October 4, 2019

Gather 'Round the Barrel this Thanksgiving

The day after the Thanksgiving holiday in the U.S. is one of the busiest shopping days of the year. Its name, ‘Black Friday’ was developed in the 1960’s when it became almost routine that a store's financial picture would ‘move into the black and out of the red’ with a great holiday sales season. In 2018 alone on Black Friday weekend, 89 million people shopped both online and in retail stores, according to the National Retail Federation. That’s a lot of people out and about! Does this sound like your idea of a good time? If it does – go for it, enjoy the sales and head to the mall (or better yet shop locally or in downtown Caldwell). If you’d rather have a root canal repaired, read on.

In the Snake River AVA Thanksgiving means something completely different. It’s a time to celebrate the harvest and share the bounty that surrounds us with friends and family (while staying far away from the crowded shopping venues)!

Many wineries in the Sunnyslope plan something special, barrel tasting events, for this holiday weekend!

I know what you’re thinking, Why would you want to drink wine out of a barrel? It’s a fair question. By its very definition, wine in the barrel is not quite ready for market, it’s young wine. There are a few more processes that need to happen before you have a consumer-ready product. Final filtering, cold stabilization, bottling and labeling and letting the wine age or mature a bit in the bottle come right to mind as things that are yet to be completed.

In my opinion, barrel tasting is actually about time travel. When you taste the wine before at this stage you are looking back to the terroir, the weather, the canopy management decisions, pest pressure, bird behavior, and soil chemistry that influenced those grapes. And, at the same time, you are looking into the future to a hint of what this wine will taste like in a few months or even a few years. Right out of the barrel most wine will be rougher and less ‘polished’ than what you will find in the bottle but after all is said and done, it’s fun to travel through time and learn new things isn’t it?

Annual Barrel Tasting Events on Black Friday and Thanksgiving Weekend

Family owned and operated since 2005, Huston Vineyards has made it a tradition to open a barrel or two on Black Friday and give visitors an inside look at wines before they are blended. Owner and vintner Gregg Alger presides over the tastings and always does a great job educating his audience about a certain characteristic of a previous, as yet un-bottled vintage. His wife, Mary, will have some great food to pair with their wines as well to keep the mood festive throughout the day.

Fujishin Family Cellars opens up their ‘Old Shed’ and holds a barrel tasting event as well. Martin Fujishin shares his knowledge as a winemaker and vineyard manager to help you find nuances in wine that are native to our Idaho soils. He has a wealth of knowledge that he can impart. In previous years he has even brought out the ‘wine senses kit’ with sample smells that help wine makers identify the descriptors that end up in their tasting notes. It was fun smelling something that recollected the smell of leather and then smelling it again in the barrel sample.

Out at Williamson Orchard and Vineyards they roll out the barrel for some wine education, too. The Williamsons have over a century of farming experience on the slope in their family tree and they really enjoy sharing that knowledge with the public. Mike, Bev and Pat are the latest generation to take the reins of the family business and that shows in how they put their weekend plans together. Spend some time sipping wine around the fire pit or judge the “Farm to Spoon” soup cook-off. You could even pick up some great holiday craft items and make this a multitasking weekend at their place right off highway 55 just past the Orchard House.

Visit our Thanksgiving Weekend event page for mentioned event details and events happening along the rest of the trail!


Make it a Weekend with Farm to Fork Food, Ice Skating & More Holiday Festivities

If you find yourself just a bit hungry after your Thanksgiving feast, take a break from wine tasting at Vine and Branch Ranch. This organic farm, farm-to-fork café, wine and cider tasting room a small plate menu that’s just the ticket for you. It’s never too cold for home-made ice cream, is it? Josie will have the farm stand market stocked with the fall bounty that they produce right on site and they will have special pricing on some wines and ciders to help spice up your holiday festivities.

Thanksgiving only marks the start of the holiday season, so while you’re visiting each winery consider stocking up on Idaho wine for gifts. Having a few bottles on hand is perfect when you need a last-minute hostess gift and I can’t think of a better gift than a bottle of handcrafted Idaho wine. It is “poetry in a bottle” after all. Keep your eye out for other great gifts too, Sawtooth Winery stocks an array of items and stocking stuffers for wine lovers.

When the wineries close, Downtown Caldwell’s will welcome you to finish your weekend with a warm dinner or a cool adventure! Winter Wonderland holiday light display along Indian Creek is an art installation with over 800,000 LED holiday lights and is on every night. You can also visit Idaho’s only Ice-Skating Ribbon, an ice pathway that winds through the heart of the city. Plus, check out the fine merchants like Bella Blue Clothing, Idaho Soap Company, Norman’s Jewelers or the Flying M to cross a few more people off your shopping list.

P.S. It’s never too early to plan a glorious holiday wine tasting! Make it a weekend trip. You can find recommended places to stay on the website's Lodging page!


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.

Sunnyslope Wine Trail


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