Livability: Is this the unpretentious and totally delicious new wine country?
“We found out we were good at this by accident,” says Crystal Potter, owner of Potter Wines in Boise, Idaho. These days, Potter Wines is known for its award-winning offerings, but in the beginning, the Potters made their first wine on a whim using grapes from their own backyard.
“He’s a scientist,” Crystal says of her husband Von, explaining that he loves to tinker until he finds the perfect methods. That very first wine won first place at the Western Idaho Fair. The winery is now beloved for its lively atmosphere, art deco-inspired tasting room, and its legendary jalapeño wine, another creation that came from experimentation. Crystal and Von put passion into every decision they make, from the paint color on the tasting room walls down to the details on each label.
Stories like the Potters’ point to what drives so many winemakers in Boise. Fueled by passion and learning as they go, winemakers here are bringing innovative ideas to the wine scene on an everyday basis. Boise is known primarily for skiing and potatoes — not wine. But that’s what makes it the perfect setting for burgeoning wineries. Adventurous first-time winemakers, relatively affordable rent and low cost of living, and a market that isn’t yet saturated paves the way for something special: a wine scene that’s churning out truly amazing wines without taking itself too seriously.
Boise’s wine comes from the nearby Snake River Valley, where wine tours wind through popular spots like Fujishin Family Cellars, Sawtooth Winery and Bitner Vineyards. Back in the city, winery owners are trying all kinds of unique methods and processes that make their drinks unforgettable. Split Rail Winery is known for its quirky wine names (Daft Pink Rosé or Swamp Donkey, anyone?), and for offering vino in beer cans. But where owners Jed Glavin and Laura Hefner-Glavin really break the mold is with their innovative preparation techniques. Their industrial space is the first winery in Idaho to produce wines in a concrete egg-shaped fermenter, an old-world method that can totally transform the quality of the wine. (On top of making great wine, the egg also looks super hip and futuristic and blends in perfectly with the winery’s aesthetic.)
Of course, all this adventure had to start somewhere: one of Boise’s pioneering wineries, Cinder Wines, was founded in 2006. Winemaker Melanie Krause paved the way for others in the area, and is still a local favorite today. Krause named the brand after the volcanic cinder the sits below the vineyards in the Snake River Valley.
A second career
Many Boise winemakers are diving into the craft as a second career after years of wondering “what if.” Travis and Mallory Walker, owners of Par Terre Winery, got their start as professional ballerinas before opening their business. Now, they’re raising their young kids around the winery while growing an award-winning business at the same time. They infuse their passion for dance into the mix by hosting performances, as well as ballet and wine pairings with Ballet Idaho. Where else in the country could you find such a perfect blend of two passions?
Lately, Boise has seen an influx of Californians moving to the area. Not surprisingly, the first thing most Napa transplants do when they arrive is seek out their new favorite wine. In Boise, they have about a million options to try, but the Idaho industry is totally different from California. Not only is there more wiggle room to experiment, but there’s also an atmosphere of support. You can count on your neighbors in the industry to have your back.
If you’ve ever experienced Boise’s tightknit, welcoming energy, the warmth around the wine world comes as no surprise. “Idaho is all about your family, friends and even your pets,” says Moya Dolsby, executive director of the Idaho Wine Commission. “This sentiment extends to the Idaho wine industry. People truly care about you as a person and want to see you succeed. Wineries cheer on each other’s successes and help support whenever it is needed. You can truly feel that energy in Boise’s amazing wine scene.”
In Boise, support comes first, competition second. Here, there’s not a commanding old guard telling winemakers what is and isn’t “acceptable.” Instead, it’s a group of trailblazers clearing the path together, making plenty of room for creative (and delicious) detours. That’s definitely worth sipping on.
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