing buddy Lane Hewett is helping to make wine at family-owned Rivaura Estate Vineyard and Winery. They spent several years working together at Hat Ranch.
“Yeah, I want to get my hands on Rivaura fruit,” Wetmore says.
More gold medals may follow the one he earned last year at the Idaho Wine Competition, but Wetmore will never forget what the 2020 vintage brought him and Jaclyn — a baby girl who carries a unique name with a story behind it.
“Ngaire means little flower in New Zealand,” Wetmore said. “She was created there, so we wanted to pay homage, and she was born right here in the middle of the lockdown. I bottled my sparkling wine the day before she was born.”
ERIC DEGERMAN operates Great Northwest Wine, an award-winning media company. Learn more about wine at GreatNorthwestWine.com.
Veer Wine Project
1904 E. Chicago St., Caldwell, Idaho 83605