Friday, June 6, 2008

Valley winery to unleash the gold

Frenchmanís Gulch continues its rise

Express Staff Writer

Steve McCarthy pours some award-winning wine for his front-door pal at Frenchmanís Gulch Winery in Ketchum. Photo by Willy Cook

Idaho wine, by name at least, has shown that it can compete with the big boys.

This weekend, the Sun Valley Food and Wine Festival will debut a gold medal winner when Frenchman's Gulch Winery of Ketchum releases its 2005 Ketchum Cuvée. The 2005 Cuvée won first place at the Northwest Food and Wine Summit held in Mount Hood, Ore. The annual event was a professionally attended blind tasting with 1,400 entries, making it the Northwest's largest wine competition. The category in which the Ketchum Cuvée won was "best red Bordeaux blend under $30."

Although its label is Ketchum and the wine is bottled here, the wine, hand-crafted by Steve McCarthy of Ketchum, is made from select Washington fruit. The 2005 Ketchum Cuvée is a blend of cabernet sauvignon from Alder Creek and Matador, merlot from Dwelley and cabernet franc grapes from Chandler Reach vineyards.

Wine Press Northwest magazine gave the 2005 Ketchum Cuvée an "Outstanding!" rating, and recommended it as their wine of the week in early May.

"This luscious red wine will pair well with grilled or roasted meats and vegetables or hearty Italian dishes," the reviewer wrote.

The 2005 Cuvée will be released along with Frenchman's silver medal winner, the spicy, complex 2005 Syrah, at an open public tasting from 3-6 p.m. Saturday, June 7. Also to be poured at the Saturday event is the 2005 Merlot—which hits the nose with intense cherry fruit, further opening to reveal velvety plum flavors—and a crisp 2006 Chardonnay.

McCarthy and his wife, Tracey, began their operation in their West Ketchum garage in 1998, and had a first release in 2000. He is intimately involved in the complete process, from visiting the vineyards several times during the growing season to being on hand during harvest. He buys grapes by the acre, which enables him to develop relationships with growers and gives him more control over the quality of the fruit.

He also drives a flatbed truck loaded with the full vats back to Ketchum. Once the grapes arrive in Ketchum, the McCarthys and a crew of family and friends crush, hand punch and basket-press the grapes and then bottle and label the wines.

"All the different wines are doing different things at different times. They don't all ripen at the same time," Tracey McCarthy said. "Arne (Ryason, the 'cellar master') and Mac drive back and forth during harvest months about six times picking up the newly harvested grapes."

Rogue wineries are on the rise in many parts of the country. In California, a bohemian second wind of vintners has changed the face of winemaking. McCarthy perfectly fits this non-mold. He learned the art of winemaking in France, and began growing vines at a summer home in Michigan. The McCarthys moved to Ketchum in 1994, with his dream of making wine still intact.

There is some scientific evidence that the high-altitude growing and high-altitude fermenting is beneficial to the wine. Certainly, clean air that the wine is exposed to is highly prized, as is the clean water.

"It's one of those mystery things, but it makes the wine taste good," Ryason said. "Winemaking is a little bit of science, a little bit of art and a little mystical."

Frenchman's Gulch's tag line is appropriately, "Fine wines and living the dream."

Frenchman's Gulch Winery is located at 360 Ninth St. East. You can't miss the mini-chateau that McCarthy built with a tasting room, offices and a courtyard blessed with views of the Frenchman's runs on Bald Mountain.

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