When the days are short and the light is low, fun things can happen. Wintertime means that the farm “to do” list is shorter and vines need to be pruned. Enjoying a glass of wine by the fire is indeed a great idea but don’t let the weather keep you from exploring the new winery at Sunnyslope Wine Trail.
On a cold winter day we ventured out Homedale road to visit one of the newest tasting rooms in Idaho, since December of 2019, Kerry Hill Winery. This is the 16th winery to open on the trail. It has a great location right next to their estate vineyard in Canyon County. The vines have had 35 years to mature on this site under previous ownership (Wood River Cellars) and have been revitalized over the past 2 + years by the folks at Kerry Hill.
Owner Mindy Mayer named Kerry Hill 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, the General Manger. 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 is absolutely stunning. The mushroom wood doors are amazing to look at. The design work here (both inside and out) is top notch. If you're looking for a place to wow a group of friends from out of town then put this place on your list.
The 4 wines available now are being crafted by Tim Harless from Hat Ranch and Vale wines in Caldwell. The unoaked Chardonnay is crisp and refreshing, the 2 Rose’s are amazing yet very different from each other and the red blend of Cabernet, Syrah & Petit Verdot will be a great complement to the mustard/horseradish beef stew that is making the whole house smell so wonderful right now! Even if you turn your nose up at Rose wines 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. 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.
Without a doubt, Winter is an amazing time to hit the road and visit Idaho’s wine country. The colors tend toward gray and brown but the wineries are less crowded and the staff has more time to share stories and show you why Idaho is so special. On top of that you won’t have to worry about the wine you just bought getting too warm in the car!
Cheers too exploring! Get out there and see what winter wonders you can find – You won’t be disappointed!
Old World Wine Tasting in Idaho
By Jim Thomssen
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. Their Tuscan inspired facility down by the Snake River became too small as the popularity of Idaho wines has increased. The 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! Old-world style reds are Koenig’s specialty. Their focus on quality grapes within sight of the winery and 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 Sawtooth tasting room, 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 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?