Thursday, July 14, 2011

A visit to Huston Vineyards

The tasting room at Huston Vineyards
Photo by Meg McKenzie
Driving up to the tasting room at Huston's takes you down the lovely country roads of Caldwell, where in summer the scent from the mint fields is intoxicating. Signage brings you down the improbably named Chicken Dinner Road to a 1920s farmhouse and a windowless corrugated tin shed, which at first did freak me out a little.

"Watch your step," Mary Alger called out as my eyes took a minute to adjust from the bright sunlight to the dim, air-conditioned coolness of the wine room and I stepped over a raised sill.

Once I acclimated myself, though, I found myself in great company, drinking some nice, bright wines and having a conversation with Mary as though we'd known each other for years. With her porcelain doll features and friendly manner, she's a lovely host.

Huston Vineyards owner Mary Alger
Photo by Meg McKenzie
She told me the amazing story of how she and her husband, Gregg, and their two kids came to live out on the Huston farm (Huston being a tiny hamlet in Canyon County). Mary and Gregg are both from Meridian and grew up on farms. But they were helped into wine growing by the real estate boom. As Mary tells it, one day a man knocked on their door in Boise, where they lived on 6 acres, and made them an offer they couldn’t refuse. It allowed them to live their dream of working the land and giving their sons Jacob and Joshua the rural childhood they had wanted for them. 

They own 32 acres. Gregg attended viticulture classes remotely from OSU at Treasure Valley Community College. 

Unbelievably, their first vintage of 100 cases of Private Reserve Red, which came out last year, won a double gold at a Wine Press Northwest competition. Which attests to the skills of their winemaker, Cinder's Melanie Krause.

Entrance to Huston's
Photo by Meg McKenzie
They grow Cabernet, Merlot and Syrah. They source the white grapes for their Chicken Dinner White from Skyline, one of the biggest vineyards in the area. Their barrels are new oak, new American and new French.

I tried their Chicken Dinner White ($16, excellent), Chicken Dinner Red ($18, a blend of the Cab, Merlot and Syrah) and Reserve Merlot ($27, outstanding). Mary explained that the youngness of the vine creates the thinness of the wine. And I've gotta say, that Chicken Dinner Red is pretty thin -- what some might term an entry-level wine.
They age their Merlot in New American oak. The grape loves the hot days, and gives it a big fruity jam, Mary said, and the tannins develop during the cool nights. The grapes in that wine are 30 percent grapes from the nearby Skyline, Sawtooth and Williamson vineyards.

Huston Vineyards
16473 Chicken Dinner Road
Huston, ID 83630
(208) 861-8511

Owners: Gregg and Mary Alger
Winemaker: Melanie Krause

Easy to find, Mary is fabulous, and the wines are good. The tasting room is cool and comfortable. A boutique experience, not high-volume. Take your time getting across the tire-crunching gravel parking area. Limited hours, open only Fridays and Saturdays from noon to 5. No tasting fee.

Rating system goes from 1 grape (poor) to five (excellent) based on accessibility of vineyard, ambience, and of course the wines.

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