Thursday, May 31, 2012

Winery Of My Youth Comes Back to Northwest Ownership

I was born and raised in the potato and corn fields of Caldwell, Idaho. As a kid I fondly remember going out to Symms fruit ranches along Sunnyslope to pick up boxes of apples and cherries during harvests.

One summer when we were going out to pick up some cherries there was a new structure on the slopes. Where there had once been a forest of fruit trees there was now a really odd shaped Chateau. Around it, and stretching for long distances in either direction was gray-white soil and little twigs suspended by long strands of wires.

As a teenage boy that was my first experience of a winery and a vineyard. The winery was Ste. Chapelle. Under the ownership of the Symms family, and the winemaking expertise of Bill Broiche, the winery became one of the most successful wineries in the Western United States.

I fondly remember that the winery made several different varietals. The one that made them famous though, was their Johannisburg Riesling. Back in the late 70s and early 80s there were relatively few laws concerning ownership of regional names. You didn’t have to be from Johannisburg to make a wine by that name. You could make it above the backwaters of the Snake River and all was cool.

I distinctly remember that a visit to Ste. Chapelle on or after your 19th birthday was a right of passage for many of us. I also remember taking my wife and her roommates there long before we were married to get the girls looped on free samples in the tasting room.

Now, fast forward all these years. The winery, after a rather ugly split between Symms and Broiche nearly died. The 80s and 90s took their toll on the wine industry as well. People got tired of the same old sweet wines.

Ste. Chapelle was sold off to Constellation wines back in the early 2000s. Constellation’s huge portfolio and marketing expertise helped breathe some new life back into the winery. Once again I remember looking on the shelves of grocery wine isles and seeing growing space and sales being given to Ste. Chapelle. WalMart in Hermiston had a huge section of their shelves dedicated to the winery, and we always needed backstock of their wines for weekends.

Ascentia purchased the winery from Constellation in 2008. This giant conglomerate company, that also owns Covey Run and Woodinville Winery in Washington owns hundreds of labels worldwide. They continued to grow the brand successfully since then.

This month the winery was purchased by Precept Brands out of Washington State. A resounding victory for Northwest vintners. Precept, owned and operated by Andrew Browne and the Baty family, has been successful in growing many super successful labels here in the northwest. Apex, Pine and Post, Sagelands, Canoe Ridge, and Alder Brook and many other regional labels are Precept wines.

The reason for my excitement is that once again one of my foundations in the wine industry is under what I consider “local” ownership. It is a sort of homecoming for all of us Idaho wine slobs.
Ste. Chappelle has grown exponentially since my younger years. They now create over 130,000 cases of wine annually. Their specialty still is riesling, however they, like me, have grown up a little. They now offer some pretty decent off dry and dry reds as well.
The next time you’re driving through southern Idaho I hope you’ll take a quick detour and stop at the tasting room between Caldwell and Marsing, Idaho.


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