Monday, August 22, 2011

A visit to Parma Ridge Vineyards

Winemaker Dick Dickstein
Photo by Meg McKenzie
If Caldwell, with its family farms, historic little downtown and cluster of small vineyards is the pastoral face of Canyon County, you might say Parma, where Dick Dickstein's hilltop winery happens to be located, is at the "business end." Because State Road 19 (alias Simplot Boulevard) is basically a charmless stretch of cement factories and potato processing plants, broken up by a couple of railroad crossings and teeny little whistle stops like Greenleaf and Wilder.

As I neared Parma from the east, I began noticing some strange-looking vine crops (and they weren't grapes). After turning right on State Road 95 and exiting to the right off Bluff Lane, I found Rudd Road, and some signage, which led me to Parma Ridge Vineyard.

When I got there, I found Dick examining his grapevines, as a team of laborers worked industriously to groom them. After we got inside his winery, I asked him about the strange crops I'd seen as I entered Parma. What were they? "Hops," he told me. At which I had to laugh, at the idea of wine and beer crops coexisting out in the hinterlands of Idaho. (Which didn't surprise me, actually, since Boise is becoming well-known as a hotbed of world-class craft breweries.)

Driving up Rudd Road to Parma Ridge
Photo by Meg McKenzie
Dick took me on a tour of his winemaking facilities -- stainless and poly tanks in one building, and oak casks in another. A short, compact guy, he filled me in on his past life as an American Airlines pilot for 32 years. A native of Burbank, Calif., he said he'd nurtured a dream of owning a vineyard for many decades, but it wasn't until he and his wife (who's from Walla Walla, Wash., another burgeoning wine region) came to Canyon County for a wedding that they seized the opportunity to make that dream a reality. They now own about 9 acres in Parma, adding to the original 3 acres they bought in 1998.

At first Dick started out growing grapes for neighboring wine giant Ste. Chapelle, but then he got the itch to make his own wines. His first vintage was in 2001, and he now grows eight different varieties of grapes. It's a small production vineyard, normally producing about 1,500 cases a year (that's 18,000 750ml bottles).  Dick's fertile imagination has also been at work creating some ingenious half-size bottles that are cute little versions of the full size, corks and all. He wants to market them to restaurants so that couples who are split between red and white won't have to commit to a full bottle of either.

Welcome to the winery
Photo by Meg McKenzie
The winery is open mainly by appointment, but if you do make the call, you get to meet the winemaker himself. He does an open house the third week in April to introduce new wines, and also has a pre-harvest sale at the end of September. But if you can't make it out to Parma, Dick's delicious wines are available at area wine shops like the Boise Coop, and Erickson's and A New Vintage in Eagle.

Did you notice I said Dick's wines are delicious? They certainly are -- at least the ones I tried, which included his Merlot, his Gewurtraminer and his unoaked Chardonnay (which he bottles under the Mills Run label). Don't let his rather plain-looking labels (at least on the older vintages) put you off. Make the call (and the drive). You will be glad you did.

Mini-bottles of wine in a four-pack
Photo by Meg McKenzie
Parma Ridge Vineyards
24509 Rudd Road, Parma ID 83660
(208) 722-6885;

Owner/winemaker: Dick Dickstein

☻☻☻☻ You can get to Parma either via I-84, or by getting off the expressway at Caldwell and taking Simplot Boulevard (which cuts about 20 minutes off the journey). If you're in the area, or are in the mood for a drive, it's definitely worth a visit. Winemaker/grower Dick Dickstein is innately charming (don't let the gruff exterior fool you -- when he smiles, his whole face lights up) and has been at this wine thing a long time. His tasting room is exquisitely cool in the heat of summer (it's set 55 degrees year-round). And his wines are uniformly good.

Note: My ratings go from one grape (poor) to five (excellent) and are based on accessibility, ambiance, overall experiene and, of course, the wines

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