CALDWELL, Idaho – In a stunning yet feel-good move for the Idaho wine industry, Greg and Kristen Koenig have agreed to sell Koenig Vineyards on the Sunnyslope of the Snake River Valley to James and Sydney Nederend of nearby SCORIA Vineyards.
Both couples plan to make the announcement later this morning, Great Northwest Wine has learned.
“My wife and I recently bought Fraser Vineyard, and we’re at the point where we want to focus on just our reserve wines and making Fraser Cabernet,” Koenig told Great Northwest Wine. “It was important for us to transition Koenig Vineyards to a local farming family, which is why I reached out to Sydney. We didn’t want to sell to anyone outside of our industry or to some California outfit. We couldn’t be happier – being able to turn it over the next generation of young local farmers.”
Each side declined to disclose financial terms of the sale, but the transaction includes the Koenig Vineyards 7,000-case brand, tasting room, production facility, winemaking contracts and the Koenigs’s 10 acres of vineyards along the Sunnyslope west of Caldwell. The winery was founded in 1995.
“We’ll be carrying on all of Greg’s traditions and relationships, and it’s most important for us to honor all of that, especially in Idaho,” said Sydney, a member of the Weitz family that has been farming in the Snake River Valley for four generations. “It’s the Idaho way of doing business.”
Koenig agrees to stay on as winemaking mentor
Since launching SCORIA Vineyards with the 2013 vintage, the Nederends have hired Greg Koenig and his assistant, Martin Fujishin, to produce most of their wines. Eventually, James Nederend will take over the winemaking for both the SCORIA and Koenig brands, but not in the short term, said Koenig, who plans to create a small production facility 10 minutes away at Fraser Vineyard.
“I will still be their winemaker for a year or two, and Martin knows so much about winemaking, too,” Koenig said. “I will always be on speed dial and just up the hill at Fraser, which was important to them.”
The Idaho wine industry will be gobsmacked by today’s news. Koenig, 48, spent more than two decades dreaming, designing and saving to build the showpiece 7,000-square-foot tasting room and barrel room inspired by the time he lived in Italy as an architecture student at the University of Notre Dame. He did much of the construction work himself. The tasting room, courtyard with fountain and three-story tower opened in the summer of 2016.
“We’re not of retirement age,” Koenig said. “Things are going great, business is awesome and the cellar is full of all these beautiful wines, so the timing is a bit odd.
“But the flip side is that you want to sell a business when it is on the upswing rather than when it is an old, tired place that needs remodeling,” he continued. “I gladly will stay on here as long as James and Sydney need me. I love it here.”
SCORIA Vineyards to open Boise tasting room
Meanwhile, SCORIA Vineyards will continue to grow. Named the 2017 Idaho Winery to Watch by Wine Press Northwest magazine, SCORIA will be bottling 3,000 cases of wine from the 2018 vintage, a byproduct of 18 acres of young estate vineyards just coming online a short drive Koenig Vineyards.
Not only will the Nederends continue operate their industrial-chic estate tasting room near Lake Lowell for wine club and by appointment, but they also recently agreed to lease 1,200 square feet in downtown Boise for a SCORIA Vineyards tasting room in the 10th and Main Building. When that opens this fall, the Nederends will be the first winery owners to operate three tasting rooms in Idaho.
“It’s all positive news. We’re excited but nervous at the same time,” she chuckled.
Sydney, 26, and James, 27, won’t soon forget the morning of Feb. 5, which is when Greg asked to meet with Sydney.
“I thought it was going to be about our oak program or our rosé when he said, ‘I’d like to talk to you about something,’ ” Sydney said. “It was pretty shocking news, for sure. It took James and I all of about five minutes of talking about it before we decided, ‘Let’s jump into this!’ ”
The timing couldn’t be more perfect for James Nederend, who had just left the life of a dairyman. His family owns two dairies, and he has two older brothers, so there wasn’t room for advancement.
“I was at the Neckar coffeehouse in Boise working on my résumé and updating my LinkedIn profile when Sydney called me,” he said with a chuckle.
Both of the Nederends received finance degrees from Boise State, and James is happy to be trading the life of a dairyman for that of a grower and winemaker. The hours will be similar during crush.
“I’m sure that I will love it more than I loved the dairy,” he said. “Farming is something that I’ve always enjoyed, but I’ve enjoyed every aspect of the wine industry that I’ve been involved in so far. I like working the tasting room and pruning the vines and fixing the drip irrigation and fixing the tractor. And with the dairy, I helped oversee 6,000 acres, which included working with fertilizers and seed choices, so I have some science background. We will be working and doing what we love to do, and we’re going to love doing it together.”
Sydney added, “James already has read two winemaking books. It’s a good thing he’s a fast reader.”
Returning to work at Koenig Vineyards
Ironically, Greg Koenig gave Sydney Nederend her first job in the wine industry.
“I remember she just showed up one day at the winery while I was on the tractor,” Koenig said. “She was 20 years old and walked up and told me, ‘I just planted a vineyard, but can you help show me how to put a trellis in?’ She planted Malbec and Petit Verdot, and I went over showed her and her dad’s crew how to put the trellis in. She went ahead and applied for a job to work at our tasting room, and worked for us for a year or so.”
She began her college career at the University of Arizona with an interest in architecture. However, her love for James – her high school sweetheart – soon brought her back home. She earned a degree in finance from Boise State. Ironically, she spotted Koenig’s design for his new tasting room and courtyard in his office during her interview for a tasting room job.
“I remember those beautiful architectural drawings, and our first bond was through our mutual interest in architecture designs,” she said. “I’ve always admired his vision for that space and how he brought it to life.”
That time at Koenig Vineyards helped shape some of her views of the wine industry.
“The Koenig brothers have done some pretty cool stuff and that nobody had been able to do before,” she said. “And I can’t imagine what the Sunnyslope would be like without the two of them.”
Last year, the SCORIA Vineyards 2016 Estate Petit Verdot earned a gold medal at the Idaho Wine Competition. Koenig recently released a Koenig Vineyards 2016 Scoria Vineyard Malbec that scored an “Outstanding!” rating from Great Northwest Wine.
Koenig 2.0 at Fraser Vineyard
Selling everything that he’s created along Hoskins Road will allow Greg Koenig to dote on small lots and create a cult brand for Idaho.
“My parents were in the hotel business and innkeepers for 45 years, and for the last 25 years, Kristen and I have been partners on this winery,” Greg said. “Sometimes we might talk too much about business at the dining table.
“James and Sydney get the name and the brand, and that’s the only bittersweet thing, but I’d like to think there’s some value in that for them,” he said.
At the same time, there will be a growing fascination for whatever emerges from Koenig 2.0.
“I’m looking forward to sitting down and take a breath. I’m still going to make the Fraser wines here at Koenig for a while, and they will spend two years in barrel and a year in bottle – which is the way I want to make them.
“This will be a new concept for Idaho wine – small production and focused wines,” he added. “I will do just a few wines that I hope will be representative of everything that I’ve learned and will continue to come at Koenig.”
From Bill Stowe to Greg Koenig to James Nederend
While his wife focuses on sales and marketing for their growing wine empire, James Nederend will learn winemaking from Koenig and Fujishin. It won’t be the first time Koenig has served as a mentor. He trained Fujishin, whose own eponymous winery was selected in 2017 as a Hot Brand by Wine Business Monthly magazine in Napa and later named Idaho Winery of the Year by Wine Press Northwest.
“We’ve been working with Greg and Martin for the last six years and have been involved in the stylistic choices for our wines,” Sydney said.
In 1995, Koenig began serving his own two-year apprenticeship at Indian Creek Winery with the late Bill Stowe. There will be a memorial service on May 26 at Indian Creek for Stowe, who received the Idaho Wine Commission’s 2018 Lifetime Achievement Award.
“It’s neat that there’s this great extension of winemaking in Idaho of going from Bill Stowe to Greg Koenig to us,” James said. “We’re so grateful and comfortable that Greg is staying in on and will remain in the area for us.”
Koenig Distillery products remain at Koenig Vineyards
The Nederends said they will continue to offer the Koenig Distillery lineup in the Koenig Vineyards tasting room.
“I love that bourbon that Andy makes,” James said.
Koenig and his brother, Andy, received inspiration to create their European-themed businesses and local products while living several years in the Austrian town where their father grew up. The brothers were born and raised in Sun Valley, home to the Knob Hill Inn, a 26-room luxury hotel their parents built in 1992. Prior to that, they owned and operated the Tyrolean Lodge – now a Best Western property – in Ketchum.
In some ways, selling Koenig Vineyards will be relief to Greg, who admits to being “an inherently shy person.” He’s jokingly referenced the scale of his custom-crush operation as “a tribute to my inability to be a very good salesman.“
Koenig Vineyards was named Idaho Winery of the Year by Wine Press Northwest magazine in 2005, and two wines that will not be included in the sale to the Nederends will be the Cuvée Amelia Reserve Syrah and the Cuvée Alden Private Reserve – the proprietary programs he and Kristen named in honor of their daughter and son, both of whom are still in high school. The 2006 Amelia was named the Best Red Wine at the 2008 Northwest Wine Summit.
Greg long has been enchanted by the chase to produce award-winning Cabernet Sauvignon with Idaho fruit, which is no easy feat in the Snake River Valley with vineyards nearing 3,000 feet elevation. He remains inspired by the work that Rob Griffin, the dean of Washington winemakers, accomplished in the 1990s at Barnard Griffin using Cabernet Sauvignon grown by Steve Robertson at Hells Canyon.
It’s no coincidence that one of Koenig’s most acclaimed wines was a 2008 Cabernet Sauvignon he made from Eagle Foothills fruit for 3 Horse Ranch Vineyards. That Cab went onto become just the second red wine to be awarded a Platinum from Wine Press Northwest.
Starting now, Greg Koenig’s focus will be to go beyond that with Cabernet Sauvignon from Fraser Vineyard – a 4-acre site established in 2003 at an altitude of 2,673 feet by Bill and Bev Fraser. Bill Fraser’s 2017 Fraser Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon swept the top awards for the 2010 Idaho Wine Competition with a double gold and awards for best red and best of show. A year later, Fraser Vineyard was named the 2011 Idaho Winery of the Year by Wine Press Northwest magazine.
Until this fall, however, Koenig Vineyards will remain the winemaking focus of Greg Koenig.
“The day after this is finalized, I’m coming back to work and doing exactly the same things,” he said. “James and Sydney need to learn as much as they can from me.”
And it will be fun to see who grabs tab at The Orchard House after the weekly Friday lunch meetings among Koenig, Fujishin and the Nederends.
“We weren’t even in this business seven years ago, and we wouldn’t be in this business if not for Greg and Martin,” Sydney said. “Greg and Kristen did the heavy lifting by building an incredible facility and brand that changed the perception of Idaho wine. James and I are honored to be carrying on the Koenig winemaking tradition.”