Snake River Winery puts Idaho wines on the map
By Liza Long, Photography by Mark Dyrup
Nearly ten years before the American Viticulture Association designated the Snake River appellation for wines grown in Southwestern Idaho in 2007, there was already a Snake River Winery. The Winery’s slogan, “Idaho grown and family owned since 1998,” demonstrates owners Scott and Susan DeSeelhorst’s commitment to the increasingly popular local food movement.
“We chose the name Snake River Winery because the property sits on the edge of the ancient Snake River overlooking the valley,” Susan told me when I visited the winery’s popular BoDo tasting room.
The DeSeelhorsts acquired the Snake River Winery estate, located near Parma in the Arena Valley, by serendipity. Susan grew up in Boise; when the couple, then involved in managing Scott’s family’s ski resort in Utah, were looking for a summer home in the late 1990s, they chose her hometown. “We lived in a pretty remote area in Utah,” Susan told me. “We wanted to live somewhere in our summers off that had pizza delivery and trash pickup.”
Scott, a trained chef who previously ran all non-ski operations at the resort, also wanted to locate a few south-facing Idaho acres where he could plant grapes. Instead, the DeSeelhorsts found an 87-acre vineyard for sale. At the time, the land produced just four types of grapes on 75 acres: Chardonnay, Reisling, Cabernet, and Merlot.
Today, the DeSeelhorsts grow 16 varietals, including specialty grapes that even seasoned wine lovers may not recognize. The soil conditions, with the sandy, cobbled riverbed, are ideal for growing grapes. Scott is the winemaker and partners with the estate’s manager to produce a variety of award-winning estate-grown wines. Snake River Winery was voted winery of the year by Wine Press Northwest in 2013. This year, their Cabernet was awarded “Best in Show” at the Idaho State Fair.
When Scott’s family sold their ski resort to Deer Valley earlier this year, the DeSeelhorts decided to relocate to Boise, purchasing and remodeling a 115-year old historic home near downtown Boise. The new residence is convenient to the winery’s tasting room, where Susan loves to help Boise residents and visitors discover Idaho wines. “Our biggest seller is our unoaked Chardonnay,” she told me. The wine, made from Chardonnay grapes without oak barrel aging is a European style that showcases the fruit’s flavor and pairs well with salads and appetizers. Snake Valley Winery’s Cabernet and Reislings are also popular. I found their Mourvedre Rose to be delightfully dry and refreshing, with a strong fruity bouquet.
Susan notes that wine production is less glamorous than people might imagine. “The November 2014 freeze hurt us,” she said. “Grapes were the Idaho Crop of the Year at the state fair, but really, it’s still just farming. Idaho has a relatively good climate for grapes, but so much depends on the weather.”
If you’re downtown, sample Snake River Winery’s unique palate-pleasing wines in their BoDo tasting room, where a tasting flight is complimentary with wine purchase. Ask about the Wine Club, which includes complimentary tastings and discounts on wine and wine-related merchandise. You can also find the Snake River Winery at the Boise Farmer’s Market at Tenth and Grove April through December. And visitors to Boise can taste Snake River Winery wines twice a month at the Greenbelt store in the Boise airport just past the security checkpoint.
“I love the airport wine tastings,” Susan told me. “It gives us the opportunity to get people to try Idaho wines, and they are always pleasantly surprised. I have travelers tell me, ‘You guys are so cool here in Idaho!’”
For more information
Tasting Room: 786 W Broad St, Boise, ID 83702
10:00 am-7:30 pm Monday through Saturday, 12:00-5:00 pm Sunday