Wednesday, July 13, 2011

A visit to 3 Horse Ranch Vineyards

Are we there yet?
Photo by Meg McKenzie
Getting to 3 Horse Ranch is quite an adventure. Though you can take Chapparal Road from U.S. 16, I was coming from the west. Eagle Road starts out as a pleasant, tree-shaded suburban street, then turns into farmland. Then desert. Once it gets into the hills, the houses drop away, and it becomes the winding Willow Creek Road. Then the paved road ends, and the dirt road begins – and you feel like you're out in the the middle of freaking nowhere. When a vulture literally started circling overhead, I actually turned back before consulting the map again, and decided I’d come too far to stop now. After all, I’d only invested 40 minutes of my life and at least a gallon of gas. 

“This wine better be worth it,” I found myself muttering. But there, just after entering Gem County – another county! -- came the sign with an arrow beckoning me on: 3 Horse Ranch, straight ahead. But of course it wasn’t. The road wound and curved in a configuration that looked nothing like the map I’d been using. At the top of a hill, however, I looked down and spotted a most welcome sight: the orderly rows of what had to be vines in the midst of tumbleweed-strewn desert. And -- yes! -- three horses munching contentedly on grass in a fenced-in pasture.

A welcome sign at 3 Horse
Photo by Meg McKenzie
I turned left at Pearl Road. A Mercedes kicked up dust coming the other way, and I knew I was on the right track. Pulling in next to a small house, I saw a chalkboard sign that read: Tasting today.
Inside, the room is set up in what looks like Martha Cunningham’s cozy yellow kitchen – if a kitchen were decorated with wine bottles, that is. Some visitors from Ohio sat at the counter contentedly downing bread and cheese as they tasted wines, and Tess, a lovably non-threatening dog, came over and gave my ankles the sniff of approval. Though it was a warm day, fans kept the air circulating pretty well, as Martha Cunningham, looking like she had just come in from working the land in her homey straw hat, manned the counter.

Martha gave me some generous pours of the vineyard’s 2010 Reserve Rose, 2009 Estate Chardonnay and 2008 Cabernet. I can report that all justified the dusty ride to get to the farmhouse, as well as the $5 tasting fee. And trust me, I was prepared to be a rather harsh critic.

Martha Cunningham in her tasting room
Photo by Meg McKenzie
It turned out that I had walked in on a high-level purchase of an assorted case of wine, so I gave them some privacy, and strolled around the quaint, farmy tasting room, munching on sourdough bread and cheese before leaving to make the long ride back into town.

A few weeks later, I stopped by 3 Horse’s booth at the Capitol City Market, manned by Jeff Herman, who was extremely polite, charming (and quite easy on the eyes). In addition to some pours that ratified my positive feelings toward the wine, he gave me some basic facts: The vineyard was planted in 2003. First pressing was in 2008. When Gary and Martha came from California and bought it, it was a horse ranch. They have 40 acres planted with 12 different varieties of grapes. Their winemaker is Greg Koenig, a name I’ve been hearing a lot in my travels around the Snake River AVA, since he also turns out award-winning wines for Williamson and his own winery.
3 Horse's Jeff Herman
Photo by Meg McKenzie

Owners: Gary and Martha Cunningham
Winemaker: Greg Koenig

3 Horse Ranch Vineyard
5900 Pearl Road
Eagle, ID 83616
(208) 722-4025,

☻☻☻☻ - 3 Horse Ranch makes organic, award-winning wine. The experience feels authentic, like going to the Rhone Valley, even if it feels like you’ve just driven all the way to France. But the vineyard also has a booth at Capitol City Market in downtown Boise each Saturday. In addition, 3 Horse wines are available at Costco, Fred Meyer and Albertsons. The Eagle tasting room is open Wed-Sun, 11-6. There is a $5 tasting fee (aw, c'mon!) that is applied to the purchase of a bottle, with prices ranging from about $14 to about $25, with end-of-vintage deals on some cases.

My ratings go from 1 grape (poor) to 5 grapes (excellent) and are based on my overall experience at the winery, the ambience and, of course, the wines.

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