Saturday, July 16, 2011

A visit to Fujishin Family Cellars

Fruit and wine for sale at Fujishin's
Photo by Meg McKenzie
I visited Fujishin Family Cellars – OK, some big-city snobs MIGHT mistake it for a fruit stand, but they’d be foolish to zoom by on Sunny Slope Road (aka Route 55) in their haste to get to Ste. Chapelle. 

Entering the produce stand, which is owned by Robison Fruit Ranch, you dodge crates of peaches and pears to get to the counter along the back, which is manned by Martin Fujishin and his girlfriend Teresa’s daughter, who’s helping out for the day. Through an open door, you spy farm machinery in the barn adjoining the 65-year-old building. It’s all so quaint and, well, basic: Can the wine be any good?

Martin Fujishin, high-tech and Old School at the same time
Photo by Meg McKenzie
As Rachael Ray would say: Yum-oh! Martin fills you in on his background as you swoon your way through a pour of his 2008 Reserve Merlot (retailing for about $22). Unlike the Algers down the road, who lucked into starting Huston's Vineyard by scoring big in the real estate boom, Martin’s story truly is a Horatio Alger one.

As his countenance suggests, he’s a blend of heritages: of Japanese, German, French and Norwegian stock. After farming for six years, the Oregon native seems to have done it all in the local wine world: being tasting room manager at nearby Koenig Winery and Distillery for three years, running the harvest crews at Williamson’s and helping out at Bitner Vineyards up the road. He says his tasting room experience taught him what sells, and working in the fields educated his palate and his eye. Now he can choose grapes for his own label, which he started in 2009, as he directs the hand-picking for other wineries.

Fujishin/Robison's front porch
Photo by Meg McKenzie
Like most knowledgeable vintners, he took viticulture and enology classes through UC-Davis (he also has a degree in business from the College of Idaho), and now teaches others at Treasure Valley Community College, which recently celebrated its first student to get his AA in viticulture (the program also offers a 1-year certificate).  

Martin’s easygoing, knowledgeable manner suggests he’s probably a popular teacher. It also has helped him to forge important alliances in the insular wine world of southwest Idaho. He belongs to a group of Sunny Slope winemakers, which meets for breakfast once a week to figure out how to promote their vineyards. Festa, the September event that I heard about from Ron Bitner and Beverly Williamson, is one fruit of their brainstorming. And for the past two years, he's been managing the stand for Robison's, affording him an ideal venue with which to reach potential wine customers. 

Martin’s wines include Viognier, Syrah, Chardonnay and Gewurztraminer and range in price from around $14 up to $21.95 for the reserve labels.
 Fujishin's award-winning wines
Photo by Meg McKenzie

Fujishin Family Cellars
15593 Sunnyslope Road
Caldwell, ID 83607
(208) 649-5389
Owner/Winemaker: Martin Fujishin
A rustic low-key atmosphere, which is welcome after the high-pressure temple of the grape up at Ste. Chapelle. But as he shares the space with Robison’s farm stand, Martin Fujishin’s open-air business doesn’t encourage much dallying (there’s nowhere to sit except out on the porch). But Fujishin’s approachable manner – and his equally approachable wines – make up for that lack. Open Tuesday-Sunday from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. in the summer. No tasting fee.

Ratings are from 1 grape (poor) to five (excellent) based on accessibility of vineyard, ambiance, and of course the wines. 

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