Oct 7, 2008
Idaho Winery Wasn’t Built in a Day

Would you like a Cabernet Sauvignon to go with that Russet-Burbank, or maybe a Riesling with your German Butterball? Perhaps a Merlot with the Yukon Gold? Fine wines and famous potatoes: Matches made only in Idaho.

It’s a warm summer afternoon in August, not a cloud in the sky, driving up a gently rising, two-lane blacktop country road in Twin Falls County, passing rows of corn. When the wall of corn comes to an end you suddenly find yourself passing the trellised rows of a vineyard. Not a large vineyard. Just the same, it’s a little unusual to see in this south-central Idaho farm belt.

Just 3 miles from the Buhl city limits sits an airy chateau, with a flower garden and a bubbling, man-made stream running through it and 4 acres of trellised grapes.

The Snyder Winery is one of 28 wineries in Idaho. Russ and Claudia Snyder bought it in 1999.

“I call it the nine-year money pit,” Claudia said with a laugh, as she walked the grounds around the outdoor tasting area.

It’s been nine years in the making for the Snyders, but this represents the foundation of a dream they’ve shared for years.

Long-time Salt Lake City residents, Claudia, an interior designer, and Russ, director of sales for Burton Lumber for more than 25 years, wanted to open their own winery in their “retirement” years.

“We always thought it would be kind of fun to do and to supplement our retirement,” Claudia said. “And that’s our family joke. It’s taken our retirement to do this.

“My husband has to work to send money. Someday he’ll retire and come up here,” she said.

They spent five years searching for the site to begin their viticultural retirement. Their quest took them from the Nampa/Caldwell area in Idaho to Grand Junction, Colo., before Russ suggested they look in the Buhl area.

“We saw a ‘for sale’ sign here and we contacted the realtor,” Claudia said. “She faxed the information. It had the fish ponds, it had the little cabin, and I thought, ha! That’s the one; it’s calling my name.”

Though Claudia was ready to buy the property as soon as she read the fax, Russ wasn’t as quick to jump.

“My husband didn’t want 80 acres; he wanted 20,” Claudia said. “I said, ‘we can’t do a vineyard and winery on 20, plus you want to be kind of out by yourself. This is perfect. You enjoy fish, it’s got the little cabin I can fix up and live in while waiting for the money to build.’ And so we stayed in our motor home for a year and a half while we remodeled the cabin, and stayed in that for four years while we were building this.”

The year after purchasing the farm, in 2000, they planted a test vineyard with 10 varieties to see how winter hardy they would be.

The following year they planted 1 acre of Riesling and in 2002 they planted 1 acre each of Syrah, Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc. They are looking at planting another acre on the south side, perhaps Pinot Noir.

“They’re doing pretty well,” Claudia said, “but last year (2007) we had a late spring and we lost half the vineyard.”

The Snyders purchase additional grapes from the Nampa Valley area, thereby insuring theirs is an all-Idaho winery.

They began bottling wine three years ago.

“We make all our own wines right here,” Claudia said. “We do the Riesling, the Chardonnay and then a white Syrah, which is a blush like a white Zin but only better. Our reds are Syrah, Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot. Our Cab Franc hasn’t done as well, but next year it should be really good.”

Claudia took some enology classes at the University of California, Davis.

“I learned quite a bit about the grapes and the best way to take care of them. To really make the good wine you have to have the good grapes.”

They completed their tasting room in 2004. Their initial plan was for a vineyard and winery, but as is so often the case, plans change. As they developed their home and the outdoor tasting area surrounded by flower gardens, the Snyders began to see their winery as a destination for parties, weddings and receptions.

Visitors suggested they do a restaurant. The Snyders saw these options as opportunities to bring in more income. For the first two years the operation was something of a family affair with their daughter, Andrea, serving as the chef and her husband the vineyard manager.

Now, Claudia makes the drive from Salt Lake City to the winery on Wednesdays and Russ comes up on Fridays, after work, to do the cooking.

It’s been a long time getting to this point, but the Snyders see a lot more left to do.

“We’re really just gearing up to do more marketing in the next year. We’re so limited on staff and can only afford so much labor, so I’m a one-man dog and pony show,” Claudia said.

She offers advice for others thinking of venturing into wine.

“I hope you have a lot of money and a lot of patience and energy,” she said.

“There are rewards. You meet a lot of great people and it’s fun to take a little pride in knowing that people enjoy your product and all the hard work you’ve gone through.”

75 Applewood Drive, Suite A
P.O. Box 128
Sparta, MI 49345
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