Winter is coming on the Slope!

The one thing that has been constant this year is that the seasons are changing. Grape harvest is almost wrapped up and your new favorite wines are starting to take on structure and complexity in wineries all over Sunnyslope! Agriculture doesn’t wait for a virus and neither does the Calendar. That also means Thanksgiving is just around the corner.

wine glass and fire

Out on the slope, Thanksgiving weekend has always been a big deal with lots of people visiting many of the fabulous events at the vineyards and tasting rooms on the Sunnyslope Wine Trail. This year will look a little different than past years. If your Black Friday traditions include wine barrel tastings and stocking the cellar for the winter, you’ll need to plan ahead this year! 

Some traditional favorites are closing for the season before the Turkeys go in the oven. Some wineries are going to a reservation-only system and others haven’t finalized plans yet.

You can still have a great Wine Weekend this year! Reach out to your favorite Sunnyslope tasting rooms now and make some plans. Spontaneity is out and preparedness is in for the Holidays in 2020. Two great resources to watch for details are the Thanksgiving Weekend page on the Sunnyslope Wine Trail website and the Idaho Wine Commission’s Holiday event page. Both organizations are compiling as much info as they can to make your Holidays easier so check back often as the big weekend draws nearer. Have fun and celebrate safely this year!

 

Cooler weather signals the release of some great new red wines as well. As the growers on the Snake River Valley AVA plant more vines there are a few new varietals you might want to check out this year. 

 

Barbera 

This Italian grape originally hails from the Lombardi region and thrives in long warm summers that linger into a late fall. Sunnyslope has 1 or 2 places that can keep this grape in its hot comfort zone long enough to reach full maturity. Bitner Vineyards on Plum road has a great view of the oldest Barbera plantings in the Sunnyslope region and they have a limited amount of Barbera available from the epic “Doc Olie Site”. Get a bottle and snuggle up by a fire with this big full-bodied Italian!

Nebbiolo

This cousin to Barbera and likes long, warm, dry summers as well. This grape is as dark as they come at harvest time and is responsible for some of the finest wines to come out of Italy. It’s one of the first vines to bud out and one of the last to ripen so it is still under review here in Idaho. With climate change, this could well be a new star out on the ‘Slope. Lanae Ridge vineyard up above the Koenig facility has produced a wonderful Nebbiolo available at the Koenig winery this year. Sawtooth Winery just down the road has a dynamite example of this complex wine available too. I believe it will pair well with a smoked turkey.

Sangiovese

One of my favorite reds is another import from Italy, the Sangiovese grape. It produces a great balance fruit flavor profile with a little bit of acid that I enjoy greatly. Williamson Vineyards have been producing a knockout Sangio for years and Koenig Vineyards is right behind them. Either wine would make a great addition to your holiday celebrations

- Other Newcomers -

Carmenere shows a lot of promise both here in Sunnyslope and up in the Lewis and Clark AVA in north-central Idaho. Sawtooth has a great representative of this grape in some bottles at their place for you to try.  Bitner has a great Cab Franc made with local fruit that is pretty darn good and my favorite Spanish red, Tempranillo is really coming into its own here in the valley. Petit Verdot has been growing under the radar here as well but this traditional blending grape makes a wonderful wine statement all by itself too. If you are looking to spread your wings in the red wine world you really can’t go wrong with any of these gems from the Gem State.

We all need things to celebrate this year. It’s not been an easy or predictable one so let’s all try something new this holiday season. Take your palate on a trip around the world of wine without leaving home. Sunnyslope has some great farmers growing wonderful grapes. The best thing we can do is support local agriculture. Go buy Idaho wine! 

 

It’s worth asking for and seeking out.

CHEERS and have a great Thanksgiving weekend!

 Jim Thomssen

 

 

The Idaho Wine Ambassador

© 2020 Jim Thomssen

It's an age-old question and the answer isn't getting any easier. I have heard that red wine has health benefits so that’s something to consider when making your choice. Some folks decide by looking at the weather. Others pick according to the menu and I have friends that choose by what's on the label. I know people that just start to combine beverages as well! It can be confusing! Let's take a quick look and try to find some answers.

 While all wine is made from grapes, white wine usually has their skins, seeds and stems removed before they are fermented. Reds spend more time in contact with the skins, and that is how red wine gets its color. There are a lot of other plant compounds that are imparted to red wines through the skins such as tannins and resveratrol. White wines have these compounds too but in much lower concentrations.

Red wine is the supposed secret behind the French paradox. That’s the idea that even though the French have a diet higher in saturated fats, as a population they have lower rates of heart disease than a similar population in the United States. (1) There is actual research that drinking red wine may produce a protective effect on your cardiovascular health (2) One study even says that there is a 30% lower risk of dying from heart disease in red wine drinkers and it could well be due to the anti-inflammatory and antioxidant effects of the compounds that come from the grape skins. (3) There are indications it can slow down age-related mental impairments as well. I have included links to my sources in the NIH Database for this section as I am not a Doctor or an epidemiologist but there is a quote I like that covers this as well.

“God in his goodness sent the grapes, to cheer both great and small; little fools drink too much, and great fools not at all.”

– Anonymous              

What does the weather have to do with wine choice? 

I’ll admit that on a warm afternoon a chilled glass of crisp Albarino or Sauvignon Blanc is extremely refreshing. But again that might just be because of the serving temperature of the wine too. Reds are typically served at a warmer temperature than white. Also, the crisper, higher acid whites may seem more refreshing on a hot day. If you’re in an air-conditioned space all day – nothing wrong with a nice Pinot or Merlot with dinner!

 

Pairing wine with food used to make the choice easy – White for fish, Rose for pork, and red with meat. Life is not that simple anymore. Head to a winemaker dinner out on the Sunnyslope Wine Trail and you will find all sorts of amazing pairings with the local food options that abound here. Salmon and Cab Franc – sure! Chardonnay with a spicy Beef Carpaccio – wonderful! In general yes – the high acid whites can pop and clear your palate between spicy first courses and the tannic reds can pull the flavors out of a slow-roasted or grilled piece of red meat but don’t be afraid to experiment!

Speaking of experimentation, try to be open to some new and old combinations that involve wine. The results can be astonishingly good and refreshing! From the beaches of Northeast Spain and the Basque country comes the Kalimotxo. This summer refresher is equal parts red wine and Coca Cola (has to be made with CANE SUGAR – not beet sugar – read the label closely) - add ice and a twist of lemon and you have got the perfect pick me up for a summer afternoon. The origin story is a little muddled here but it was thought that there was a big party happening and the wine distributor messed up the order. They sent Coke and half the wine requested – Viola – a masterful combination was discovered. There are Idaho winemakers combining wine and beer too.

So the answer to the question we started with, White or Red, is YES. It’s all about your wine journey. What we picked after college is going to be different than the choice you make for a child’s wedding and still different from what you will serve at your retirement party. That’s completely normal. We all grow and change as we taste more and learn more about local wine and food.  

We are blessed to live in a region where Farm to Cork means something. Idaho wines made with Idaho grapes are pretty special. It’s time to get out and explore. Make your next trip out a wine holiday. Discover what great farmers and amazing winemakers can do with the bounty of our region. Most of all when you are faced with the choice of red or white – just say yes!

Cheers to Locally Grown Food and Wine! We are all in this together!

The Idaho Wine Ambassador

© 2020 Jim Thomssen

It’s not a surprise that the vast majority of Idaho’s wine grapes are grown in the Sunnyslope region. 

The long history of growing fruit, rich soils, and generational knowledge of the farmers has produced a “perfect storm” in which to grow phenomenal grapes. So it’s also not a surprise to find a new winery on the Sunnyslope Wine Trail either. I had a wonderful opportunity to visit Kindred Vineyards this week on the eve of their soft opening and spend some time with Craig Davis the owner and his daughter Elisha Brooks.

Set along a creek bank overlooking the Snake River Valley this small estate winery is on the verge of doing what a lot of people only dream about. Inspired by a trip to Tuscany and supported by his friends and some of our ever-gracious Idaho winemakers this is a long term project that is finally coming to fruition. Craig was seduced by the European lifestyle centered around family and quality experiences. The connections made by bringing family and friends together for great conversations and wonderful wines made an impression. So much so that this wonderful Sunnyslope property was purchased and planted in 2015 with the intent of recreating a bit of that ambiance right here at home.

 When Craig is not tending his vines or building a winery, he works in the IT industry. He has been making wine for a while in his fully licensed “Winerage” that looks amazingly similar to the garage of his home on the property. The wines range from a lovely, crisp unoaked Chardonnay and a classic new French oak fermented Chardonnay on through to an estate-grown Sangiovese and a great pair of Pinot Noirs. 

The noble experiment with their Pinot Noirs shows off the difference that location and terrior can make in a bottle of wine. Kindred brings grapes from two very different vineyard sites, one in the Willamette Valley of Oregon (Pinot central!) and one on their estate site together to Idaho. The vines are managed the same way, picked on the same days, and made the same way in the same in identical barrels. Sitting on the deck and tasting these two wines side by side is an amazing experience. 

I always love a chance to learn and taste at the same time. Yes, the soil and weather affect the same grapes differently and it’s a blast to taste the differences in the glasses in front of you.

My favorite story at Kindred revolves around the Love Letter Rose’. The wine is excellent but the story of the Love letter written in the 1890s from Great Grandpa Lars to his paramour Jenny is so heartwarming. The letter is part of the label and available the hear by scanning a QR code that’s on the bottle.

Wine and food are a big part of the lifestyle that the Davis’ fell in love with in Europe. They even add suggested food pairings on their labels to help their friends and kindred spirits try to recreate the magic they are bringing home to Sunnyslope.

When you come in on the ground floor of a winery the neat thing is that you get to see all the changes that happen as it grows. Kindred Vineyards still has a few exciting projects in the works too that already have me wanting to go back. An 800,000-gallon pond, an amphitheater, and more patio/deck space are exciting things to watch for in the future.

Come on out and see the new things that are happening in Idaho’s wine country! There are new wineries with new tastes to go explore. Hope to see you out there soon while the beautiful Idaho weather holds!

 

The Idaho Wine Ambassador

© 2020 Jim Thomssen

Many people like wine, especially Idaho Wines to be exact! What goes better with wine than food? Nothing! When you combine good food and good wine amazing things can happen.

 

The fun part of pairing food and wine is that it is completely up to you. Oh sure there are general rules to start with like, red wine with meat and white with seafood, but rules are made to be broken. What you are trying to make happen is a pretty rare thing. The definition of food and wine pairing magic is when the taste of the pair outshines the food or the wine by themselves. 

My recommendation for you is to try lots of combinations and ask for forgiveness rather than searching for the "perfect" pairing.

 

It doesn’t have to happen at a fancy restaurant or a Farm to Cork dinner. It’s wonderful if it does but I think there is another time and place that we tend to forget for this surprise.

 

Just the other night we were having a nice bowl of Italian Wedding Soup with a vegetable base with some fennel and some pork, sage stuffing style meatballs in it. We had found a 2011 Huston Malbec in the back of the wine fridge and figured it might be great with the hearty soup. The soup was really good and the wine was stunning all by itself. When we brought the food and wine together, something magical happened. The richness of the meatballs and the brightness of the vegetables was multiplied by the presence of the wine.  

 

Our friends over at Wine Folly have some cool white wine pairings that i suggest you try with me! They say a Vinho Verde with blue cheese is good or even a Chardonnay with ranch Dressing could be amazing (Cool Ranch Doritos anyone?). Playing with flavor profiles can be a blast and it doesn’t need to cost a large amount of money either.

So I’d like to challenge you to explore your ideas for wine and food pairings. Whether it’s a picnic with a bottle of Chicken Dinner White or a juicy steak with a Koenig Fraser Vineyard Cabernet or even a Williamson Sangiovese with a homemade bowl of pasta and red sauce. Get out there and see what magic you can come up with.  

When the experience is more than the sum of the parts – that’s when you start to geek out on wine. If you have ever had a WOW wine moment leave us a comment and let us know about it.

Sunnyslope is full of great wines and great places to eat. 

There is an old saying that might help you get started and it goes like this ‘If it grows together, it GOES together.” 

As the weather gets better make the time to start exploring the super regional farm to cork resources we have right here. Pack a picnic or take advantage of a food truck at a winery. Your taste buds will thank you!

Cheers to Locally Grown Food and Wine!

 

The Idaho Wine Ambassador

© 2020 Jim Thomssen

We have looked at how the grapes go from fruit to juice before.  But what makes it wine?  Simply put, yeast added to sugary grape juice starts a metabolic process called fermentation that converts the sugar to ethyl alcohol and carbon dioxide.  There are some other things produced during the process, like heat and some other compounds such as acetates, esters, and fusel oils. All of these can affect the final flavors and mouth feel of the finished product.  It’s the wine maker’s job to know about and manage all of these reactions and factors. Like I said, simple stuff right?

Various wine vats

This is a very old and complex process that sometimes just happens to sugary liquids when exposed to naturally occurring yeasts in the environment.  Early civilizations used fermented liquids to quench thirst because the chemical reactions in a sense purified the liquids and made it safer to drink than a lot of the natural water sources they had available at the time.  Even Timothy in the Bible was urged to take a little wine to cure what ailed him.  Franciscan monks also became experts in beer brewing to harness the power of fermentation for good in the middle ages. The word fermentation comes from the Latin word “fervere” which means “to boil”.  If you think about a batch of fermenting liquid, it does produce a lot of bubbles that imitate a good steady boil.

It is a simple concept, but devilishly complicated in its execution.  Decisions for the winemaker include what type of wine they want to make, the type of yeast to use (which may change due to the condition of the grapes they just turned into juice), the amount of time you want to let the process go one (which determines the sweetness of the wine), when to start and what type of vessel to complete the fermentation process in and so on. For the science geeks in the audience, the change of one sugar (glucose) molecule into two alcohol and two carbon dioxide molecules look like this:  C6H12O6 -> 2C2H5OH + 2CO2.

You can ferment grape juice in any number of containers from plastic buckets in your basement to large stainless steel, temperature-controlled tanks.  I’ve seen large underground concrete tanks in Spain (with wood fires set underneath to help them maintain a productive temperature) and mound-shaped tanks in Portugal. Here in Idaho folks use steel tanks, plastic totes, clay amphorae, concrete eggs, huge wooden tanks (aka tuns), square concrete tanks, wooden barrels, and even big terra cotta vats. They all have a subtle influence on the end product in your glass.

Punch Down

Red wines are usually fermented while still on their skins so there is a “crust“ of stuff that will rise to the top of the container while fermentation is going on. Every few hours that material needs to be turned over back into the container to make sure fermentation is progressing uniformly. It’s either punched down with a paddle-like tool or juice from below is pumped over it. This can be a dangerous time for the winemaker and their assistants as the process is giving off CO2 and they have their faces right down in that gas. Fatalities and near misses have happened throughout the wine industry during punch-downs as folks lose consciousness and fall into the vats. Next time you take a winery tour look for the CO2 detectors! White wines are usually separated from their skins before fermentation so they ferment away without mechanical intervention.

When do you stop fermenting? If you want a dry (not sweet) wine you wait until the yeast digests all the sugars and there you go.  But what if there is some sugar left in the bin? It’s generally a bad thing to have fermentation happen twice (except for Sparkling wines) so lowering the temperature of the liquid can kill off the yeast and stop the process too.  That’s why most stainless tanks have cooling jackets around them, so the winemaker can control the residual sugar in their final product and in your glass. On the other end of the spectrum if you want to make a sweeter red wine you can add more alcohol to the container and kill the yeast that way as well.  Port-style wines have used this process and hence are called “Fortified” wines as they have fortified the alcohol content (usually with a distilled wine product like brandy) to arrest the fermentation process.

 

There is one secondary fermentation process that does happen near the end of the red winemaking that is a good thing.  Malolactic fermentation converts the tart malic acid into mellow lactic acid to give the wine a beautiful creamy feel in your mouth.

With all these chemical and microbial reactions going on in the winery, there is one more really important step that has to happen to ensure consistent quality in wine.  CLEANING!  Winemakers have to be assiduous in the hygiene routine they keep in the winery.  Even something as innocuous as using chlorine bleach in the winery can introduce a problem substance called TCA (Cork Taint) into a winery that may never go away.  Steam cleaning is a great way to kill off unwanted chemicals and microbes in the winery so notice how clean your favorite wineries are and the great amount of care they take to keep the facility spotless.  It makes a difference!

Hopefully, this has given you a bit of appreciation for the complexity and knowledge that goes into making the great wine we are lucky enough to have here in Idaho.  Chat with a friendly Idaho winemaker and get their take on the fermentation stage of winemaking.  They will fill in a lot of details that I left out and may even break out a bottle of their favorite bottle to share!

Cheers to 2020 and all the wines of the 2019 vintage that are patiently waiting and getting better just for our enjoyment!

 

The Idaho Wine Ambassador

© 2020 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, Great Northwest Wine, 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.

Out on the Sunnyslope Wine Trail, there is a lot to do and see surprisingly.  The vineyard crews start their winter pruning as early as the weather permits and in 2020 that was plenty early.  The vines need to be cut back a bit to get them ready to produce the right amount of fruit and leaves for this coming harvest.  Too many leaves shade out the fruit and quality suffers.  Extra grapes cause dilution and immaturity as well.  Pruning in February and March requires a keen eye for detail and a close relationship with the vines to be able to tell what to cut and what to leave.

Back in the winery a lot of juice has been put in barrels, eggs, amphoras, and tanks. When the juice went into the containers there are still a lot of small solid bits of "stuff" in there.  As the liquid rests in whatever container it's in, the solids tend to settle down to the lowest point of the vessel.  Cloudy wine with chunks is not a good thing so now is the time to start the soutirage process. That's a French word for moving clear wine away from the solids and into a new clean container.  Most of the winemakers I know call it racking.

How and when this is done will affect the taste of the wine in your glass.  Not only is this part of the clarification process that also involves filters and chemical stabilization down the road, it puts the wine in contact with more air too.  Especially in red wines, this helps develop more tannins, richer colors and develops a more complex sensory experience in the finished product.  Some folks choose to siphon the wine out or use pumps or even pull the solid bits out of the bottom of the tanks.  These myriad different decisions are what help make each wine a unique and magical experience.

Choosing which containers to age wine is also really important as they convey tastes and compounds to the wine stored in them. Winemakers use barrels like a baker uses spices.  "New" oak will have the most influence on flavors while "Neutral" oak means the barrel is just there to hold the liquid and imparts no flavors to the wine inside.  The older the barrel, the less influence it has on the final flavors in your glass.

White wines like Chardonnays that are aged in a concrete tank have been known to take on a sort of mineral flavor note, while some wood-aged Sauvignon Blancs have even heavier mineral notes. New oak barrels can be toasted heavy, lightly or not at all. (Toasting is the process of charring the inside of the barrel with fire!).  In different regions of the world, wood from the same type of trees produce very different flavors.  Some winemakers will even take the time to match their barrel wood with different wine varietals.  Hungarian oak, French oak, and American oak are all used out on Sunnyslope Wine Trail to age the wines we love.  The final call is a matter of style and budget, so ask your favorite winemaker about their barrel program and you will be amazed at how complex it can become.

A winemaker in Spain asked me once if I knew the difference between French oak and American oak…he said it was about 370 Euros a barrel.  Inside his Rioja storerooms, the majority of his wine was aging quietly in casks made from Missouri Oak.

Wine is always moving from old barrels or tanks, with leftover solid bits in them, to clean barrels or tanks where it will rest and settle out again.  As the months go by you may see a winemaker racking off multiple times or just topping up barrels to make up for the portion of wine that evaporates out of the barrel.  That's also known as the "angels share".  All of this means there is a LOT of cleaning of pumps, hoses, barrels, and fittings going on in the winery too!

Some happenings in the winter wine world require travel as well.  It's trade show time so a lot of the industry gathers in Sacramento or Tri-Cities to share notes, hear about the state of the industry, look at all the latest and greatest equipment available, and put in orders for all the cool wine-themed swag that you will want to pick up in your favorite tasting room later this year.  The Idaho Wine Commission annual meeting is in February as well and provides fantastic opportunities for tasting room staff training, technical seminars, and Idaho specific vineyard issues to be discussed.  The Idaho Wine Commission also makes time to recognize the leaders in the industry that have made a huge difference in moving Idaho wines from their humble beginnings to the burgeoning industry it is today.

It's still a great time to come out and visit the Sunnyslope Wine Trail, discover new wines and watch spring move into the valley.  Thanks to Mike Williamson, Storm Hodge, and Martin Fujishin for their time this month!

Cheers to 2020 and all the wines of the 2019 vintage that are patiently waiting and getting better just for our enjoyment!

 

The Idaho Wine Ambassador

© 2020 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, Great Northwest Wine, 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.

Kerry Hill estate

When the days are short and the light is low, sometimes fun things can happen. Wintertime means that the farm "to do" list is shorter and while vines need to be pruned, the weather keeps a lot of folks close to home.  While enjoying a glass of wine by the fire is indeed a great idea, don't let the weather keep you from exploring the Sunnyslope Wine Trail!

My wife and I ventured out on a cold winter’s day to visit the newest member of the Sunnyslope Wine Trail, Kerry Hill Winery! It has a great location right next to their estate vineyard in Canyon County. While this vineyard was established over 35 years ago, the neglected vines have been carefully cared for over the past two years by Kerry Hill’s staff in the hopes to produce new world-class vintages on the Sunnyslope.

Named after the type of sheep they keep on the property, the farm honors the history of the property while it increases its stewardship of the land through habitat preservation and responsible farming practices.  They respect the grapes, the pollinators, the birds and all the things that go into quality agriculture and wine out here in 2C. They even have a Basque sheepherder's trailer that celebrates the immigrants from Europe that came to this area generations ago and helped make the intermountain west the culturally diverse and interesting place it is today. 

With fewer folks out and about we had a great time visiting with Cynthia England, General Manager.  The tasting room is brand new construction but it feels comfortable and spacious with fantastic sightlines over the vineyard and the Owyhee Mountains. The woodwork by River Valley Woodworks out of Wilder, Idaho is absolutely stunning. The mushroom wood doors are just amazing to look at. The design work here (both inside and out) is top-notch. Looking for a place to wow a group of friends from out of town? Put this place on your shortlist. 

Kerry Hill wine tasting and bottles

The four wines available now are being crafted by Tim Harless from Hat Ranch Winery and Vale Wine Co. in Caldwell. The unoaked Chardonnay is crisp and refreshing. The red blend of Cabernet, Syrah & Petit Verdot will be a great complement to the mustard/horseradish beef stew that is making my whole house smell so wonderful right now! The two rosés are amazing yet very different from each other. Even if you turn your nose up at rosé, please promise me you'll try these two gems. They will stretch your palate and defy easy categorization. More wines are coming as the vineyards rejuvenate after their years of neglect. Great wines are made in the vineyard and this one was in rough shape for a few years. The quality of these initial offerings only heightens the expectations of what is yet to come.

Kerry Hill Tasting Room

Without a doubt, winter is an amazing time to hit the road and visit Idaho's wine country. The color palette in the winter errs toward neutral tones, but the leafless trees give you a chance to see the snowcapped Owyhee mountains. Since the peak tourist season is spring-summer, the tasting rooms are less crowded and the staff has more time to share stories and show you why Idaho is so special (you may even meet the winemaker themselves!). On top of that, you won't have to worry about the wine you just bought getting too warm in the car!

Cheers to exploring! Get out there and see what winter wonders you can find – You won't be disappointed!

 

The Idaho Wine Ambassador

© 2020 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, Great Northwest Wine, 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.

Wine has a special place in a lot of people’s hearts.  We all remember certain occasions by the things we shared during those occasions.  Sometimes even by the wine we shared.  Idaho wine from the Sunnyslope wine trail makes a great stocking stuffer or gift! But if you can't make it out to the Sunnyslope before Christmas, the holidays are a great time to up-cycle all the corks that you have freed from bottles in the past year in my humble opinion.

While I know there are a boatload of Ideas on Pinterest here are a couple that I have put together.

Have fun this Holiday Season!  Think outside the bottle and make sure to share good times with great friends!

Cheers to you and don’t forget to ask for Idaho Wine while you are out this holiday season!

The Idaho Wine Ambassador

© 2019 Jim Thomssen

The turkey hangover has only one cure. . .a trip to Sunnyslope Wine Trail!

There is a tradition in the Idaho wine industry that is pretty cool. Black Friday is a time to celebrate the start of the Holiday Season with friends and good wine! Lots of wineries will open a barrel or two for you to experience wine in process in addition to some great deals on wine to enhance your celebrations. 2019 was no exception out on the Sunnyslope Wine Trail.

Huston Vineyards Barrel Room
Gregg Algers of Huston Vineyards

We started out at the newest barn on the trail as Huston Vineyards opened their new processing facility to the public for the first time. It’s a huge step up over their old tent and a great way to start to nibble and taste your way through the neighborhood. Gregg and Mary always pair up their wines with great little bites of food and Mary’s Pumpkin Bisque soup. Gregg did a great job comparing and contrasting Merlot and Malbec this year from barrels of good Midwestern oak.

Martin Fujishin
Martin Fujishin of Fujision & Fuhishin Family Cellars

Just down the highway at Fujishin Family Cellars in the Old Shed, Martin Fujishin broke out two barrels of Merlot from the same vineyard but aged in very different barrels, French Oak and American Bourbon! It’s truly a unique experience to taste the effect of the barrel on juice that came out of the same batch of wine. Time and container make a huge difference in the taste of the wine. This is something you can only experience out in the wine country and is all the more fun when you can share it with friends. They were also sharing samples of a wonderful Italian Wedding soup with warm rolls as well!

Williamson Vineyards was just a quick 300 yards further south and they broke out a barrel of 2018 Sangiovese and a 2018 Malbec that are going to be fantastic when they are released next fall. The family was all present and also competing with a soup contest as well. With the weather turning cold it was a great experience to share tastes of the future with such great farmers and winemakers in a friendly family setting.

Scoria Vineyards
Tara, Tasting Room Manger, at Scoria Vineyards

Over the hill and south of Lake Lowell, the team at Scoria Vineyards was getting ready to close up the Estate tasting room for the winter but getting excited to open their new Downtown Boise location before Christmas hopefully. Tara was pouring a heavenly blend of Syrah, Petite Verdot and Malbec that found its way home with us as well.

Another fun thing that happens on Thanksgiving weekend is that wineries that don’t usually have public hours tend to crack open their doors as well. Case in point is Will Wetmore at Veer Wine Project. Will is the assistant winemaker at Hat Ranch Winery and also has his own small production label as well. He tends to experiment with new varietals and blends. He was barrel tasting a Barbera that will be available next holiday season that will so be worth the wait. Watch for special unique tasting opportunities and try a new place or two as you explore the wine trail in Sunnyslope!

Veer Wine Project

I hope you all had a chance to experience the Idaho wine industry this weekend. As winter closes in please make some time to visit any of the great wineries along the Sunnyslope wine trail. All these entrepreneurs love sharing their passion with you whether over a glass of wine, a bowl of soup or a plate of food. Tell them the Idaho Wine Ambassador sent you!

Cheers to you and don’t forget to ask for Idaho Wine while you are dining out this holiday season!

The Idaho Wine Ambassador

© 2019 Jim Thomssen

Everything happens all at once in the life of a winemaker. They are dealing with a seasonal crop so all the winemaking takes place in lockstep with the harvest. In general, the white grapes mature faster than the red grapes, so that’s what comes in first. This year I was harvesting Viognier with Williamson’s Orchards & Vineyards on the 20th of September and Cabernet at Huston Vineyards on the 14th of October.

Being prepared and having a solid team in place to process all the fruit when the tractor or truck drop off bins at the winery is really the key to success. The farmers should have a pretty good idea of how many tons of grapes they’ll harvest this year so it’s the winemakers' job to make room in the wineries for all the fruit. They need room in their barrels, tanks, concrete eggs, cubes, and even amphora to hold all the wine. But there is so much to do before the wine goes to sleep to age! 

 

The grapes leave the vineyard in larger plastic bins the hand crews filled in the fields or in larger metal bins on a semi-truck that were filled by the mechanical harvester teams. Great wine is made in the vineyard so it’s important to get the fruit to winery quickly and in good condition. Remember that it’s the Winemakers' job to not screw up the farmers' grapes! Bad things can happen if the juice starts fermenting on its own in a warm truck on the way to the winery. You also need to make sure you have enough clean bins, clean tools, clean machines and people to get the jobs done.

Once the grapes hit the “Crush Pad” the pace picks up. To get the best flavor from the grapes you need to make sure you separate the grapes from the stems and any other vine material that made its way into the bins in the field. There is a really cool machine called a de-stemmer that does this for you but it does have its’ limits. White wine juice usually goes right from the de-stemmer into the press since you don’t want the juice to sit on the skins with whites. Reds you ferment in another set of bins before they press off the juice. Our friends at Hat Ranch Winery in Caldwell were de-stemming and pressing some Chardonnay when I visited them in September.

Some winemakers also will look over the fruit as it leaves the bins and even after it leaves the de-stemming machine to keep foreign bits of flavor out of the process. The video below really shows the initial process from bin to bin for some lovely cabernet being made at an urban winery in Boise. From left to right the clusters of grapes get dumped on a table for a leaf check and foreign object sort before riding the elevator up to the de-stemmer and then hand sorted again to pick out any bad grapes over on table two.

Super Slow Motion shows the clean grapes coming out the bottom of the destemming machine while the waste stems shoot out the side of it. The process is important to keep the flavors correct. Too much stem material in the grapes (due to cold damage or messy destemming) can produce a bitter taste in the end product. If the winemaker catches it they can use a different strain of yeast to ferment the juice or change the style of the barrel they will age the wine in to help compensate for the inclusion of “material other than grapes”. It’s the knowledge and skill of the winemaker that comes in to play right here in the timeline that makes me marvel at how much these talented folks have to keep in mind as they are blazing through this process. It may look easy but winemakers are paying attention and being very intentional about everything they do as they work hard to put wine on your holiday table.

Fermentation is the magic that makes juice into wine. Other than one miracle this is the way it has been done since the beginning of time. Add yeast to the sugary grape juice and you end up with alcohol and CO2 gas. Wines run from 11 to 15% alcohol depending on the variety and style. Whites generally ferment in tanks while reds lay up in bins and have to be stirred up to make sure the yeast and sugars all get together and do their thing.

There is still a lot of work to do before this wet sloppy looking mess gets to your table but the process starts with the grower and continues as the grapes are harvested, make their way to the wineries and become the best Idaho wines. As with any other agricultural product, the timing is determined by the grapes, so if you run across a winemaker in the fall, cut them a little slack. Odds are they are getting few if any hours of sleep and they are running full tilt for a month or two. Their hard work is to our benefit though! While this isn’t a primer on how to make wine I do hope it sheds some light on the complexity of the process. We will look at aging and barrels and all those decisions in a later report.

Thanks again to the great Idaho winemakers that have let me hang around with them this fall. Huston Vineyards, Hat Ranch, Williamson's, Skyline Vineyard and team Telaya were all gracious hosts at a very busy time of the year.

Cheers to you and don’t forget to ask for Idaho Wine!

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, Great Northwest Wine, 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. 

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