Move over, Napa Valley; vineyards in the Magic Valley are producing some of the greatest grapes around.
“It was just a dirty old farm when we purchased it 10 years ago,” owner Claudia Snyder says of the sprawling hilltop space in Buhl near the bottom of the Snake River Valley.
“We transformed it into four and a half acres of grapes and an acre and a half of grounds for tastings, tours, weddings and events.”
The winery and vineyard also has a cabin for overnight visits and a steakhouse run by Claudia’s husband, Russ, who cooks New York ribeyes and porterhouses to perfection on Friday and Saturday nights.
In a previous life, Claudia was an interior designer and Russ was the director of sales for a lumber company. Today they produce beautiful bottles of Riesling, Syrah, Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc.
“Grapes do well in rocky soil, and we have a lot of that here,” Snyder says. “We also have first-run spring water, and our climate is great with hot days and cool nights. We’re on the end of what they call the ‘banana belt’ because we don’t get frozen out in the winter.”
The Snyders harvest every fall from Sept. 15 to Oct. 15, depending on the varietal, and spend the next 10-14 days doing the primary fermentation.
“Then we rack off the skins, put them into barrels and age it for a year and a half to two years,” Snyder says. Whereas the Snyders started a vineyard “to occupy ourselves during our retirement,”
James Holesinsky at Holesinsky Vineyard and Winery, also in Buhl, wanted to put his education to work.
“I do chemistry work as a trade, and we had a perfect setting for a vineyard on a canyon rim that creates good air drainage to protect us from the frost and provide great conditions for ripening a grape,” he says. “But what sets us apart is that we are certified biodynamic organic.”
Holesinsky took winemaking and viticulture classes at UC Davis and started the vineyard in 2001. Today he has four acres of Syrah grapes, two acres of Cabernet Sauvignon, two of Muscat, three and a half of Riesling and an acre and a half of Chardonnay, plus a few Port varietals.
Open for tours and tastings by appointment, the winery has a natural artesian pond and Holesinsky is preparing to host weddings and events on the grounds in the coming year, as well as bands in the natural amphitheater.
And the awards have started to roll in: In 2006, Holesinsky’s Riesling won the silver medal for Idaho white wine and the People’s Choice at the State of Idaho Wine Competition. He won the silver again in 2007 for his Riesling. In 2008, the Holesinsky Rosé won double gold at the Idaho Wine Festival and the 2008 Riesling brought home the silver.
“We are an old world French-style winery, which means we age in French oak and don’t overprocess the wine or add any chemical additives whatsoever,” Holesinsky says. “We pride ourselves on our organic properties and really feel like we’re pushing the envelope of progressive winemaking in the area.”
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