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In honor of the numerous Thanksgiving Weekend events along the Sunnyslope Wine Trail, finally a post about my favorite wine region of the United States: Idaho’s Snake River Valley!
When my husband and I settled on Idaho for our honeymoon, I began to research if there was an Idaho wine region that we could visit. While there are actually multiple wine regions in Idaho, the only one that we could make work with our Idaho road trip was the Snake River Valley. Less than an hour outside of Boise, this Idaho wine destination is even accessible in a short weekend trip to Boise. Weatherwise, it is warmer than Boise, and its noteworthy Lizard Butte is the old core of an extinct volcano. As such, the volcanic soil, gravel, and sand from deposits from the nearby Boise River create complex and mineral rich terroir. With 15 wineries, and more to come in the next year, a day along the Sunnyslope Wine Trail is well worth the 30 mile trip from Boise.
Getting to the Sunnyslope Wine Trail
First things first: if you are going wine tasting, obviously you need to have someone else driving. If you are looking for some romantic one-on-one time, I highly recommend hiring a car from Idaho Towncar. With a fleet of vehicles, the drivers at Idaho Towncare have clean vehicles with competent drivers. What I like especially is after a day of wine tasting, it is a very smooth ride. While a larger, party bus may accommodate more people, I am not great with the jostling and bouncing of a big car. If you are in a larger group, however, there are great options available through Idaho Wine Tours.
First Sunnyslope Wine Trail Stop: Koenig Vineyards
Driving up the gravel road to Koenig Vineyards is like approaching Oz from the yellow brick road. A beautifully ornate patio of stone, checkered pergolas, and a watchtower sit next to a large warehouse amongst what seems like miles of vines. On a nice day, this setting is ideal for taking in wine and the stillness of Idaho. If the weather is not cooperating, inside the Koenig Vineyards tasting room is just as beautiful.
Greg and his brother Andrew are one of the early settlers to try their hands at wine in this region. Started in 1995, Koenig Winery started at a time when there were only eight wineries in Idaho. With parents from the Tyrol, Austria, the brothers started growing the grapes that they were familiar with: Riesling and Chardonnay. These are the wines with which they started the brand. They began to expand their portfolio with Tempranillo, Syrah, and Viognier, many Rhone varietals. After a bit of time, Andrew decided he was more interested in fruit brandies and liqueurs, so Greg took over the winery and Andrew started Koenig Distillery.
With increased harvests and growth, Koenig Vineyards built a new facility to process their grapes. They have a large local distribution in Idaho, as well as exportation to China, Taiwan, and Denmark. With increased interest, Greg combined both his love of wine and his degree in architecture to create the gorgeous tasting room of the facility today. Koenig Vineyards best sellers are Cabernet Sauvignon and Syrah. They also make the only Cabernet based ice wine in existence, and use Andrew’s fruit based brandies to fortify Port wine.
Second Stop on the Sunnyslope Wine Trail: Ste. Chapelle Winery
You can’t visit Idaho without learning about Ste. Chapelle Winery. One of the first and now, the largest winery in Idaho, it is the most recognizable winery in the Snake River Valley. With yearly sales of 150,000 cases of wine, Ste. Chapelle’s female winemaker Meredith Smith produces diverse wines. Sparkling, fruit wines, canned wine, old classics, and aged reserves, Ste. Chapelle and its wine portfolio includes over 30 types of wines. With a medieval gothic style tasting room reminiscent of the French Ste. Chapelle church, Ste. Champelle Winery certainly is a can’t miss on the Sunnyslope Wine Trail.
Next Sunnyslope Wine Trail Stop: Williamson Orchard and Vineyards
Just down the street from Koenig Wineries is the fourth generation family owned and operated Williamson Vineyards. Lily Williamson first came to this area of the Snake River Valley in 1909, when she left Virginia and set up her life on hundreds of acres of Idaho country. She had to haul the water from the river to her home by hand in order to water the fruit orchards and tend to her home. After two years, the government finally built irrigation pathways for her. Today, Williamson has 400 acres of diverse fruit farming so that they can maintain steady work for the laborers in the fields.
Final Sunnyslope Wine Trail Stop: Fujishin Family Cellars
Yes, there are more than four wineries on the Sunnyslope wine trail, but four per day is my recommended maximum. Founded in 2009 by Martin Fujishin and Teresa Moye, the Fujishin Family Cellars produces around 3,000 cases of wine per year. Varietals are wide ranging, with Merlot and Viognier as the first releases of the winery. With a history as Koenig Vineyards’ winemaker, Martin and Teresa are trailblazers with their winemaking. One of their most interesting blends, Amarino, was one of my most memorable wines of the year. They also received the distinction of 2018 Idaho Winery of the year.
There are Three Other Wine Regions of Idaho, Too
While there are three other wine regions of Idaho, the Sunnyslope wine trail is closest to a major city. Just forty minutes from Boise, the Sunnyslope region is a gem of the United States wine community.