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Famous Grapes 

by Christina Kelly & r & & r & & lt;span class= "dropcap " & W & lt;/span & hen you live in Sandpoint, Idaho, sourcing grapes to make wine doesn't happen in your back yard. In fact, in some cases, it doesn't even happen in the same state.


For winemaker Steve Meyer, owner of Pend d'Oreille Winery, fruit is trucked in from 35 vineyards located in Washington and Idaho to produce his single-vineyard and blended wines. None, of course, come from Sandpoint, but that hasn't stopped the determined Meyer from producing some of Idaho's best wines.


Pend d'Oreille Winery just celebrated 10 years of wine production in the North Idaho town by adding a new series to their lineup -- two vineyard-designated wines, one from southern Idaho (a Malbec), and one from Eastern Washington (a Cabernet Sauvignon-Merlot blend). He calls them his "Terrior" series, meaning they reflect the microclimate and soils of the region in which the grapes were grown.


The Malbec, from Wood River Vineyard near Caldwell, Idaho, is a robust wine full of bright flavors of cherry and leather aromas in the nose, reflecting the soils of the Snake River Valley. The Cabernet Sauvignon blend is from the Berghan Vineyard in the Walla Walla Valley, with black fruit flavors of boysenberry and smooth tannins that make it a terrific food wine, especially for roasted meats.


"By sourcing fruit from both warmer and cooler sites, I can spread out the season and add more complexity to the wines," said Meyer, who worked in the 1980s in a winery in Meursault, France, a region known more for Chardonnay. "I am always exploring vineyards to get the quality of fruit I want and to offer an interesting portfolio of wines. When you are a small winery in Idaho, you want to provide the wines people know, along with varietals they might not be familiar with."


Although more than half of the grapes for Pend d'Oreille Winery come from Washington, Meyer is determined to foster and nourish an Idaho identity. He moved his tasting room to downtown Sandpoint to take advantage of the area's tourism, provide a connection with other retailers in area and to reflect the heritage of Lake Pend d'Oreille, "the best asset in our back yard."


Meyer is a skiing enthusiast who wanted to combine a way of life for family while carving out an ability to make a comfortable living.


"We want to be recognized as one of the leaders in the Idaho wine industry," said Meyer. "It's a great opportunity to surprise people coming to town -- most will tell us they never expected to discover a winery this far north."


The winery is producing nearly 6,000 cases per year, with a 10-year plan to become a 10,000-case winery. Meyer said it took him 10 years to reach 5,000-plus cases per year, so he figures he can double it in the next 10 years. It means investing in new equipment and expanding his marketing efforts, but he is passionate about putting Idaho on the wine map.





Not the Usual Route to Winemaking & r & Before Meyer traveled to France in 1985, he originally intended to become a physical therapist. Once bitten by the wine bug, he returned to the United States and worked at Roudon-Smith Vineyards in Northern California, taking winemaking classes. When he met his wife Julie, the couple decided he should major in accounting if they were to begin their own business. For a short time, Meyer worked as an accountant at Ernst & amp; Young.


As the couple scouted regions to start a winery, they looked at Oregon's Willamette Valley first, since Steve had a penchant for Pinot Noir. But an earlier trip to Sandpoint for skiing convinced the couple to try Sandpoint. Both knew the road would be difficult, given the remote area. Yet Steve was convinced he could work with growers from both states to secure contracts for fruit and truck the produce to Sandpoint.


Pend d'Oreille Winery produces Chardonnay, Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Pinot Gris, Huckleberry Blush from Riesling, Sangiovese, Pinot Noir and his series called Bistro Rouge, a value-oriented blend retailing for about $10. His 2003 Syrah recently took double gold awards from the Tri-Cities Wine Festival.


Meyer's wines have a common denominator -- great value for the price and food friendliness that begs to place these wines on the dinner table. These are not huge alcoholic beasts that taste hot (alcoholic) in the mouth. There is a rural taste to his wines reflecting a winemaking philosophy of staying true to the soils without messing around too much with the grapes. The consumer is getting a true reflection of the each state's vineyards and an artist's blend of how those vineyards and soils and climates come together to showcase the final product.


In his exploration, Meyer offers a unique perspective similar to Oregon winemakers blending wines from Washington and Oregon. They are creating a Northwest product, displaying the best qualities from Washington, Oregon and Idaho.


Pend d'Oreille Winery's Bistro series (red and white wine blends) can be found in many grocery stores and wine shops, along with their standard wines. The smaller varietals -- Sangiovese and the Terrior series -- can only be found at the tasting room in Sandpoint.

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