Wednesday, August 10, 2011

A Visit to Bitner Vineyards

The Bitners' terrace
Photo by Meg McKenzie
Bitner Vineyards has the loveliest setting in Canyon County. Period. Every time I come over that hill on Plum Road (and I’ve done so several times on my way to various other wineries in Caldwell, such as Koenig and Huston), and look over at the Bitners’ winery and patio perched on the sun-drenched hillside with their acres of grapes marching in neat rows below, I’m, like, ahhhhhhhh.

I responded as well to their unprepossessing signage and the leisurely drive up that amazing hill, among the vines, up, up, up to the winery. It’s something, I feel, that every winemaker would give his or her left arm for. Though, of course, the experience ultimately depends on what awaits at the top of the hill.

Ron Bitner, right, with Walt Varnes and Silvia Marroquin
Photo by Meg McKenzie
In this case, I was anxiously hoping vineyard owners Ron and Mary Bitner would be there. At various vineyards the previous week, I kept hearing that the world-traveling Bitners were out of town, visiting vineyards in Spain, so I was taking a risk that they would be there. (Is it just me, or does a missing winemaker remove a big part of the equation, especially when visiting a small, boutique winery?)

Pulling into the shaded parking area next to the tasting room, I spied a tired-looking man watering the flowers in the garden. Acting on a hunch, I asked, “Mr. Bitner?” It was! He greeted me warmly, if a little wanly, volunteering that he and his wife had just got back from Spain. I know! I wanted to shout. I also knew from his website that he's an entomologist (bug scientist) by trade, has been growing grapes for 30 years and has been enthusiastically pushing the Idaho wine industry for the past 10 -- he even testified before Congress!

Mary Bitner, at the winery
Photo by Meg McKenzie
I eagerly took him up on his invitation to check out the tasting room and some of the Bitner/Koenig offerings (the Bitners grow the grapes while winemaker/neighbor Greg Koenig crafts the vintages). Though the view from their terrace was sublime, it was a brutally hot afternoon, so the cool confines of the tasting room suited me just fine. Behind the wooden bar, pourers Walt Varnes and Silvia Marroquin were pleasant and knowledgeable -- Walt even showed me how to "chew" the wine as you taste it, though he admitted that you make some pretty weird faces (and noises) doing so. Silvia urged me to try Mary's new addition to the Bitner lineup, the 2008 Menopause Merlot, but I guess I couldn't get past the name. But I liked the Bitners' Cabernet very much (their 2005 vintage got a gold medal at the 2008 Idaho Wine Festival) and enjoyed the pleasant, low-key companionship of the two amiable pourers. As I was leaving, I met the sweet-faced Mary, who also runs a bed-and-breakfast property, and although she grimaced ("I haven't had a chance to get my hair done since I got back!") she graciously consented to having her picture taken.

The winery is at the top of the hill.
Photo by Meg McKenzie
Bitner Vineyards
16645 Plum Road

Caldwell, ID 83607
(208) 455-1870,

Owners: Ronnie and Mary Bitner
Winemaker: Greg Koenig

☻☻☻ That view! OMG, even if the wines tasted like vinegar (which they definitely do not), I think I'd still award the Bitners five grapes just because their winery looks exactly as you would want a winery to look. But their wines were uniformly good. And the hilltop paradise is easy to find and get to (just turn left down Plum Road, heading west on Homedale). The winery is comfortable and cute. And though tired from a recent journey abroad, the owners were present and accounted for when I visited -- and gracious, to boot. No tasting fee. Open Friday-Sunday, noon to 5 p.m.

My ratings go from one grape (poor) to five (excellent), based on accessibility, ambiance, overall experience and, of course, the wines.


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