Sunday, July 24, 2011

A visit to Sawtooth Winery

Up rustic Surrey Lane to Sawtooth
Photo by Meg McKenzie
Ah, Nampa. I’d been putting off visiting the Nampa and Kuna wineries for a while because, judging by the map, it seems as though they are far apart and out in the middle of nowhere. And you know what? This time, the map did not lie.

Of course, I managed to get kind of lost several times in my quest to reach Sawtooth Winery. After exiting off I-84 at Garrity Boulevard, and blundering down Nampa’s quaint cowtown-like main street (2nd Street), I headed south for many miles, which reminded me of my marathon journey to 3 Horse Ranch, except in the opposite direction, and instead of acres and acres of hills, there was acre upon acre of farmland (though at least there were no vultures circling this time). 

I missed the left turn for Missouri but found my way back, and soon the orange-and-white sign beckoned for Sawtooth down Skyranch and then Surrey Lane, which is a dirt road going up a hill with vegetables and then grapevines lining it. As I bemoaned the wash and wax my car had recently enjoyed, I did thrill to the sight not only of the onions and carrots of the tenant farmers, but also of tiny green grapelets forming on the vines. There are a lot of grapes here; I had already learned that Sawtooth (and its associated vineyard, Skyline) produces grapes for a lot of area wineries, including the big dog Ste. Chapelle, and while started in the '80s by local legend Brad Pintler, it is now owned by Seattle's Precept Brands.

Tiffany assists a guest at Sawtooth Winery in Nampa
Photo by Meg McKenzie
The winery building was reminiscent of Koenig, a few miles to the north, with its balcony of chatting guests, sign-in table and stairway to heaven, so to speak. At the top, a granite tasting bar confronted me, along with Angie and Tiffany, two of the sweetest gals I have ever met. The room itself is decorated with Sawtooth merch, and has a view, to the south, of the surrounding fields; to the north, of the fermenting tanks; to the east, a barn and machinery; and to the west, the wedding venue, with its attractive gazebo, rose garden and antique streetlamp. It must be a popular setting, as several engaged couples trooped through for tours while I was there. Though I must add I was there a lot longer than I planned to be – simply because it was so pleasant.

I was in a chatty mood, so when she could shut me up, Tiffany presented me with a double-sided menu: the $3 “mainline” tasting, and on the back, the $8 “reserve.” Of course, I went for the mainline wines, reasoning that these were the bottles I would be able to afford in the supermarket – and I had already established that Sawtooth wines (named for a nearby mountain range) were available at Albertsons, the chain that dominates Boise.

Entrance to the Sawtooth "chateau"
Photo by Meg McKenzie
After I paid my three bucks, the wines started coming, and kept coming! In all, there were eight tastes of wines that ranged from $8 to $13 a bottle (the reserve range is $15-25). Of course the tasting price is refundable with a purchase. My favorite of the whites was a fruity Muscat Blanc, which had huge citrus aromas and was as sweetly refreshing as lemonade. And of the reds, the 2008 Cabernet hit all the right fruity, spicy notes (though of course it was the last wine I tasted and I was feeling pretty good by then). The accompanying bowls of herbed popcorn helped with palate- and head-clearing.

Though he wasn't there to talk to, the current winemaker (since 2009) is Bill Murray (not the actor, Tiffany hastened to say). It was so sunny and relaxed on the Saturday I visited, I ended up chatting at the bar with a couple from Eagle who sprang for the Reserve menu and seemed to be doing a wine tour that day. I learned a little more than I needed to about her impending first grandchild and his feelings on the subject, but it also spiced up the day. As I left, Tiffany (who though hailing from Texas seems to know a lot about Idaho wines) invited me to wander around the vineyards and take as many pictures as I wanted. Which I did.

The rose garden
Photo by Meg McKenzie
Sawtooth Winery
13750 Surrey Lane
Nampa, ID 83686; 208-467-1200

Founder: Brad Pintler
Owner: Precept Brands of Seattle
Winemaker: Bill Murray

☻☻☻☻ If only I didn’t take so long to get there, I’d award Sawtooth the full 5 grapes. The pourers were excellent -- Angie was busy leading tours for the wedding customers, but both young ladies were warm and welcoming. The wines were uniformly good, and at $3 for eight pours, and with gently priced bottles, are a bargain. Though owned by a big conglomerate, it doesn't read "commercial vineyard." Wandering through the orderly rows of grapes was, for me, like going to Disney World -- I got to see what Chardonnay and Merlot look like in their infancy. Set at the top of a hill, the winery looks like a fun place for a wedding, though the dirt road is a bit of a serious bummer if you've just washed your car. Open Tuesday-Sunday, noon to 5 p.m.

Ratings go from one grape (poor) to five (excellent) and are based on a winery's accessibility, ambiance, overall experience and, of course, the wines.

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