July 19, 2019

A Little Taste of the Winemakers Life

Hot sunny days and cool crisp nights. The rustle of a gentle breeze through the vines. A wonderful bottle of wine made from your very own grapes. The person you love sitting by your side and a faithful dog sitting angelically at your feet. What could be better than that you ask?  

To a lot of people who love wine this is a dream they want to achieve. There is indeed an emotional allure to the idea of owning your own vineyard and making your own wine. Even just planting some Cabernet grapes on the south side of the house seems like a romantic notion.

Fortunately enough I was able to catch a glimpse of what that would be like thanks to a recent opportunity with Martin Fujishin of Fujishin Family Cellars to help plant an estate vineyard at their new estate site off Allendale road in the heart of the Sunnyslope trail. The experience gave me an entirely new perspective.

Now I know grapes are an agricultural commodity. They grow on vines that need to be cared for every year. The canopy of leaves needs to be managed; water needs to be applied at the right time and pests controlled; all of this needs to happen before a single harvest happens. Growing any crop is hard work. The American farmer is doing great things with less land than ever before. Throw in the fact that grapes are the only crop I know of that we grow aiming for lower yields and greater quality and the picture gets absolutely crazy.  

But hey – I want to make my own wine!

Martin Huckleberry Finn presented this “Educational Experience” to members of his Wine Club and I was lucky enough to tag along. On a bright Saturday morning a group of tasting room staff and city slickers found their way out to the site and were greeted with some wonderful breakfast burritos from the Orchard House paired with some strong coffee. After that the gloves went on and it was time to plant. The vineyard was already trellised, staked and had been pre-irrigated to soften up the soil. Martin provided expert instruction on how to run the shovels and how deep to plant the root stock. Then he set us loose!

The process is pretty straightforward. First you dig a hole, then you insert rootstock, fill the hole, stake the plant and cover it with a white grow tube to protect the young vine. Next you add water for at least 12 hours and you are on your way to wine. Some folks dug and some folks planted while we all helped settle the vines in their new homes.

It was not easy work, especially when you factor in the hillside locations that are common on the Sunnyslope, where grapevines love to grow. Lunch was provided and it did include some wine which in turn boosted morale. The vineyard manager had a smile on his face as he drove by inspecting our work and thinking about the progress we had made.

Now the waiting and tending begins. It will be 5 years before the fruit of these vines comes pouring out of a bottle. The farmer invests a lot of time, care and effort into each single berry.  

And of course it takes time to get from this:

To this:


But it’s all worth it. I now have even more respect for these magicians who transform a rough patch of scrub into a wonderful beverage in a bottle. The next time you open a stunning Idaho wine, raise a glass to the farmer that made it possible.  

Wine is bottled poetry and it is really made in the vineyard.

Cheers and please send some Ibuprofen!!

The Idaho Wine Ambassador

© 2019 Jim Thomssen

About Jim Thomssen, the Idaho Wine Ambassador:  Jim grew up in Minnesota but moved west to get away from the snow. He landed in Washington state with a degree in Economics.  He discovered the wines of Washington in the 1980s as the region emerged, and when his banking career brought him to the Treasure Valley in 1993 he saw the wine region in Idaho had the same potential.  Jim has worked with and volunteered for the Caldwell Economic Development, The Idaho Wine Commission, The University of Idaho, and the Sunnyslope Wine Trail over the last ten years to help develop the Idaho wine industry and promote Idaho wines.  Jim is an avid wine traveler and has visited Napa Valley, the Alsace, and Portugal.  He earned the title of Ambassador after arranging a trip to the Rioja in Spain with an Idaho Winemaker to explore the differences and similarities between the Snake River AVA and the Rioja Alta.


Sunnyslope Wine Trail


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