CALDWELL, Idaho – Greg Koenig recently sold his showpiece winery in the Snake River Valley to James and Sydney Nederend, yet the awards continue to pour out of Koenig Vineyards, the latest being best of show at the 2019 Idaho Wine Competition.
A group of wine professionals from Washington state, New Orleans and Idaho selected the Koenig Vineyards 2018 Riesling Ice Wine as the judging’s top entry, and the vote was unanimous.
“Holy s— ! That’s world-class stuff,” exclaimed Tim Donahue, CEO/director of winemaking for Walla Walla Community College’s acclaimed Institute of Enology and Viticulture. “You could sit that down with the world’s best trockenbeerenauslese, Sauternes and Tokaji and be proud as punch to be drinking that. It was that good.”
Koenig, mild-mannered and modest, replied, “That’s awesome to hear. We grow really nice Riesling in Idaho, and I’m fortunate that we’re immediately adjacent to the Riesling block at Williamson Vineyard.
“I make a dry Riesling for the Williamsons, and then we’ve got a long-term contract to set aside 20 tons of Riesling just for ice wine,” Koenig explained. “And because we had a sizable vintage in 2018 in addition to high quality, we were able to make quite a bit. It was a bounce back vintage.”
When told of the price — $25 for a 375-milliliter bottle — Donahue said, “Nuts!”
When told of the production, more than 400 cases, he repeated, “Nuts! That’s a lot of ice wine – unless you are in Ontario (Canada).”
New Orleans journalist/broadcaster Tim McNally also was astonished by the Koenig Riesling Ice Wine that earned a double gold medal in the sweet wine category on its way to a veritable victory lap during Tuesday’s sweepstakes.
“Is there ever going to be a competition where a great ice wine doesn’t win everything?” McNally said. “They can be so damn good, and this one was really well-made and well-structured. The fruit expression is killer. When you taste it, what goes through my mind is ‘Why doesn’t EVERYONE like wine?’ What is there not to like about this beautiful nectar?”
Judges included Erin James, editor-in-chief of Sip Northwest magazine in Seattle; Kathryn House, enologist, wine educator/owner of House of Wine and wine buyer in Boise studying to become a Master of Wine; Richard Larsen, retired research winemaker at Washington State University; Ken Robertson, columnist for Wine Press Northwest magazine, and Katelyn Peil, a wine buyer for the Seattle-based Heavy Restaurant Group.
“Idaho is clearly pushing forward in quality levels and will continue to do so and should not be ignored as a value-driven wine region,” Peil said. “I’m looking forward to supporting more wines in the Seattle market from our easterly neighbors.”
Koenig and his wife, Kristen, have begun to focus their attention on Fraser Vineyard, a brand and storied 4-acre planting they purchased last year. Their production will focus on Cabernet Sauvignon, but he will stay on as winemaker for Koenig Vineyards and the Nederends for the next two years.
“Red wines do well here also, and most of our sales are in red wine,” Koenig said, “but these outlier wines can win big awards here.”
Gem State women winemakers continue to shine
There were 150 entries from 36 producers in this year’s Idaho Wine Competition, which again showcased work of women winemakers across the Gem State. Of the 25 gold medals awarded, 15 were won by women winemakers.
Meredith Smith of Sawtooth Winery and the state’s oldest and largest winery – Ste. Chapelle – earned four gold medals, led by a double gold and best red wine for her Sawtooth 2017 Classic Fly Series Petit Verdot.
A double gold went to her Sawtooth 2016 Trout Trilogy Grenache, while the Sawtooth 2018 Classic Fly Series Dry Riesling was selected as Best Riesling. And Smith also earned a gold medal for the Sawtooth 2017 Classic Fly Series Pinot Noir, a wine produced with grapes from Yamhela Vineyard in Oregon’s Willamette Valley. Precept Wine in Seattle, which owns Sawtooth and Ste. Chapelle, also controls Yamhela Vineyard.
Cinder Wines winemaker/co-owner Melanie Krause, a native of Boise who trained at Chateau Ste. Michelle, also came through with four gold medals, led by the competition’s Best Chardonnay. Leslie Preston, a Boise product who resigned a decade go as an enologist at storied Stags’ Leap Winery in Napa to return home, captured three gold medals. Her list was topped by a double gold for the Translations 2018 Rosé, a sister label to her Coiled Wines brand in Garden City.
Best Sparkling went to the 3100 Cellars 2016 Runoff Rosé, which is the young project of Hailey Minder, who grew up in the Snake River Valley.
The emerging Lewis-Clark Valley accounted for a trio of gold medals thanks to Colter’s Creek Winery and Clearwater Canyon Cellars. Coco Umiker, winemaker and co-owner of Clearwater Canyon, received a gold medal and best of class for her 2016 Louis Delsol Cabernet Sauvignon, a wine that pays tribute to a 19th century French winemaker in Lewiston.
Melissa Sanborn at Colter’s Creek in Juliaetta garnered gold medals for two efforts with Syrah, the 2017 Estate Reserve and 2017 Estate, both made using fruit grown above the Potlatch River by her husband, Mike Pearson.
Hat Ranch tops whites again with dry Muscat
Tim Harless of Hat Ranch Winery in the Sunnyslope Wine District used his estate dry Orange Muscat to earn best of show at the 2015 Idaho Wine Competition.
The recently retired commercial airline pilot came close again this week with his 2018 Estate Dry Moscato, winning the award for Best White after a vote for double gold medal earlier in the day. His Sangiovese-led 2015 Hat Trick Red won the award for Best Red Blend. There also was the gold medal for the 2018 Chardonnay that the Ohio State grad produced under his Vale Wine Co., brand. Overall, the performance by both labels came on the heels of 2019 Idaho Winery of the Year acclaim by Wine Press Northwest magazine.
Par Terre Winery, operated by retired professional dancer Travis Walker, used Cabernet Franc from the 2018 vintage to earn Best Rosé.
Gregg Alger and Huston Vineyards relied on Washington grapes to win a gold medal in the rosé category under the popular Chicken Dinner label.
Historic winemaker Steve Robertson of Hells Canyon Winery received a gold medal for his 2017 Heritage Series Cabernet Franc.
Vizcaya Winery in Kuna near Boise burnished its reputation for the Spanish red Tempranillo by winning a gold medal and best of class. This week marked the 10th consecutive year of the Idaho Wine Competition as a judging organized by Great Northwest Wine LLC in collaboration with the Idaho Wine Commission. And for the third straight year, it was staged at Koenig Vineyards.
Koenig, Fujishin add to delicious legacy
In 2017, Greg Koenig earned best of show at the Idaho Wine Competition with a 2014 Botrytis Single Berry Select Late Harvest Riesling, a work inspired by a total botrytis-affected Riesling from Wild Goose Vineyards in British Columbia.
Last year, his longtime assistant, Martin Fujishin, received the top prize for the Lost West Winery 2017 Riesling.
On Tuesday afternoon, Koenig in a bit of playful bravado, smiled as he pointed and said, “Three years in a row, the top wine of the competition has come from the other side of that wall.”
Indeed, James Nederend said he views this year’s best-of-show wine as the latest acclaim for the work by Koenig and Fujishin. And Fujishin Family Cellars earned a gold medal for its 2018 Gewürztraminer.
“Obviously they know what they are doing when it comes to making Idaho wine,” Nederend said. “We love having these big bold reds like Syrah, and then you have this Riesling. It shows the extremes that Idaho gets – our super-cold winters and our hot summers.”
Koenig Vineyards also claimed a best-of-class award for its 2016 Three Vineyard Cuveé Syrah.
“That Riesling and the Syrah both come from blocks at Williamson Vineyard,” James said. “You get two extremely different wines.”
It might be tempting for any winery owner to increase the price of a best-of-show wine that is yet to be released. (The special wax that Koenig traditionally uses to seal the bottle is on special order.) And it is not uncommon for a British Columbia icewine of such quality to be sold for more than twice the price of the Koenig ice wine. Sydney Nederend said that won’t happen at her winery.
“Consumers already like the fact that we have an ice wine,” she said. “People in Idaho like to have value, and that ice wine is at a good price point.”
James added, “A hundred percent of that will be sold here in Idaho. There’s so much traffic in the tasting room now that those 400 cases will be gone by spring of next year.”
The Nederends, who founded and continue to operate SCORIA Vineyards nearby, first met Koenig a few years ago. Sydney soon began her career in the wine industry by working at the Koenig Vineyards tasting room while earning a degree in finance from Boise State.
“Greg invited us to a winemaker’s dinner at Bella Aquila in Eagle, and he poured a Riesling ice wine,” she said. “We had it with cheese, and we were blown away by that pairing of savory and sweet.”
Idaho shows ‘spirit that’s so American’
The performance of Petit Verdot, a red Bordeaux grape that’s traditionally used as a blender rather than as a standalone varietal, might have been the biggest surprise among the judges. Its showing this week could prompt some changes within the 1,300 acres of vines planted across Idaho, which supply more than 50 wineries.
“The Cab was OK. The Merlot was OK,” Donahue said. “Petit Verdot is a hot-climate grape. It likes getting cooked.”
Sydney Nederend and her parents, Joe and Kristen Weitz, have devoted nearly 3 acres at Scoria to Petit Verdot, a project inspired after tasting wines produced by Sawtooth Vineyard founder Brad Pintler. The Weitz family was pleased by the warm response from the judges for the variety.
“We think Idaho could be known for Petit Verdot since it really can handle the harsh winters and hot summers,” Sydney said. “Plus, Greg and Martin really let it do its own thing through minimal intervention.”
At the same time, aromatic whites varieties such Muscat and Gewürztraminer joined Rhône Valley reds Grenache and Syrah among the stars tasted Tuesday. One of the largest categories judged at this year’s Idaho Wine Competition was Syrah. Pound-for-pound, those wines outshined all other categories.
“That Syrah lineup was a pretty solid and tough to pick from because there were the stylistic differences that you would expect,” Donahue said. “Some were feminine and prettier, and then there were these masculine powerhouses. Syrah can do that, and I’m looking forward to learning more about what I tasted.
“I came here with zero knowledge about Idaho,” Donahue continued. “There are some producers who obviously know what they are doing, This is a fledgling region, but the quality on some stuff was just spectacular.”
The best bubbles proved to be rather memorable, too.
“That sparkling from 3100 Cellars was spot-on,” Donahue said. “It had good acidity, a nice brioche note. It was clean. That dry Muscat from Hat Ranch and the Gewürztraminer (by Fujishin) were just lovely examples with great varietal correctness. And the Petit Verdot was perfect with lavender and peaches and stone fruit – and a nice balance of tannin.”
Each weekday, McNally hosts The New Orleans Dine, Wine and Spirits Show on WGSO 990 AM. He found the rosé category in Idaho, which generated 20 entries, particularly delectable, especially those done dry.
“Most of the rosés we tasted were stunning,” McNally said. “These people get it. In general, the rosés weren’t too heavy or too close to the original grape. They were in the lighter, fruitier and fresher style and lower in alcohol. Most of those we judged today the color was correct. They were wonderful.”
McNally, however, was surprised by the absence of Sauvignon Blanc represented in the judging. Alas, that white Bordeaux variety has proven to be not winter-hardy enough for Idaho.
“The Muscat, however, was delicious,” McNally said.
Peil, the wine buyer from Seattle, said, “With a lot of variety in grapes and styles, I was impressed with the freshness and liveliness of not only the whites, but also the reds. The wines have great food-pairing ability in addition to being able to stand on their own and would be a great supplement to any Northwest or worldly wine list.”
Donahue and former Walla Walla Community College students have helped produce a number of gold medals throughout 2019, starting at the San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition, which awarded more than two dozen golds to College Cellars or its alumni. One of Donahue’s former students is Walker of Par Terre.
“There’s a lot of exploration left to do in Idaho,” Donahue said. “It takes a long time to figure that out, and this is a fledgling region. I love the energy that surrounds building an industry, and I love places where they are just starting to figure it out.
“There’s a lot of freedom still here,” he added. “And that pioneering entrepreneurial spirit that’s so American is here – and that’s cool.”
Donahue also warned that Idaho wineries will continue to face competition from outside the state because of the population swarming Boise.
“There’s potential here, and Boise is still up-and-coming,” Donahue said. “Lots of people in Walla Walla are saying, ‘We’re looking at selling more into Boise more than we are in Seattle.’ Everyone wants to get into Boise because it is blowing up! And it’s not slowing down.”
McNally not only enjoyed judging the competition, but he also got a chance on Wednesday to meet some of the folks behind the wines – a tour along the Sunnyslope that was orchestrated by the Idaho Wine Commission.
“I had a great time,” McNally said. “It’s beautiful country. Across the board we had some really nice wines, and they are nice people. It seems to me that the wine commission here is trying to make it a destination by showing people the tourism, the dining, the recreational opportunities. And that’s where it all starts coming together.”
Moya Dolsby, executive director of the Idaho Wine Commission, said, “The judges of the Idaho Wine Competition tasted some of Idaho’s best wine from our brightest winemakers and grape growers. This is a tremendous opportunity for the Idaho wine industry to get in front of nationally respected wine journalists, educators, sommeliers and buyers each year.”
2019 Idaho Wine Competition results
Best of show/best sweet wine/double gold medal
Koenig Vineyards 2018 Riesling Ice Wine, Snake River Valley $25.00
Best red wine/double gold medal
Sawtooth Winery 2017 Classic Fly Series Petit Verdot, Snake River Valley $35.00
Best white/double gold medal
Hat Ranch Winery 2018 Estate Dry Moscato, Snake River Valley $18.00
Best sparkling wine/double gold medal
3100 Cellars 2016 Runoff Rosé Sparkling Wine, Snake River Valley $36.00
Par Terre Winery 2018 Rosé of Cabernet Franc, Snake River Valley $16.00
Double gold medal
Sawtooth Winery 2016 Trout Trilogy Grenache, Snake River Valley $35.00
Translations 2018 Rosé Wine, Columbia Valley $20.00
Best Cabernet Sauvignon/gold medal
Clearwater Canyon Cellars 2016 Louis Delsol Cabernet Sauvignon, Lewis-Clark Valley $32.00
Best Chardonnay/gold medal
Cinder Wines 2018 Chardonnay, Snake River Valley $23.00
Best Riesling/gold medal
Sawtooth Winery 2018 Classic Fly Series Dry Riesling, Snake River Valley $18.00
Best Syrah/gold medal
Koenig Vineyards 2016 Three Vineyard Cuvée Syrah, Snake River Valley $25.00
Best Tempranillo/gold medal
Vizcaya Winery 2014 Tempranillo, Snake River Valley $29.00
Best red blend/gold medal
Hat Ranch Winery 2016 Hat Trick Red, Snake River Valley $27.00
Cinder Wines 2017 Tempranillo, Snake River Valley $30.00
Cinder Wines 2017 Syrah, Snake River Valley $30.00
Cinder Wines 2018 Dry Viognier, Snake River Valley $23.00
Coiled Wines 2017 Rizza Sparkling Wine, Idaho $28.00
Coiled Wines 2017 Black Mamba, Snake River Valley $32.00
Colter’s Creek Winery 2017 Estate Syrah, Lewis-Clark Valley $20.00
Colter’s Creek Winery 2017 Estate Reserve Syrah, Lewis-Clark Valley $25.00
Fujishin Family Cellars 2018 Gewürztraminer, Snake River Valley $16.95
Hells Canyon Winery 2017 Heritage Series Cabernet Franc, Snake River Valley $30.00
Huston Vineyards 2018 Chicken Dinner Rosé, Washington $19.00
Sawtooth Winery 2017 Classic Fly Series Pinot Noir, Oregon, $32.00
Vale Wine Co. 2018 Chardonnay, Snake River Valley $21.00
3100 Cellars 2015 Eddy Out Extra Dry, Snake River Valley $36.00
Bitner Vineyards 2018 J Victor Vineyard Tempranillo, Snake River Valley $22.00
Camas Prairie Winery 2018 Huckleberry Mead, Idaho $15.00
Camas Prairie Winery 2018 Raspberry Mead, Idaho $14.00
Cinder Wines 2018 Off-Dry Riesling, Snake River Valley $23.00
Cinder Wines 2017 Valentina Cabernet Sauvignon-Merlot-Malbec, Snake River Valley $30.00
Cinder Wines 2018 Dry Cinsault Rosé, Snake River Valley $23.00
Cinder Wines 2018 Dry Syrah Rosé, Snake River Valley $23.00
Cinder Wines 2018 Dry Gewürztraminer, Snake River Valley $23.00
Clearwater Canyon Cellars 2018 Lolo, Lewis-Clark Valley $18.00
Clearwater Canyon Cellars 2017 Merlot, Lewis-Clark Valley $25.00
Clearwater Canyon Cellars 2017 Renaissance Red, Lewis-Clark Valley $23.00
Clearwater Canyon Cellars 2018 Rosé of Sangiovese, Rattlesnake Hills $22.00
Clearwater Canyon Cellars 2018 Lochsa Chardonnay, Lewis-Clark Valley $17.00
Clearwater Canyon Cellars 2018 Albariño, Yakima Valley $22.00
Clearwater Canyon Cellars 2016 Estate Syrah, Lewis-Clark Valley $28.00
Coiled Wines 2018 Dry Riesling, Snake River Valley $19.00
Coiled Wines 2018 Chablis Style Chardonnay, Snake River Valley $20.00
Fujishin Family Cellars 2018 Late Harvest Riesling, Snake River Valley $19.95
Hat Ranch Winery 2018 Dry Rosé, Snake River Valley $18.00
Hat Ranch Winery 2016 Tempranillo, Snake River Valley $29.00
Hat Ranch Winery 2016 Petit Verdot, Snake River Valley $30.00
Indian Creek Winery 2018 Riesling, Snake River Valley $16.00
Indian Creek Winery 2017 Guild the Dahlia Petit Verdot, Snake River Valley $30.00
Kerry Hill Winery 2017 Domaine Red Blend, Snake River Valley $29.00
Kerry Hill Winery 2018 Bobwhite Chardonnay, Snake River Valley $21.00
Koenig Vineyards 2016 Cabernet Sauvignon – Syrah, Snake River Valley $28.00
Koenig Vineyards 2016 Cabernet Sauvignon, Snake River Valley $25.00
Koenig Vineyards 2016 Cuvée Amelia Reserve Syrah, Snake River Valley $50.00
Laissez Faire 2018 Sauvignon Blanc, Snake River Valley $18.00
Laissez Faire 2018 Red Wine, Snake River Valley $18.00
Parma Ridge Winery 2016 Estate Reserve Merlot, Snake River Valley $35.00
Sawtooth Winery 2017 Classic Fly Series Tempranillo, Snake River Valley $30.00
Sawtooth Winery 2018 Classic Fly Series Muscat Blanc, Snake River Valley
Snake River Winery 2018 Arena Valley Vineyard Albariño, Snake River Valley $18.00
Snake River Winery 2016 Arena Valley Valley Merlot, Snake River Valley $15.00
Snake River Winery 2017 Pet-Nat Sparkling Wine, Snake River Valley $15.00
Snake River Winery 2018 Arena Valley Vineyard Cabernet Franc Rosé, Snake River Valley $16.00
Ste. Chapelle 2018 Panoramic Riesling, Snake River Valley $20.00
Ste. Chapelle 2016 Open Air Red Blend, Snake River Valley $22.00
Ste. Chapelle 2017 Panoramic Cabernet Sauvignon, Snake River Valley
Telaya Wine Co. 2016 Malbec, Snake River Valley $32.00
Telaya Wine Co. 2018 Carrie’s Select Chardonnay, Snake River Valley $25.00
Telaya Wine Co. 2016 Petit Verdot, Snake River Valley $35.00
Translations 2016 Scrappy M.F., Walla Walla Valley $26.00
Translations 2017 Chardonnay, Columbia Valley $22.00
Two Bad Labs Vineyard 2017 Mischievous Red Blend, Lewis-Clark Valley $28.00
Two Bad Labs Vineyard 2017 Cabernet Franc, Washington $26.00
Veer Wine Project 2018 Gewürztraminer, Snake River Valley $17.50
Vine 46 2016 Malbec, Washington $26.00
Williamson Vineyards 2016 Homestead Red, Snake River Valley $22.00
Williamson Vineyards 2016 Reserve Syrah, Snake River Valley $40.00
Williamson Vineyards 2016 Cabernet Sauvignon, Snake River Valley
Y Knot Winery 2016 Sèmillon, Snake River Valley $25.00
Cold Springs Winery 2017 Pinot Noir, Snake River Valley $20.00
Cold Springs Winery 2017 Cabernet/Merlot, Snake River Valley $30.00
Cold Springs Winery 2017 Syrah, Snake RIver Valley $20.00
Cold Springs Winery 2017 Viognier, Snake River Valley $17.00
Dude DeWalt Cellars 2017 Syrah, Columbia Valley $42.00
Fujishin Family Cellars 2016 Tempranillo, Snake River Valley $24.95
Hat Ranch Winery 2016 Sangiovese, Snake River Valley $26.00
Hat Ranch Winery 2016 Cabernet Franc, Snake River Valley $30.00
Indian Creek Winery 2017 Star Garnet, Snake River Valley $15.00
Indian Creek Winery 2018 Mountain Syringa Dry Gewürztraminer, Snake River Valley $18.00
Indian Creek Winery 2018 Moscato, Snake River Valley $16.00
Indian Creek Winery 2018 Viognier, Snake River Valley $16.00
Jovinea Cellars 2018 Viognier, Washington $30.00
Kerry Hill Winery 2018 Great Grey Pinot Grigio Rosé, Snake River Valley $20.00
Kerry Hill Winery 2018 Wild Rosé Cabernet Sauvignon Rosé, Snake River Valley $18.00
Lost West Winery 2018 T’s Rosé, Snake River Valley $19.95
Parma Ridge Winery 2018 Tre Bianchi, Snake River Valley $18.00
Potter Wines 2018 Liquid Lunch Chardonnay, Snake River Valley $20.00
Snake River Winery 2016 Arena Valley Vineyard Barbera, Snake River Valley $18.00
Snake River Winery 2017 Arena Valley Vineyard Chardonnay, Snake River Valley $14.00
Ste. Chapelle 2017 Panoramic Sangiovese, Columbia Valley $25.00
Ste. Chapelle 2018 Panoramic Series Chenin Blanc, Snake River Valley
Translations 2016 Red Wine, Walla Walla Valley $24.00
Vale Wine Co. 2018 Viognier, Snake River Valley $20.00
Vine 46 2016 Latitude, Washington $24.00
Vine 46 2016 Cabernet Sauvignon, Washington $32.00
Vine 46 2016 Syrah, Washington $26.00
Vizcaya Winery 2018 Albariño, Snake River Valley $22.00
Williamson Vineyards 2016 Malbec, Snake River Valley $25.00
Y Knot Winery 2016 Merlot, Snake River Valley $29.00
Y Knot Winery 2018 Riesling, Snake River Valley $24.00
Y Knot Winery NV Meritage, Snake River Valley $29.00
Y Knot Winery NV Cabernet Franc, Snake River Valley $34.00