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Coronavirus fears and travel restrictions have everyone trying new things. While I haven’t started sewing or crocheting, I have been aggressively turning to my wine study. I picked up a Nez du Vin wine aroma study kit and have been sniffing and tasting everything. Not surprisingly, I’ve also turned to study more Idaho wines. By studying (and ordering) from these independent wineries, I’m supporting small businesses and supporting the state I love. Recently, I purchased a case of wine from Split Rail Winery, an experimental winery in Garden City, Idaho. While some of the wines were familiar, and most were delightfully delicious, what Split Rail specializes in is experimenting to make some really wacky wine!
What Makes Split Rail an Experimental Winery?
Split Rail Isn’t Trying to Make Consistent Wine Year Over Year
Many of the most popular wines of today are known for their consistency. Buy a bottle of The Prisoner, or Yellow Label Veuve Clicquot, and these wines should taste the same no matter what. That means, a bottle you buy in 2020 should taste the same as a bottle you bought in 2010. Split Rail is not in the business of making consistent wines. Instead, they aim to make wine that is different every year. They want to surprise you and challenge you to try new wines. How they achieve this is by using wine making methods you may not be familiar with, and grapes that are even less familiar. Visit their tasting room in Garden City, Idaho, and you’ll pick up on their rock and roll vibes from the jump off.
Split Rail Uses Some Wacky Wine Grapes
While there are certainly wines made with a variety of grapes that you know, Split Rail also likes to make wines using grapes that are quite unfamiliar. This year, they released several wines using Counoise. Counoise is known as one of the 14 grape varietals used in blends for Châteauneuf-de-Pape, and not much else. This thick-skinned, black grape is lighter in body than one may expect, and not easily found in American wines. Additionally, they made an orange wine using Malvasia Bianca grapes. These are a very dry floral tasting grape found in areas of the Mediterranean.
Split Rail Uses Some Wacky Wine Fermenting Techniques
Well known methods of wine fermentation include using stainless steel tanks or wooden barrels. With the addition of commercial yeasts, these wines are watched until they reach a specific brix level before bottling. Instead of following the norm, Split Rail often allows wines to wild ferment with wild yeasts picked up from the environment. This sort of a “wing and a prayer” method of fermentation can be tricky because A) it both takes longer to commence and to complete, and B) you can end up with some very weird flavors depending on what floats into the fermentation area.
That’s not where it ends in terms of wacky wine production. Split Rail also uses concrete tanks and large Italian Amphoras for some of its fermenting. And then there is the carbonic maceration method, which ferments whole clusters of grapes in a tank filled with carbon dioxide and without yeast. This method of fermentation is most typical of wines from Beaujolais.
But is Wacky Wine Any Good?
When wineries like Split Rail decide to make experimental products rather than standard bottles, they are taking a great risk. In the time of COVID-19, that may not be the easiest gamble to take, but if previous years’ output is any indication, the folks at Split Rail will be just fine. The wacky wines of Split Rail Winery far exceeded my expectation.
I had to take a screenshot of this from Split Rail’s website because I so quickly drank my initial allocation up. Having never tried a Pét-Nat wine before, I was so pleasantly surprised by the pronounced fruit, high acid, and delightful carbonation. It did not have any of the scary “earthy” qualities I’d heard about in discussions on Petillant Naturel. Instead, it was juicy and satisfying for a picnic on a hot day.
A 3/4 sized bottle, this farmhouse style red wine has all of the barnyard complexity of something from the Old World. But this one is from right here in the good ol’ U.S.A.
What Else Can You Expect from Split Rail Winery?
If you find yourself in Idaho, certainly check out Boise and Garden City wineries. I’ve talked about Split Rail before here, but with a tasting room known for electronic and house music, throwback supper clubs, and experimental wine, even the most skeptical of wine drinkers will have a good time.
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