GARDEN CITY, Idaho — Mark Pasculli graduated from one of the wine industry’s most respected universities, but he didn’t go to Fresno State for viticulture or enology.
His degree was in accounting, yet he’s proven to be a quick study after purchasing a neglected Cabernet Franc vineyard in the Eagle Foothills in 2016 at the encouragement of his wife, Lori.
Two vintages later, Rolling Hills Vineyard produced an estate Cab Franc that earned a Double Platinum and 96 points from Great Northwest Wine in 2021.
Last year, Rolling Hills followed that up with two more Platinums, making the young brand with a tasting room in Garden City an easy choice as the 2023 Idaho Winery to Watch.
“The only farming we had done before was tree fruit,” Mark says, “but Lori was raised on her grandparents’ vineyard in the San Joaquin Valley. Those memories are very special to her, and she fondly remembers riding on the tractor while sitting on her grandfather’s lap as they disced the vineyard rows.”
Lori’s late grandfather would be proud of what her family has accomplished in the Snake River Valley.
“This was our opportunity to do something together as a family — and we’re enjoying the heck out of it,” Mark says.
So are their customers. Their two barrels of 2019 Tempranillo, which received a double gold and best of class at the 2022 Idaho Wine Competition, went onto earn a Double Platinum and 96 points.
Walla Walla grapes factor into winning blend
Last spring, the Rolling Hills 2018 Bleu Mascot Red Wine, a blend of Malbec and Cabernet Sauvignon, received best of class at the state judging and a Platinum last fall. That wine from the family’s first commercial vintage honors the life of their beloved golden retriever — Bleu — and so far has provided funds for Boise Bully Breed, Fuzzy Paws Rescue and the West Valley Humane Society. Tasting room visitors who purchase a bottle of Bleu Mascot can nominate a Snake River Valley rescue organization of their choice. Each quarter, a drawing is held to decide where 10% of that wine’s sales are headed.
The story of the blend helps tell part of the Pasculli story, too.
“We purchased Cabernet Sauvignon fruit from Kerry Hill Vineyard and were able to get some wonderful Malbec from Dusted Valley in Walla Walla,” Mark says. “That Malbec is very fruit-forward, softens the tannins of the Cab, and they integrated really well.”
And the ties to the Walla Walla Valley have endured because the family still works with one of North America’s top winemaking educators — Tim Donahue of Horse Thief Wine Consulting in Walla Walla. For more than a decade, Donahue served as the winemaking instructor at Walla Walla Community College, mentoring dozens of future winemakers and helping College Cellars of Walla Walla to win a slew of gold medals, starting with the chilly 2010 vintage on through that first pandemic harvest.
While Rolling Hills Vineyard makes most of its wines at Koenig Vineyards in Caldwell, Donahue oversees some production in Walla Walla as Rolling Hills continues to grow. Those wines include Sangiovese and Zinfandel — varieties that fit in with the Pasculli family’s Italian heritage.
“Tim lives just 10 minutes away from Walla Walla Wine Services, and it’s a real blessing to have him there,” Pasculli says. “He’s got all those relationships and connections. He is simply the best.”
Expansion will likely include Italian varieties
The Sangio is from Wheatfield Vines in the Walla Walla Valley and Zin comes from Alder Ridge in the Horse Heaven Hills. In the Snake River Valley, Pasculli sources from Skyline — the breadbasket of the Idaho industry — sister site Sawtooth and young Rockspur on the Sunnyslope.
“What I really want that I don’t have access to right now is Dolcetto,” he says.
Since completing the back-breaking rehab work and establishing Syrah and that Platinum-producing Tempranillo, Mark and his son, Daniel, 29, continue to learn winemaking and grape growing together.
“The Cab Franc vines were about seven years old, and the property had not been main- tained very well,” Mark says. “The entire drip system needed to be replaced, and we had to retrain the shoots because they had been poorly trained, but Cab Franc seems to really enjoy our site and nitrogen stays in our soil really well.”
Early on, they were helped by consulting winemaker Angela Shaltry, and they continue to learn from viticulturist Jake Cragin, who works for Winemakers LLC — a sister company of Precept Wine — and helps manage Skyline and Sawtooth vineyards.
“Daniel is the co-winemaker while going through the enology program at U-C Davis,” Mark says. “This is what he wants for his career and his life.”
Lori designed the Garden City tasting room and wine labels. Their daughter, Savannah, a paralegal, opened and manages the tasting room. Zachary, the youngest, handles videography, photography and social media beyond his own communications and design company.
“We’re definitely a close-knit group, and I’m confident that if you were to ask each of our kids privately they would say the same,” Mark says.
All three of the children have an ownership stake in Rolling Hills Vineyard, which began with 1,200 cases from the 2018 vintage. The fifth year of the brand — the 2022 vintage — will see Rolling Hills at 3,600 cases as Pasculli and his family show no signs of slowing down.
During the past two decades, the patriarch’s focus has been on disaster cleanup, restoration and construction in Idaho, Oregon and Washington. After they sold their restoration business in 2021, it made space in their building for Lori to design a tasting room a half-block off bustling Chinden Boulevard.
Rolling Hills Vineyard faces obstacles with zoning
At the estate, however, they are dealing with zoning issues that have plagued several other wineries in the Snake River Valley, particularly those in Ada County and the Eagle Foothills. An arcane code now on the books demands that 75% of the property owners who live adjacent to Rolling Hills Vineyard must sign an agreement to allow the Pascullis to sell wine on their land.
“The process has been ‘festive’ to say the least,” Pasculli said. “We’d like to be able to have up to 24 events a year with not more than 50 people, with most of those as farm-to-table dinners and various wine-focused events.
“We understand the concerns of some of our neighbors and intend on respecting them while we put on small estate vineyard events,” he added.
It has generated headlines throughout the Snake River Valley as the wine industry in Ada County is at loggerheads with a small group of landowners, skyrocketing land costs, urban sprawl, a shortage of housing, fears of noise, traffic, DUIs and the NIMBY attitude. It is in contrast with the pro-business, pro-ag climate and anti-regulation narrative that has helped turn Idaho into the fastest-growing state in the country for each of the previous five years.
“We’re actively looking to add other vineyard properties,” Mark says, “but land set aside for agriculture is evaporating. And if you can find it, can you afford it?”
His background as an attorney, CPA and businessman prompted Gov. Brad Little to appoint Pasculli to the Idaho Wine Commission as a commissioner in 2021. His term ends July 2024 — the same year as Cragin’s.
“It’s a time commitment, but it has helped me to stay plugged in, and it’s a great group to work with,” Pasculli said. “I’ve never really felt like it’s a burden. It’s a lot of fun and an opportunity to learn and develop deeper relationships with people in this industry.”
- Rolling Hills Vineyard, 152 E. 52nd St., Garden City, ID 83714, RollingHillsVineyard.com, (208) 948-3136.
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