A Taste of Sunday

Linda Burton posting from Boise, Idaho –Wine. Wineries. Viticulture. This seems to be the up and coming thing in this part of Idaho. I wanted to see a real-life Idaho vineyard and according to the internet 3 Horse Ranch was open for tasting this Sunday afternoon. Off the freeway and traveling north, I passed open fields on both sides of the road, sprinklers going everywhere. “Turn right on Chaparral,” said GPS. I left the numbered highway; drove a few miles more; came to gravel then. A sign verified 3 Horse Ranch ahead, I wasn’t lost. So I proceeded, 15 mph. The hills have narrowed in; the valley’s tight; cattle grazed behind a fence. A rabbit ran in front of me, some little critters too, ground squirrels, perhaps? Quail in pairs danced across the road, a brilliant yellow bird flew by, a hawk with purpose circled overhead. Around a curve a house sat on a hill; and spread across the lowest slopes, rows and rows of vines. This must be it, I thought, and pulled into the parking lot; my dust caught up as I stepped out.

Two women on the patio, sharing a Pinot, smiling and relaxing in the sun, sitting near the growing grapes. They greeted me; hello, come in. Inside, a tasting going on, a crowd is gathered round the counter there. Provence is on my list to go; this place has the feel of how I think of it; the walls like yellow sun, the luscious fruit piled high, the bread, and cheese, and wine. Good conversation, and good times. Behind the counter, someone poured, offered up a taste. This was Martha Cunningham, I learned, hostess for the afternoon; this was her place, her wine.

There was a buzz, some bragging going on today. I didn’t talk with Martha much (she was busy pouring wine), but she slipped an Eagle Magazine to me; “Look inside,” she said, “they featured us this month. Read about our rating!” I sat down on the patio; turned the pages till I found the article by Liza Long (May/June 2012, p 23). When it comes to wine, I’m more like TV’s elder Crane than Fraiser or Niles, his connoisseuring sons. Which means I appreciate the aspects of the work that goes into producing a first-class wine, so I enjoyed what Liza wrote about the efforts of Gary and Martha Cunningham.

They bought their land in 1998, after a careful search for the perfect growing site. They chose a place with sloping hills, both to keep cold air from the vines, and to create early afternoon shade that would protect the grapes from too much damaging sun. Alfalfa had been planted there; they knew the soil was good. They wanted to combine French rootstocks with this fertile Idaho soil; in 2003 they planted Vitis Vinifera; its lineage goes back to the Cotes du Rhone wine region in southern France. In all, they planted 9,000 plants on 9 acres that year. Planted, and pruned; hand caring for their vines. So how long then, before their first wine? 

It was 2008. That’s when their first bottle of estate-grown wine was uncorked. And today’s buzz? International recognition from Wine Enthusiast (the authority that Frasier and Niles would pay attention to); it just gave their 2010 Pinot Gris a rating of 88. I later looked it up myself: 3 Horse Ranch Vineyards 2010 Pinot Gris (Snake River Valley). 88 Points. Some spritzy bubbles and a yeasty flavor confirm that this is quite young and fresh, certainly the best time to enjoy it. The color is almost translucent, the flavors running from light celery to apple to melon, but this 100% varietal wine is quite well made and nicely defined.

I searched 35 ratings for Snake River Valley wines; only 3 others have ever received 88 points. Hard work and commitment, paying off. Today the Cunninghams have 43 acres of certified organic plantings; 100% of the fruit that goes into wine bearing the 3 Horse Ranch label comes from right here; hand planted, hand pruned, hand picked; and on this Sunday afternoon, hand poured.

About 3 Horse Ranch, 5900 Pearl Road, Eagle, Idaho http://www.3horseranchvineyards.com/

About the Eagle Magazine article http://eaglemagazine.com/

About the Wine Enthusiast Rating http://buyingguide.winemag.com/search?q=3+Horse+Ranch

About Idaho wineries http://www.winesnw.com/idmerch.html

Snake River Valley has 15 wineries, 46 vineyards, and 1,800 acres of commercial plantings in SW Idaho and eastern Oregon. Idaho’s vineyard elevations are higher than most others in the Northwest and soils are comprised of primarily volcanic-ash. Add to that long, warm daylight hours during grape-growing season, typical of northern latitudes and arid climates; cool summer evenings characteristic of desert environments; and you have a combination of factors that contribute to producing quality wine grapes with concentrated fruit flavors and naturally high acidities.