Idahos wine country
Only the grapes know why
they like it
By TRAVIS PURSER
Express Staff Writer
Viticulture 101. Winemaker Steven Roberto describes the bilateral cordon pruning of St.
Chapelle winerys Riesling grapevines. Idaho wines are more elegant than the
heavy-handed, ponderous, monstrous, high-alcohol wines you read about in gaudy
publications like the Wine Spectator, Roberto said. (Express Photo by David N.
SUNNY SLOPESteve Roberto is converting people who think that
Idahos only viable crops are potatoes and snow.
Its no secret that Idaho wine gets a bad rap, but thats
probably from people who have never made the trip to the Sunny Slope area near the Snake
River in the southwestern part of the state. That scenic valley is where Roberto runs the
preeminent winery in the state, if not the entire Northwest.
Listening to the 42-year-old Roberto talk about the wine he makes at St.
Chapelle winery is enough to make anyone reconsider his or her preconceived notions, but
when it comes to the final convincing, the wines speak for themselves.
At the Sun Valley Wine Auction, which St. Chapelle attends regularly, and
at blind tastings across the United States, Robertos deep, lush Syrahs and crisp,
elegant Rieslings have stood up to some of the best wines in the world, to the
consternation of a few snobs, he said during a tour of the vineyards and winemaking
facilities on Saturday.
For many, St. Chapelle has been synonymous with Idaho wine since it
crushed its first commercial vintage in 1976.
Through the 1980s and 90s, most agree, St. Chapelle has led the way
in exploring and expanding Idahos wine-growing horizons.
Since coming to the winery in 1998 from the Robert Mondavi winery in
California, Roberto says he has had his work cut out building on St. Chapelles
already respected reputation.
"The vineyards here were primitive and yet the wines still had this
interesting character," he said of his first experiences in Idaho. "I wanted to
learn more about it. One thing led to another, and I became winemaker [at St.
Roberto, who has a degree in winemaking and viticulture from the
University of California at Davis, insists that wines in Idaho have a unique character
that cant be found anywhere else in the world. And he believes that character will
eventually catapult Idaho wines to the top of the viticultural heap.
Typically, he said, the wines in Idaho are light and elegant, not the
"heavy-handed, ponderous, monstrous, high-alcohol wines you read about in gaudy
publications like the Wine Spectator."
The unique character of the grapes, he said, comes from Idahos
unique climate and soil, which he tries to showcase rather than mask.
"You can make a commercial style anywhere in the world," he
said. "But we resist the temptation here, because the world doesnt need anymore
buttery Chardonnays or oaky wines. It needs wines with character, and the wines here in
Idaho have that."
Roberto encouraged believers and skeptics alike to visit St. Chapelle for
a tasting and a tour. For directions, call the winery at (208) 459-7222.