Monday, July 11, 2011

A visit to Williamson Vineyards

Williamson is unique in the AVA, in that it grows grapes for its own wines but also supplies them to 11 other wineries, in addition to growing cherries, apricots, peaches, plums, nectarines and apples. Though they have hundreds of acres of orchards, 42 acres are devoted just to grapes:Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah, Sangiovese (Italian, used for Chianti), Mourvedres (a red grape used in blending, mainly in Australia and New Zealand), Petite Syrah, Riesling and Viognier.

When I visited, I chatted with tasting room manager Beverly Williamson. Friendly, candid and down-to-earth, she was very generous with her time.
Beverly Williamson, co-owner of Williamson Vineyards.
Photo by Meg McKenzie
"Idaho," she said, "became known for Riesling, a varietal from the Rhone Valley, because the wine industry grew up in the Seventies, when that was a popular wine. The new favorite is Viognier, for which the Snake River AVA has the perfect growing temperatures. I would call it 'the new Chardonnay.' Skyline also grows it, as do the Koenigs and us."
According to Beverly, the member wineries of the Snake River AVA (which was approved only in 2007, work together, sometimes even trading grapes and services. The Williamsons own one of the few grape harvesters in the region, and the Koenigs one of the few de-stemmers and crushers.

Entrance to the tasting room.
Photo by Meg McKenzie
Beverly explained that one reason Idaho wines may be relatively unknown is because of the taxes and fees that other states charge, starting in the 1990s, to sell wine there. The hardest states to crack? Kentucky (the bourbon lobby) and New Jersey, for some imaginable reason. She said Williamson has been trying to sneak into the Ketchum/Sun Valley area, and has had some success in the Coeur D’Alene/Sandpoint lake district 400 miles to the north.
In addition to making and selling wine, the Williamsons broker their fruit all over the world. One surprising customer is in Thailand: The white-flesh peaches are popular there during their local moon festival -- "I guess because they look like moons," Beverly said.
An Idaho tradition
Photo by Meg McKenzie
Beverly is a fourth-generation Williamson. She graduated from the University of Idaho with a marketing and graphic arts degree and designed the labels. Her brother Mike went to horticulture school and manages the vineyard.

Of the wines I tasted at Williamson, the 2009 Viognier ($15 a bottle) was my favorite.
Williamson Orchards & Vineyards
19692 Williamson Lane, Caldwell, ID 83607
(208) 459-7333

Owners: Roger, John, Mike, Beverly Williamson
Winemaker: Greg Koenig

☻☻☻☻☻ Points for a nice wine-tasting experience, the good wine, the winery's accessibility (right off Route 55 (Sunny Slope Road, going toward Marsing) and its plentiful hours. No tasting fee. Gently priced wines. Closed Sunday, open pretty much every other day from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. (till 4 p.m. on Saturday). Visiting Williamson’s is literally like going down on the farm – the look is rustic, turn-of-the-century barnyard, and you have to dodge Lexuses coming at you on the one-lane road to the tasting room/fruit stand. But it’s definitely worth a visit. Located in a narrow space inside an actual working barn (watch out for that forklift!) and across from the tree-shaded produce stand, the tasting room is nevertheless cool and comfortable with high-top tables, a granite pouring bar and soothing green-painted walls. If you’re lucky, the manager, Beverly, will be there.   
My ratings are on a scale of one grape (poor) to five grapes (excellent) and based on my overall experience, the winery's accessibility and the wines.

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