by Mattie John Bamman | Photo © Split Rail Winery
When was your last “Aha!” wine moment? That moment when you drank a wine so special, you haven’t seen wine the same since? Touring Boise’s urban wineries and tasting rooms, you’re certain to experience at least a few meaningful “Aha!” moments—if not the big one itself. Even with just seven tasting rooms, Boise offers a snapshot of Northwest growing regions, from Idaho’s up-and-coming rieslings, malbecs and syrahs, to the surprise Oregon pinot noir and Washington cab.
When it comes to urban wineries, the first thing to know about Boise is Garden City. Garden City is about a mile from downtown Boise, and it’s home to all of Boise’s urban wineries. Visiting in warm weather? Bicycle there on the Greenbelt, a well-maintained bike and pedestrian path that hugs the Boise River and rarely crosses traffic.
For a full day of wine tasting, I recommend starting in Garden City and ending at the downtown tasting rooms (“tasting rooms” because they do not make wine onsite like urban wineries). No matter where you visit, every winery charges just $5 for a full tasting, with the fee waived with a bottle purchase.
The first urban winery to tour is actually two: Telaya (telayawine.com) and Coiled (coiledwines.com) just moved into a brand-new, shared, 12,000-square-foot urban winery and tasting room. Telaya winemaker Earl Sullivan is well-versed in “Aha!” moments. “The greatest goal for me is for someone to have that ‘Aha!’ wine moment with one of our wines,” he says. Perhaps you’ll have yours on the patio overlooking the river while sipping his chardonnay, made in both the subdued French Chablis and ripe Californian styles (a compromise between he and his wife Carrie’s palates). At 3,500 cases a year, Telaya makes most of its wines using Idaho fruit, but its cabernet sauvignon always features Washington grapes, letting you compare Idaho and Washington terroirs.
Coiled is another small producer, making 2,000 cases a year. Very hands-on, winemaker Leslie Preston focuses mostly on red blends, along with a dry riesling and Rizza, Idaho’s first sparkling wine made using the Champagne method.
Continuing another 15 minutes by bike—past the kayakers playing in the falls—you arrive at Cinder (cinderwines.com). Cinder is a particularly fun winery, with a massive street-art mural outside, wine and cheese boards inside, beer and cider on tap, and an art-gallery mezzanine. Winemaker Melanie Krause made wine at Canoe Ridge Estate before founding Cinder in 2006. Cinder’s syrah has delicious depth, with plum and cedar, and, harvested early, its viognier shows calculated restraint.
Now that you’ve had some wine, it’s time to go alternative. Split Rail (splitrailwines.com), located just around the block, makes wines infused with hops, wines in cans, and wines fermented in giant concrete eggs. The funky tasting room has reclaimed furniture and even sells wines in growlers.
To return to reality, head downtown to Mouvance Winery (mouvancewinery.com). Made in Idaho using coveted fruit from Oregon’s Northern Willamette Valley, the winery’s pinot noirs will stand out sharply (and the $5 tasting fee is a great value).
Finally, the Snake River Winery (snakeriverwinery.com) tasting room near iconic 8th Street shouldn’t be missed. Growing all of its own grapes, the winery works with unusual varieties, like blauer zweigelt and touriga nacional, as well as Idaho’s better-known grapes. “Acidity is one thing Idaho excels at,” says owner Scott DeSeelhorst. He means it: The powerful reds stay bright. Amazingly, most bottles cost $12-20.
Whether you’re wine tasting for a day or a couple of hours, Boise’s urban wineries and tasting rooms are easy to access. And once you’ve had your Idaho wine “Aha!” moment, you’ll likely find yourself thirsty to return—next time to explore the Sunnyslope wine trail, just 40 minutes outside of Boise.