Saturday, August 6, 2011

A visit to St. Rule winery

St. Rule's tasting room is off the beaten track in Weiser
Photo by Meg McKenzie
St Rule … St. Regulus … Seventh Son … Fiddlers Three … I look at the variety of labels on the bottles lined up on the bar in Judy Rule’s compact but comfortable tasting room far off the beaten track in Weiser, and wonder which wine I should try, as Judy’s corkscrew hovers nearby. 

I decide to go with this year’s model, a 2009 Syrah with an impressive-looking neo-Gothic St. Rule winery label. It’s a great choice, it turns out. Fruity, bold, with some kick to it … in fact, I might even go so far as to say it's the best Syrah I’ve ever had. Not that I've had that many: It’s a varietal that has always struck me as the shy half-sister to the big, deep Cabernet. In less-assured hands, it’s a grape that, dare I say, seems almost weeny. But this wine, I love. 

The Rules – Judy and husband, Dave, have run the winery in Weiser, a good hour’s drive northwest of Boise, for the past three years – don’t grow their own grapes, though St. Rule sits in the middle of farming country. Instead, they use the time-tested product of the Snake River vineyards of Caldwell and Nampa. And they don’t use oak barrels. As Judy generously shows me around their property, I stare at the  huge, white, cylindrical objects. What are they? 

Judy Rule with her lineup of wines
Photo by Meg McKenzie
  “These are our patented fermenters,” Judy tells me. As we pass through the enormous shed, several workers are retrofitting a tank for a customer. Judy seems more relaxed showing me the molds, the tanks and various machines they use in their business, than she had in the tasting room. Like most winemakers in southwestern Idaho, the Rules have a second -- "real" -- job. Creating the stainless/polyethylene tanks with patented refrigeration process in the plant behind the tiny tasting room pay the bills that the wines don't. And chances are, if you drop in unannounced -- or even if you call ahead -- you'll find a handwritten note on the door telling you to call Judy "and I'll be there in 2 minutes." In fact, she was there in under one. But don't expect to drop by on a weekend. Judy's only nearby when St. Regulus Fermenting is open during the week.

Exterior of the tasting room
Photo by Meg McKenzie
Another problem is the lack of signage. Though the Rules are less than a mile off U.S. 95, the main north-south highway in Idaho, regulations don't let them erect a sign unless it's on their own land, Judy says. In addition, the map provided by the Idaho Wine Commission has you getting off at the wrong exit,
leading you on a time-consuming detour through the farms of Payette and Fruitland. Judy talks about putting up sandwich boards out by the highway, "but the county keeps removing them."

And about all those labels? Judy said that the Fiddlers one was created to sell wines at the big bluegrass fiddle festival that basically put Weiser on the map. The St. Regulus one was an early, homemade effort that effectively kept the Rules' wine off state liquor store shelves -- "I guess they thought it didn't look professional enough," Judy says. 7th Son was a collaboration with a local winemaker who went out of business. And the St. Rule label occurred just as the Rules were preparing to sell the winery -- a sale that fell through at the last minute. 

It's something you can tell knocked the wind out of Judy and Dave Rule's sails. Asked if her wines are available elsewhere, Judy says she's not sure. It's a shame. At $16 a bottle, that big, earthy Syrah is a revelation.
St. Rule Winery
407 River Dock Road
Weiser, ID 83672

(208) 549-8040, (208) 739-0231

Just look for the big white tanks
Photo by Meg McKenzie
Owners: Judy and Dave Rule
Winemaker: Dave Rule
☻☻☻☻  It's a long haul to get to Weiser from Boise (about an hour), but since the St. Rule winery is right off U.S. 95, it's convenient if you're coming back from parts north. Just remember to take a right off Airport Road (going south), because there isn't a sign to guide you, thanks to weird federal laws, apparently. The tasting room is tiny with zero atmosphere, but is nice and cool thanks to a cranking air-conditioner, and Judy Rule is a sweetheart, enthusiastically opening bottles for you to try. The wines are good, too. Open Monday-Friday, 1 p.m. to 5 p.m.
Ratings are based on one grape for poor to five (excellent), and are awarded for accessibility, ambiance, overall experience and of course, the wines.

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