You never know what could happen when you go on a wine tour. Everywhere we stopped people said, “I thought we were just supposed to get a shower and be done with it.” Economists and weather forecasters rejoice. No matter how wrong you are, you can still have a great day out in Idaho’s wine country.
My friends Luther and Alison trekked in from Salt Lake, and did they have a great tour.A ”once in a lifetime” type tour. First, whenever I travel anywhere and the weather is less than perfect, it becomes all the more memorable. Second, if you show up in the middle of the week, when the wineries are doing the work to get that grapey goodness to your table, you’ll get to experience some of what it’s really like to get a bottle to market.
I picked up Luther, or Lee at Ron and Mary Bitner’s where they were going to stay for the night. They’ve set up a great little B&B next to the tasting room. You can see some photos of it here, and you can call Mary to get all the details at (208)899-7648.
We started our at Fujishin Family cellars. Martin and Theresa make a great viognier and several tasty reds, and have set up shop in the Robinson Fruit Stand. A building that has been part of the Sunny Slope landscape for over 40 years. Martin wasn’t on hand, yesterday, but Theresa was there serving up the goodies. You can see what they offer here.
Luther and Alison weren’t quite ready for lunch, so we stopped at Williamson’s Orchard and Vineyards. The rain didn’t stop them either. I guess that’s normal for farm folk. Stacey was just getting things ready for the day as we entered their charming tasting room. Their old gas pump is a thing of beauty as you go in; it looks brand new. Luther and Alison were good question askers. Stacey had to pull out the “Wine Bible” as they tasted the Homestead Red and the Riesling. You can see more of what Williamson makes here.
Tummies were rumbling, (including mine) so we headed over to the Orchard House. If you’ve never had the Orchard House Burger, I highly recommend it. It’s like breakfast and lunch all rolled into one. It’s ham, a fried egg and burger, and let me tell you, it is fantastic, especially with onion rings or potato wedges. Since we could only get to 4 instead of the regular 5 wineries, I bought them a complimentary bottle of Weston Wine. Kris recommended it and said it’s maker, as the legend goes, brought the first grapes to be planted for Ste. Chapelle. I’ll have to track him down to confirm this, but it’s fun to just believe it and go on with the tour.
The “once in a lifetime” came when we pulled up to Sawtooth Winery. The bottling trailer was backed in pumping out cases of wine. Bill Murray, the head wine maker, was supervising, while Andrea, the retail room manager and Meredith, the assistant wine maker showed us around the operation and offered a very special tasting; right out of the stainless! Luther and Alison were given a glass and told, “if you’re going to taste you’ll have to get it yourself!” And so they did.
As you can see in the picture the wine was in their large stainless containers waiting for the bottle. This is just one of many. Meredtih answered all kinds of questions and showed us how much work it takes to make a great wine. We saw the lab, and the records of all the variables they track throughout the process. It’s a big world when you get into it, and the love they all have for the craft is palpable. Luther and Alison tasted many different kinds of wine that retail shelves won’t see for a few months as the wine recovers from what is known as bottle shock. It takes a while for the wine to release all its flavor after bottling. I guess, as Alison noted, “the wine needs a ‘time-out’.” Can you tell she has kids? I think Luther and Allsion were blown away by the special stuff they experienced. I know I was. Even I don’t get to see all the behind the scenes goings-on during the weekend tours.
We ended the day at Ste. Chapelle. Idaho’s oldest and most recognized winery. Their sommeliers had a couple of tricks to show us. Depending on your taste, whether you like sweet or dry wines, you can make your own blend. You can knock the edges off either end of the spectrum if you mix their Dry Gewürztraminer and the Sweet Riesling. It can suit any palate. It may take some experimentation to get the mix just right, but once you do, you’ll make something special of your very own. Thanks for the tip!
Even though it rained most of the day, nature, and man together provided a beautiful experience. The views were spectacular, the people friendly and helpful, and the wine was excellent! I’ll have to note the date on my calendar so I can try to repeat this one next year.
Let this post serve as a special and heartfelt thank you to all the folks along the Idaho Winery Tours wine trail. You all made this rainy day one for the list of cherished memories.
Cheers and Good Cheer,
PS And we won’t forget the wine dogs.