For years, Greg Koenig has been viewed as perhaps Idaho’s most gifted winemaker. He solidified that opinion by crafting the best in show at last month’s Idaho Wine Competition, taking home the top prize with a stunning dessert wine.
Koenig, who sold his Caldwell winery earlier this year, crafted a delicious Riesling ice wine from the 2018 vintage that wowed this year’s panel of national judges. This isn’t the first best of show for Koenig, who won in 2016 for a dessert wine made with Riesling.
The Idaho wine industry remains small at 52 wineries and 1,300 acres of vineyards. The federal government has established three American Viticultural Areas in the Gem State, with the most important and largest being the Snake River Valley, which includes Boise. Most of the vineyards and wineries are west of the state capital, near the cities of Caldwell and Nampa.
The region is perhaps best known for high-elevation vineyards that approach 3,000 feet in altitude, which helps the grapes and resulting wines retain natural acidity. The state’s reputation as an agricultural region no doubt has helped the wine industry grow and flourish, and there now is a nationwide fascination for Idaho wines among critics.
Koenig, who spent his summers on the Sunnyslope as a child, built his showpiece 7,000-square-foot tasting room in 2017, complete with a tower that overlooks the Snake River. While the graduate of Notre Dame’s famed architecture program sold his eponymous winery to James and Sydney Nederend of nearby SCORIA Vineyards, Koenig will remain as the winemaker for the next few vintages. In the meantime, he is gearing up to relaunch the Fraser Vineyard brand he purchased in 2018.
Here are the sweepstakes winners from this year’s Idaho Wine Competition, which drew 150 entries from 36 wineries. Of the 25 gold medals awarded, 15 were won by women winemakers.
See the complete results of this year’s Idaho Wine Competition at IdahoWineCompetition.com.
Koenig Vineyards 2018 Riesling Ice Wine, Snake River Valley, $25: Harvested from nearby Williamson Vineyards, this dessert wine features deliciously concentrated flavors of pear and tropical fruit that gives way to a balanced finish. It is perfect with cheesecake. This won a unanimous double gold on its way to best of show, prompting one judge to exclaim, “You could sit that down with the world’s best trockenbeerenauslese, Sauternes and Tokaji and be proud as punch to be drinking that.”
Sawtooth Winery 2017 Classic Fly Series Petit Verdot, Snake River Valley, $35: Meredith Smith, a native of Idaho’s Treasure Valley, is among the most gifted winemakers in the Gem State, and this boldly structured red reveals her talents. Aromas of dried strawberries, Rainier cherry and boysenberry are backed on a palate that reveals more finesse than is typical with this variety. This won a unanimous double gold medal was voted as the state’s best red wine.
Hat Ranch Winery 2018 Estate Dry Moscato, Snake River Valley, $18: Tim and Dr. Helen Harless left Texas a decade ago to establish their winery in the heart of the Sunnyslope Wine District. Using estate grapes, this aromatic white unveils notes of classic grapefruit, lychee, hints of melon and cucumber, backed by a charming lift of juiciness. This expression of Muscat Ottonel was awarded a unanimous double gold medal and voted as best white wine of the judging. And it was no fluke. Hat Ranch – Wine Press Northwest’s 2019 Idaho Winery of the Year – won best of show four years ago with its 2015 Dry Moscato.
3100 Cellars 2016 Runoff Rosé Sparkling Wine, Snake River Valley, $36: This young bubble house in the Boise bedroom community of Garden City produces this from Syrah grapes. Hailey Minder, assistant winemaker for Telaya Wine Co., flashes skill with her sparkling wine by presenting a mouthwatering mousse filled with red cherry and plum. The long note of pomegranate prompted one panel to award it a unanimous double gold medal on its way to being voted the best sparkling wine of the judging.
Par Terre Winery 2018 Rosé of Cabernet Franc, Snake River Valley, $16: When it came time to retire from professional dancing, Travis Walker and his wife, Mallory, decided to raise their family in Boise and enter the wine industry. Travis proved to be a quick study in earning his winemaking degree from Walla Walla Community College. His latest pink wine unveils notes of brioche, plum and cherry, all backed with bright acidity. This won a gold medal and best rosé. Last year, his 2017 Syrah rosé emerged from the Great Northwest Invitational Wine Competition with the award for best rosé at that international judging in the Columbia Gorge.
Andy Perdue and Eric Degerman operate Great Northwest Wine, an award-winning media company. Learn more about wine at greatnorthwestwine.com