We have some good friends that love wine. They have traveled to France multiple times, experienced true Champagne tastings, frequent Napa Valley and have a great wine cellar. The whole wine lover deal. They are real Old World, French traditional varietals, wine lovers.
So, I was shocked and pleased to be asked to take them on their first Sunnyslope wine tour. Yup, they have lived within 30 minutes of the heart of Idaho wine country for years and have never been to Sunnyslope. Well, it was time to fix that this spring. They also were looking for a nice white wine to go with some clams they were steaming the next night so we were also on a bit of a culinary quest!
We met up at Fujishin Family Cellars at high noon on a sunny spring Friday. We were prepared with a cooler in the back with some water, comfy shoes, and attitudes of explorers. The Fujishin and Lost West tasting room was a great place to start. The tasting room was part of the old Robison Fruit Ranch and is located right after the “Big Turn” towards Marsing. It exudes a ton of history and charm and was also named the 2018 Winery of The Year by Wine Press Northwest. Martin Fujishin’s career started on the family farm with row crops just a few miles away in Adrian, Oregon. He has been making his own wine since 2009 and has done a great job showcasing the Sunnyslope and the Snake River Valley AVA’s winemaking prowess. He sources grapes from the Sunnyslope and Adrian areas. Annie, one of the wineries first employees, and her now growing team lead us through their tasting menu and our friends walked out with an amazing Tempranillo. Our friends immediately started planning a menu for the next weekend around their first Sunnyslope treasure as we jumped into one car to continue our afternoon adventure.
Stop number two was at the beautiful Koenig Vineyards, pictured above. Gregg Koenig and his team have been making wine and distilling spirits in Caldwell since 1995. Their Tuscan inspired facility down by the Snake River became too small as the popularity of Idaho wines has increased. They moved into a great new tasting room that was artfully grafted on to their production facility a few years ago. The new facility is striking and really amazed our friends who have likely seen hundreds of tasting rooms. And, when we tasted the wines they were definitely sold on the idea of sharing their discovery with some of their friends! As the wine-maker himself, old-world style reds are Greg’s specialty. His focus on quality grapes within sight of the winery and his focus on traditional winemaking produces wonderful reds. The box in the trunk got a bit heavier with some Sangiovese, Fraser Vineyard Cabernet, a Merlot to knock your socks off, some Ice Wine and a bottle of maple syrup aged in bourbon barrels. (editor’s note – pour a little of this on your morning oatmeal and breakfast will never be the same!) Our friends also joined the Koenig Wine Club, a subscription to receive wines several times a year, so I know our friends were impressed with the caliber of wine they were tasting on the Sunnyslope.
By now, our taste buds needed a break so we made a quick stop at Vine & Branch Ranch. This restaurant is home to the Snake River Winery and Stack Rock Cidery tasting rooms, so we started our meal with a refreshing glass of wine and some Warm Acme Bread. We selected meatballs and a chicken pot pie for our entre. It was a great way to relax and pace ourselves through the tastings and once again we were ready to go again in search of the perfect dry white wine to go with the waiting clams. BUT WAIT - The homemade Carmel popcorn and salted Carmel ice creams had to be sampled before we stepped back out onto the trail.
The beautiful new Sawtooth tasting room, pictured above, was next … and they threw us a curve. Slipped between the whites and reds on the tasting list was a sparkling white! While not usually placed on a sampling list, it was a great transition wine. Enjoying wines while sitting on the patio with other guests was the quintessential Idaho experience. I could tell our friends were settling into the idea of wine touring much closer to home than they were used to! A BIG red GSM (red wine blended from Grenache, Syrah, and Mourvedre) slipped into the box and we were off again looking for the elusive “perfect” white.
The last stop of this trip (I’m sure we will take these folks out to the slope again) was the new Hat Ranch Winery tasting room. Carla, the tasting room attendant, met us as we stepped inside and gave us the rundown on what was on offer that day. She also shared the story of the winery, but I will let you all discover that when you visit. “All hat – no cattle” is their motto and I love it! The wines were great and the Vale Wine label Merlot they offer was fabulous. And, the winner of the “what goes great with our clams” search was the Hat Ranch Sauvignon Blanc!
There are a few takeaways from this trip: First, is to get out there and explore the wine world around you! Whether you are just a few minutes away in Boise, Meridian, Eagle, Nampa, Kuna, or Middleton, Idaho, Ontario or Baker City, Oregon, Doty, Montana, the Finger Lakes of New York, or on the island of Maui there are wineries ready to help you explore the agricultural heritage of your area. Secondly, exploring is a marathon, not a sprint. We visited five wineries in one whirlwind day, and that was almost too much. Take your time, ask questions, enjoy the company you are with and have fun. Be ready for surprises and enjoy sharing the process of discovery!
What is your favorite old-world style wine you’ve tasted on the Sunnyslope?
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.