Washington Wine Group Buys Second Idaho Winery

Mar 10, 1999
Corus Brands' new Idaho purchase isn't small potatoes. After acquiring Sawtooth Winery for an undisclosed sum in late February, the company now owns the two largest wineries in the state.

"We see Idaho as a very untapped market in the northwest wine industry," said Michelle Congbalay, associate brand manager at Corus, formerly Associated Vintners. The company also owns five Washingon wineries: Columbia Winery, Covey Run, Paul Thomas, Cascade Ridge and Millennium. Added Congbalay, "Our main goal is to help increase productivity and quality and help Sawtooth grow their brand."

Sawtooth, Idaho's second-largest winery, produces Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay, Chenin Blanc, Merlot, Pinot Noir and Riesling. Corus plans to develop a reserve line and to increase the 10,000-case winery's distribution by penetrating markets such as Seattle; Spokane, Wash.; and Portland, Ore.

Meanwhile, Corus other Idaho holding (and the states largest winery), Ste. Chapelle, has appointed a former Robert Mondavi employee, Steven Roberto, as its winemaker and managing director. Roberto, whose responsibilities included day-to-day winemaking operations for Mondavi's Vichon Mediterranean line and Woodbridge Merlot, left California for what he described as a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. He commented, "The chance to have your own winery in a state with the opportunity for discovery, and starting something from scratch, doesnt come along every day as a winemaker in California."

Though little-known as a wine region, Idaho had a well-established wine industry from the late 1800s until Prohibition; after that, wine grapes weren't planted again until about 1970. Idahos vineyards, mostly in the southern part of the state along the Snake River Valley, are planted at elevations as high as 3,000 feet and therefore enjoy intense sunlight. The volcanic ash and sandy soils that comprise the terrain keep yields low and challenge winemakers just to keep vines planted.

Despite the adversity, Ste. Chapelle produces 150,000 cases annually -- mostly of Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay, Riesling and Syrah -- and with Roberto at the helm, the winery expects to double that figure in 1999.

Related stories:

  • June 4, 1997
    Washington Winery Group Expands Into Idaho

  • April 30, 1995
    Great Values: Paul Thomas Winery

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