NAMPA, Idaho — Is there ever too much of a good thing in retail? In some cases, yes, but how that growth is managed sets folks apart.
There is growing demand throughout Idaho for the award-winning wines coming out of our winemakers’ cellars. And the economist in me says, “If the demand exceeds the supply, you can raise prices or increase the supply, but that all depends on the elasticity of your demand and supply curves.”
With all the competition in the beverage world, boosting prices may not work out well. In the Lewis-Clark Valley, one highly decorated producer had no more wine to sell for a couple of months. Demand outstripped supply.
Farther south, Earl and Carrie Sullivan at Telaya Wine Co., gambled on the supply side and with the continued and growing demand for their wines. They made an aggressive move to bump production from the 2022 vintage by 250%, which translates into an annual production for Telaya surpassing 11,000 cases — vaulting it among the top five largest wineries in Idaho.
As a result, the Sullivans brought in 217 tons of grapes this fall, a massive leap beyond the 87 tons they crushed from the 2021 vintage at their stylish Garden City winery they build in 2016 along the banks of the Boise River.
“We have been blessed with this location and our club members’ and the general public’s support of our local brand,” Earl told me after all of his fruit was in the cellar. “Due to the increase in volume of customers and club members, we needed to find a way to continue to increase production while keeping the quality that Carrie and I are so focused on.”
While Telaya needed more fruit to slake the thirst of their supporters, the Sullivans also needed more space to process fruit and age wine. These factors led them into a conversation with Winemakers LLC, the group behind Skyline and Sawtooth vineyards and Telaya’s source for a majority of its Idaho program.
During the summer, those discussions turned into negotiations as Telaya sought to lease the former Sawtooth production facility south of Nampa.
Telaya production moves to within minutes of picking
Longtime wine lovers in the Snake River Valley will remember it as the winemaking facility built in 1988 by pioneering Brad Pintler. He sold his family vineyards and Pintler Cellars in 1999 to Corus Brands and Dan Baty, who rebranded it as Sawtooth Winery.
In 2003, Baty and Andrew Browne founded what is now Seattle-based Precept Wine, a company that Wine Business Monthly Magazine ranked earlier this year as the 11th-largest in the U.S at 3.2 million cases and includes Ste. Chapelle and Sawtooth wineries. Sister company Winemakers LLC, owned by the Baty family, oversees some of the Northwest’s largest vineyards, including Sawtooth and nearby Skyline — a breadbasket for the Idaho wine industry. Boise’s Meredith Smith, who got her winemaking start at Sawtooth, moved the production of those wines to Ste. Chapelle when she took over that cellar in 2016.
“We want to be good stewards of the industry and taking a facility that was dormant and putting it back into production is good for us,” Earl said, “but it also shows growth in our industry, which is good for everyone.”
In order for Telaya’s expansion to make sense, the Sullivans also needed Winemakers LLC to allocate more fruit to Telaya and commit to plant more vines. Dale Jeffers, longtime vineyard manager at Skyline/Sawtooth, described it as “a win/win for everyone.
“Telaya gets more space and fruit, while we get this production site up and running again with someone we trust managing the process,” Jeffers added. “If you don’t use an asset like this, it will just fall apart.” The Sullivans subsequently made a series of upgrades to the vinification facility and equipment as well.
Boise River showpiece receives some breathing room
While going up to a custom crush facility in Washington state was an option, the lack of control and oversight was not a risk the Sullivans wanted to take on. Nor were they willing to shut off the supply of wine to their customers.
It took the Sullivans, who launched Telaya in 2008 with 50 cases, about three years to dial in their Garden City production facility, which they built in 2016, so they expect the next two harvests to be more comfortable.
However, the proximity to the Skyline and Sawtooth vineyards paid immediate dividends. And thanks to Jeffers and Winemakers LLC viticulturist Jake Cragin, the Sullivans got their white grapes picked and in the press by 6 a.m. almost every morning, avoiding excessive oxidation.
“Working with Dale has been both fun and educational,” Earl says. “He is a walking encyclopedia of information on systems, processes, etc., and without him it would have been much harder.”
That growth also prompted Telaya to increase its payroll by hiring Cassidy Leath, who is completing her certificate in enology and viticulture via the University of California, Davis. She joined lab manager Django Laighléis and facility manager Jack Ahart. Leath and Ahart also live in Nampa, which made it easier for them to devote time out at “Telaya West.”
The Sullivans plan to create some special events at Telaya’s larger home in Canyon County, but Telaya’s riverfront location in Garden City will remain their main location for the foreseeable future. A new deck for the patio is waiting for a quality framing crew to become available.
Another factor of importance surrounding the expansion and growth of Telaya will take place in the cellar. The Sullivans plan to devote more inventory and time in barrel and bottle prior to their release to the public, but the vast majority of Telaya wines (60% red) will continue to be sold directly through their current tasting room.
Among the scheduled highlights for 2023 are the “Dueling Whites,” which will provide opportunities to taste side by side examples of Viognier from Sawtooth and Williamson vineyards as well as Grenache Blanc off Emerald Slope on the Oregon side of the Snake River AVA and famed Boushey Vineyards in Washington’s Yakima Valley.
“Our focus is to increase the quality of our wine and hospitality so that we are the industry leaders in both areas as well as to build a portfolio that is known outside of Idaho for quality,” the Sullivans say. Wine judges, critics and consumers believe Telaya is well on its way. Wine Press Northwest Magazine named Telaya as the Idaho Winery of the Year in 2016. The Telaya 2018 Sawtooth Vineyard Syrah won best of show at the 2021 Cascadia International Wine Competition.
Last spring, the Sullivans used fruit from acclaimed Discovery Vineyard in Washington’s Horse Heaven Hills to earn the award for best Cabernet Sauvignon at the Cascadia International. Two months later, Telaya made national headlines when Yelp users ranked Telaya as the top-rated Idaho winery.
All this leads back to a toast from Earl’s Irish roots, “Do thuras chun!” — To the journey!