Saturday, August 27, 2011

A visit to Terra Nativa Vineyards

When I first entered the Nativa Terra subdivision in the East End of Boise, and rounded the bend of the cul de sac, I almost couldn't believe my eyes. There, nestled in the Foothills, surrounded by pricey haciendas that anywhere else in the country would be locked away in a gated community, was the sweetest-looking little vineyard you'd ever hope to find. Protected behind deer screens were straight rows of grapes marching along the hillside, their tendrils glistening in the sun.

A vineyard in a subdivision - who would have guessed?
Photo by Meg McKenzie
I had pre-arranged to meet vineyard owner/winemaker (and developer/landscape architect, in his "real" job) Richard Pavelek, but as I entered the vineyard, there was no sign of him. But then I passed a row and saw evidence of pruning. There was Richard with another guy cutting back a section of Merlot grapes that had unfortunately suffered frost damage during the previous winter.

With his polo shirt, ruggedly handsome sun-tanned face and silvery hair, Richard looked like someone you'd be more apt to find modeling suits in a Dillards catalog than digging the dirt. But I quickly found he's very serious and quite knowledgeable about growing grapes and making wine. On only a few acres of the high-altitude land (at about 3,000 feet above sea level) not far from iconic Table Rock, which his father and father-in-law acquired back in the 1960s, Richard says he can produce about 800-900 cases of wine a year, "which is a pretty good yield for a vineyard this size."

Terra Nativa Vineyard owner Richard Pavelek
Photo by Meg McKenzie
With the help of respected Caldwell winemaker Cheyne Weston, Richard has been producing his boutique wines for the past five or so years. He grows only red grapes -- a lot of Cabernet, Cab Franc, Merlot, a little Syrah and a little Malbec -- and has a finishing cellar full of oak barrels in Meridian. He prefers a more organic wine and doesn't use a lot of sulfites, he said.

Growing up in Oregon, where his father and uncle dabbled in small-batch winemaking, it took Richard awhile, after moving here in 1999, to realize that the hillside below his house would be perfect for growing grapes since for many years it was simply used as grazing land. He had an epiphany one day staring at a random pear tree in the midst of the fields. Finding out there had been orchards there at one time, he discovered that the clay soil could produce some grapes of very intense flavor.
Giving the wine a timeout
Photo by Meg McKenzie

And so it does. Opening a bottle of 2006 Terra Nativa Cabernet Franc, I was bowled over by the aggressiveness of this deep-red wine. This is a grape that is used for blending in many Bordeaux wines, and with good reason. There's a lot of grape there. So I corked it back up and put it in the refrigerator for a little time out. A day later, when I uncorked the bottle and tried another taste, I couldn't believe my taste buds. This Cab Franc was fantastic! The nuances ... the mouth feel ... the plummy, jammy shoe-leather tannins had all conspired to seduce me. I was sorry when the bottle was finished.

This magic of oxygenation, which other winemakers had described to me, was a lesson that I won't soon forget. Moral of the story: Never give up on a wine; with decanting and resting, it might become your lost soulmate. Like Richard Pavelek's 2006 Terra Nativa Cabernet Franc.

Terra Nativa Vineyards
100 N. Bene Posto
Boise, ID
(208) 345-2421;

A view of the vineyards as you enter the subdivision
Photo by Meg McKenzie
☻☻☻ Terra Nativa doesn't keep regular hours, but I'll bet if you give Richard Pavelek a call, he'll be happy to show you around and sell you a bottle of his estate wine. His vineyard, in the eastern Foothills of Boise, is the last stop on the Boise Party Bus Tour, which also visits the Periple, Cinder and Fraser wineries in Boise. His 2006 Cabernet Franc is a brazen hussy of a wine -- temperamental and gorgeous, but if you give her a few hours (or better yet, a day in the refrigerator, recorked) to settle down, she'll deliver more than you ever expected. As for the tasting room? What tasting room? We walked up to Richard's million-dollar home to fetch a bottle of wine, but there was no nickel tour, other than of the vineyards. (Maybe it's in his garage.)

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

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