Monday, August 15, 2011

A visit to Koenig Vineyards

Koenig has a lot going for it. For one thing, the location is right across from Lowell (read Ste. Chapelle) Road on Route 55 in Caldwell. That means that when the concert is over on Sunday afternoon, the vineyard/distillery about a half-mile away down Grape Lane is where a lot of thirsty Idahoans head, since the tasting room is open until 5 p.m. on weekends, and guess what, gang: No tasting fee!
I really enjoyed the short ride past actual farms and the Snake River, up a little hill and past peach and apricot trees with ripe fruit hanging off them to the tasting room/distillery. The building itself is a big, boxy rectangle with a little balcony hanging off the second floor and some grape processing equipment down front. There’s a big circular parking lot with usually a half-dozen visitors’ cars parked there and a picturesque stack of fruit crates in the background. And that’s about it.

The distillery
Photo by Meg McKenzie
But inside is a different story. There’s a cool little ante-room at the bottom of the curving staircase, with a view of the crazy-genius-looking copper distillery for the potato vodka the Koenig brothers produce along with their wines. But you’re here for the vino, so up, up the steps you climb toward the sound of laughter that greets you in the second-floor tasting room. 

OK, so it looks like every other tasting room you’ve visited in Canyon County: the bottles adorned with medals, the shelves of wine, books about wine, glassware and logo-adorned clothing, at 30 percent off. But Koenig has several amenities that gives their tasting room a leg up. There’s that little table off to the side, with Carr’s crackers and a chunk of Jarlsberg cheese: Help yourself and munch between tastes. It really does clear the palate, and with that lineup of reds waiting for you, it can help you distinguish between the Merlot and the CSPV (Cabernet Sauvignon and Petit Verdot blend). 

Belly up to the bar -- don't be shy!
Photo by Meg McKenzie
Then there are the gals who pour the wines – pleasantly, eagerly, without fuss, able to talk knowledgeably about the wines, but also to shoot the shit with patrons in a friendly way. Kelly and Caroline were there one afternoon. I got to swap stories about children with Caroline, who moved here from England with her husband, an American.

The last thing is that lineup of bottles. There are at least eight different wines to sample. I started with the Viognier – light and fruity, a real crowd-pleaser. Then I switched to the reds: the Sangiovese – what Americans used to know as Chianti. Koenig’s was dry, really dry. I moved on to the CSPV, which had a great nose, but was also a little dry for me, flavorwise. After some crackers and cheese, I moved on to the Merlot, which was smooth, high-alcohol and pretty good. 

Exterior of the tasting room
Photo by Meg McKenzie
But something was missing. You guessed it: the winemaker. Greg Koenig – who also makes wines for his neighbors, the Bitners. “Does he ever show up in his tasting room?” I asked Caroline, who shook her head and volunteered that she herself had only seen the maestro once. Dang it! Making my way down the winding staircase, I reflected once again how much an AWOL owner subtracts  from the vineyard experience. Not that chatting with Caroline and enjoying a free smorgasbord of wine wasn’t awesome. But I guess I would liken it to going to a dinner party without a host. You feel kind of cheated.

Koenig Vineyards
20928 Grape Lane
Caldwell, ID 83607

Owners: The Koenig brothers
Winemaker: Greg Koenig

Cheese and crackers, baby not included
Photo by Meg McKenzie
☻☻☻☻ The Koenig tasting room, which I've visited a couple times, is light and airy with a convivial atmosphere. There always seems to be folks standing around chatting and swirling their wineglasses. It's located conveniently off Sunny Slope, and is open Friday through Sunday from noon to 5 p.m. There's no tasting fee, and a lineup of wines that includes sparkling vintages and cordials. But the busy winemaker doesn't have time to hang out at his winery. Bummer.

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

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