The crop most associated with Idaho is, of course, the potato, but as the American wine industry seeks out new AVAs, the Gem State has proved to be a bit of a treasure. In particular, a number of women winemakers who came to the profession later in life have been leading the state’s viticultural revolution.
Idaho’s richest wine region is the Snake River Valley AVA, west of the state capital, Boise, and along the Oregon border.
This area’s defining trait is its volcanic soils, which Melanie Krause pays tribute to at Cinder. Ironically, while she was growing up in Boise, her parents cultivated more than 45 varieties of grape in their garden, but Krause says that “the wine industry was so nascent, winemaking didn’t occur to me as a career.” Instead, she studied wheat cultivation at Washington State University. She and her husband and partner, Joe Schnerr, began making wine in their garage after being exposed to Eastern Washington’s wine industry, and when they moved back to Boise in 2006, they realized how conducive the local climate and soil were to viticulture. “In addition to positive grape-growing qualities, I love that I was able to return to my hometown and help add to the richness of living here,” says Krause, who today makes some of Idaho’s best tempranillo and viognier.
Telaya Wine Co.
Carrie Sullivan, who had been a practicing veterinarian in Ohio, moved to Boise in 2002 and began Telaya Wine Co. in 2008, with the goal of it turning into a family business. Thanks to wines such as the gold medal–winning Turas red blend, made from Snake River Valley–grown grapes, she and her husband, Earl, were able to build a modern tasting room and production facility on the Boise River Greenbelt. While no one would describe winemaking as easy, Sullivan notes that it does come with more flexibility than her old job. “There are frequent veterinary emergencies,” she says, “but few winemaking ones.”
Ste. Chapelle and Sawtooth Winery
Such successes have led big fish to swim up the Snake River. Seattle’s Precept Wine, the largest privately owned wine company in the Pacific Northwest, recently bought Ste. Chapelle and Sawtooth Winery, the state’s two most prolific producers, where Meredith Smith is head winemaker. Smith has done well with Rhône varieties, which take naturally to Idaho’s terroir, and she’s also experimenting with grapes such as nebbiolo and chenin blanc, as well as cabernet sauvignon and zinfandel to satisfy all the Californians who have relocated to the area in the last few years. No matter what exactly is in the vineyard, Smith believes the future is bright.
“Idaho wines are consistently achieving high scores and [winning] awards in national wine competitions,” she says. “When you taste the wines, you will experience why. Paying attention now will get you the golden ticket.”