GARDEN CITY, Idaho — Take a look at a map of the Snake River Valley in Idaho and you’ll see five cities creeping closer together, a reflection of the fastest-growing state in the country five years straight from 2017 to 2021.
Nampa and Caldwell stretch west along the interstate while Boise, Eagle, and Meridian merge toward the Boise River, the state Capitol and Boise State University.
What may not be quite so obvious is one of the Pacific Northwest’s best destinations for exploring wine — Garden City.
As people are looking for the authentic winery experience closer to home, at least eight great options in Garden City present themselves. The Garden City experience is underscored by meeting the winemakers and sampling their wines without driving to the closest vineyards — 25 miles away.
“There’s a vibe of being in Garden City,” says Joe Schnerr, who owns Cinder Wines with his winemaking wife, Boise native Melanie Krause. “It’s funky; the people have bootstrapped their wineries, and you are probably going to meet the winemaker or the owners or at least the assistant winemaker in the building. That’s pretty cool, and you don’t get that a lot at other places in the Northwest.”
Between the Boise Bench and its namesake river, Garden City has morphed into a 4-square mile enclave of coolness tucked in the hip pocket of its larger neighbors. It offers something for anyone — surfing, paddling, summer rafting, cycling, jogging, shopping, dining, snacking, drinking, ax throwing, even staycationing for those in Idaho’s capital city.
Craft beverage movement resonates with Garden City
Garden City’s inclusive nature today harkens back to its origins. It was incorporated in 1949 and named in homage to the prolific river-bottom gardens tended by Chinese immigrants who settled on this side of Boise. The main thoroughfare, Chinden Boulevard, is even a graceful portmanteau of the words China and garden. The town became a legal entity as a reaction to the city next-door’s ban of gambling after 545 of the local residents voted to keep that economic driver on the books. That is, until the entire state outlawed gambling in 1954.
Along the way, Garden City has leaned into its less-than-stellar reputation. In the early 2000s, its lower-rent status was home to a plethora of pre-owned car and RV dealerships, surplus stores, taverns, mobile home parks and light industrial shops. Some of those are being cleared to make way for upscale, multi-story dwellings with retail shops on the first floor.
Not surprisingly, the urban winery concept began to gain a foothold. Not every winemaker wants to be a grape grower. And as more grapes were being planted in Idaho, few vintners sought to take advantage of the lower rents in Garden City and make wine in the heart of the old gardens — with Boise mushrooming just across the river.
Krause honed her techniques in Washington state’s wine industry working for Château Ste. Michelle. Yet, she yearned to return home and raise a family. In 2008, while Krause was doing some consulting on the Sunnyslope near Caldwell, her connections in the business community told her about an old fruit and vegetable packing shed in Garden City.
Cinder Wines was the first winery planted there. Twice, it has shared space with upstarts that would grow their own following and find their own space.
Along the way, however, Krause’s skill has earned her a reputation as one of the top talents in the Pacific Northwest. The following for her wines, paired with Schnerr’s business acumen, set Cinder on a path to become into one of the state’s largest family-operated wineries, reaching 10,000 cases per year.
Indeed, Garden City has grown around them — home to a thriving and exciting food and craft beverage corridor. And Earl Sullivan of Telaya Wine Co., says Krause and Schnerr helped show many what is possible.
“I believe Melanie and Joe are two of the main people responsible for the emergence of a high-quality, craft wine industry in Idaho,” Sullivan says. “Without them knocking on every door to convince people that Idaho could make incredible wine, we would not be where we are today.
“In addition, they took in small, potentially competitive wineries and fostered their growth by providing a location for those brands to start,” Sullivan continued. “Having done this ourselves, we understand the level of commitment to the industry that this requires.”
Cinder Wines still carries the urban vibe of the old fruit shed, combined with the award-winning wines. Its name also helps describe the volcanic soils that underlie many of the Snake River Valley vineyards they work with. Their Tempranillo, which has earned a Platinum from Great Northwest Wine, highlights many of the similarities between the region and those from the Rioja in Spain.
Cinder’s Verdejo from Emerald Slope Vineyard, overlooking the Snake River near Adrian, Ore., received a Platinum via a panel featuring Masters of Wine at the prestigious 2023 TEXSOM judging in Dallas. Among her other deliciously bright wines is a blend of Muscat and Viognier labeled Ville de Jardin — French for garden city.
Telaya Wine Company
During 2023, Telaya Wine Co. celebrates its 15th anniversary of winemaking in the Pacific Northwest and has been in its Garden City riverside location since 2016 — after spending five years at Cinder.
Earl Sullivan and his wife, Carrie, are co-owners and co-winemakers who source fruit from premier Washington vineyards and top-tier Idaho sites for age-worthy whites and European-inspired reds. Their Syrah from the Snake River Valley won best of show at the 2021 Cascadia International Wine Competition. They’ve recently added two fascinating white grapes to their portfolio — Grüner Veltliner and Picpoul Blanc.
And they continue to create new customer experiences at their facility. Joining the two-year-old patio extension is a new deck right next to the Boise Greenbelt. Success with their winemaking and hospitality programs prompted the Sullivans to increase production to the extent that they have taken over the historic Sawtooth/Pintler production winery south of Nampa — west of Garden City — in order to meet demand.
And just before harvest of the 2023 vintage began, the Sullivans staged a vineyard education tour and catered dinner at that facility, now billed as Telaya West. It’s a unique experience for a Garden City producer. For some special events, Telaya also offers a shuttle from their Garden City tasting room out to the production space nestled in the Skyline/Sawtooth vineyard site south of Nampa and back. That makes a great way to explore more of Idaho wine country without renting your own car.
The diversity of wine options and experiences offered by Garden City producers is unique. At the west end of town sits Potter Wines.
Von and Crystal Potter made a name for themselves at the Boise City Market with a summer flavor bomb of jalapeño-infused white wine that is a blast to cook with. But don’t let that flagship bottling color your opinion of their lineup. They have honed their winemaking skills and are producing delicious single-varietal wines and multiple offerings in campsite ready 1.5-liter pouches.
Rolling Hills Vineyard
Mark Pasculli’s young Urban Tasting Room allows him to showcase bottles made from his family’s vines surrounding his home in the Eagle Foothills. His wife Lori and daughter Savannah oversee the tasting room and son Zach helps with marketing.
Mark and the older son, Daniel, manage the vineyard and the winery. They have more than a dozen standalone varieties and blends and pour them on a pleasant patio that enjoys late-afternoon shade in Garden City.
Par Terre Winery
Until Dec 31, 2023, Par Terre Winery will continue to share the colorful mural-adorned alley with Cinder.
Travis and Mallory Walker — a pair of former ballet dancers — refer to Par Terre as a “nano-winery” where they put Idaho fruit on stage. Travis, a graduate of Walla Walla Community College’s acclaimed winemaking school who earned a scholarship from Great Northwest Wine LLC, debuted Arneis from Arena Valley Vineyard near Parma at 2023 Savor Idaho and received praise for his rather obscure Italian white.
On Oct. 9, 2023, the Walkers announced they will no longer operate a tasting room.
“What we want you to know above all else is that we (and our wines) will still be here for you, it will just look a little different,” they shared in a video directed to club members. “Without a brick and mortar tasting room, we will have the ability to pop up at more arts events in our community and to collaborate in a new way with other creators and business owners.”
Leslie Preston of Coiled Wines is among the Garden City wine pioneers who cycled through the Cinder facility as she ramped up her award-winning brand.
A graduate of the famed University of California-Davis enology program, she worked in Napa and began returning home to Boise to make wine. And akin to Krause, she returned to the Treasure Valley to raise her family.
She produces small-batch wines that “follow their own winding path” just as the Snake River that winds through the region. Those include big reds with names such as Black Mamba, Diamondback and Sidewinder, as well as her internationally acclaimed sparkling Riesling — called Rizza.
Her newly expanded tasting room at 34th and Chinden imports the vibe of the downtown Boise tasting room she closed during the pandemic. The Garden City space also allows for increased production, and bringing everything under one roof also helps Preston and her team — led by the affable Alexandra Firkins — to better tell the story of the brand.
Split Rail Winery
Jed Glavin of Split Rail Winery has also doubled down on Garden City. He spent years crafting distinctly different and award- winning Rhône-inspired wines within a converted auto mechanics shop just feet off Chinden.
Recently, however, he moved down to 32nd Street and into a custom-designed winery with an eclectic and edgy tasting room. On this day, the playlist included rockers such as Primal Scream, the Bare Mutants and The Brian Jonestown Massacre. There’s also outside seating that’s ideal for afternoon and evening gatherings.
Proletariat Wine Company
Not surprisingly, more people outside of Idaho are taking notice of the urban wine scene in this Boise bedroom community. Proletariat Wine Co. out of Walla Walla — spearheaded by acclaimed winemaker Sean Boyd of Rôtie Cellars — has acquired land for a production facility and tasting room off 36th Street.
Their intent is to make wine from Idaho grapes as well as fruit from their Washington vineyards on site for bottle sales to supplement their successful 5-gallon keg program for the restaurant and tavern trade. With part of the ownership team living in Idaho, they made the decision to build a new tasting room and production site that will have a 1,700-square-foot rooftop deck.
They plan to open by the beginning of 2024.
Meriwether Cider Company
Those well-versed in the history surrounding the Corps of Discovery might be able to pick out the Jefferson Peace Medal that makes up much of the logo for Meriwether Cider Co., and that’s because the Leadbetter family tree has ties to Capt. Meriwether Lewis.
The family launched Meriwether Cider Company in 2016, joining the craft beverage scene of Garden City. Acclaim has come via the San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition, Cider Craft and Sip magazine competitions, as well as the Great Lakes International Cider Competition where it was awarded the title of the best hopped cider in the world.
They produce six ciders year-round, 10 others as seasonals and occasional random releases they refer to as the Voyaguer Series. The efforts span dry, semi-dry, botanical, spicy, fruity and barrel-aged. They recently added a handful of “Meri Spritzers” to their portfolio, as well as a non-alcoholic cider called Wild Abandon. All are made with freshly pressed Northwest apples and involve ingredients such as wine skins from various Garden City wineries, local beer collaborations and herbs and seasonal fruits from local farms.
Their taproom and production facility in Garden City includes a patio shaded by a peach tree, and children and dogs are welcome. The Leadbetters also operate their Cider House in Boise. Beyond those two locations, they can ship cans to 39 states.
Between wine time and bedtime
One of the Gem State’s largest and most accommodating hotels could not be more convenient for wine tourists than the aptly named Riverside Hotel.
The 300-room Best Western Premier Collection property is home to the Sandbar Patio Grill, the Riverside Grill and the Sapphire Room — a nightclub and live music venue. Hotel staff can orchestrate free transportation to and from BOI — the well-operated regional airport that’s a 15-minute drive away. The Riverside also rents out bikes, ideal for exploring Boise’s renowned 25-mile long, tree-lined, riverside greenbelt.
And now comes The Arcadia, a completely renovated 27-room motel that began life as the Sunliner, which is directly across Chinden from the remodeled Coiled Wines.
Thanks to the rise of the craft beverage industry, wine lovers heading west of The Riverside can explore a variety of cuisine and other creature comforts, often without losing sight of the Boise River or Chinden Boulevard.
Puerto Rican cuisine and Garden City wines are featured at Wepa Café. Asian specialties and sushi are available at Ling and Louie’s, with Chinese at the Golden Wok. Mexican specialties are abundant. There’s pub food at Twisted Kitchen and old-school classics at the historic Stagecoach.
When it comes to coffee, Push and Pour was voted No. 1 last year by Idaho Statesman readers, and the company’s flagship store is on 34th Street. There’s also Western Collective or Moxie Java.
Seasonal al fresco beers and wines can be purchased at The Yardarm, which operates April to October near the river. And always keep an eye open for a great collection of food trucks that rotate among the wineries. The mobile menus range from Basque/Vietnamese fusion (Basquenese), cannolis and barbecue to melted cheese, wood-fired pizza as well as shrimp and grits.
For the craft beer drinker, there is a parallel trip through Garden City as well. At the west end is PowderHaus Brewing with the new Barbarian Brewing tasting room facility sandwiched between Telaya and the new Split Rail spot on 32nd Street. Berts Brews, a newcomer, is in the middle near Western Collective.
Avoiding cellar palate is something you need to consider while spending the day tasting great Idaho wines. Sturman’s Wine & Cigars Lounge and Patio has just the cure available at their young Garden City location at 42nd and Chinden. With 3,000 square feet of patio out back and space for live music and food trucks, their well-curated list can help you compare the best local wines with those from the Columbia Valley, California and Europe. Look for names such as Leonetti, Sean Minor, Silver Oaks and Chateau du Glana on their bottle list or enjoy any of the ever-changing pours available by the glass.
If you’ve reached the Boise Fairgrounds, you are on the western outskirts of Garden City’s wine community. Near the end of August, it will be dominated by the Western Idaho Fair, but the campus — including the Exposition Building — is busy throughout the year. The Boise Hawks, a member of the Pioneer Baseball League, spend the summers along the river at the 3,400-seat Memorial Stadium. Their season runs Memorial Day weekend through Labor Day weekend.
Among the attractions found along Chinden is the Idaho Pinball Museum, home to more than 60 machines. Admission is $10, and it’s open evenings on Thursday and Friday as well as Saturday afternoon.
Those who need to cool down but want some competition can roll into Westy’s Garden Lanes and knock down a few pins just a couple of blocks from Potter Wines. Breakfast is served all day, including hearty biscuits and gravy. (They open at 10 a.m.)
The more daring sports fans will consider swinging into the Section 37 Axe Room. Bring your own beer, wine and vittles while mastering the Pacific Northwest pastime of ax throwing. Close-toed footwear is required, and “if you become overly intoxicated, we will ask that you stop throwing.” Complete guidelines are at Section37axeRoom.com.
And for the sports fan who is into collectibles, there’s Sportscard Fanatic. It’s not as easy to find a card shop as it was 30 years ago, so head west on Stockton Street off Chinden. This shop also carries Pokémon and other collectible memorabilia.
For those who bring along man’s best friend, the woman-owned Idaho Dog Park on 50th Street provides dog daycare, as does the Dog Retreat Center nearby. Reservations for your pup’s spa day are encouraged. If heading west on Chinden, you could swing in before dropping by the Rolling Hills Vineyard Urban Tasting Room on 52nd and Potter Wines near 53rd.
Telaya Wine Co. also has a soft spot for furry friends and allows leashed friends on the patio and the grassed yard right off the Greenbelt that follows the river to their door. Dog water and treats are available.