“People thought I was the craziest loon to walk the face of the Earth...I ended up putting in 9 acres the first year.” - Gary Cunningham, Owner and Vintner
Gary, a consummate salesman, left Sacramento, Calif., after a successful marketing career in the world of corporate business travel. When he and Martha first came to Idaho, they lived eight years in McCall before buying more than 1,600 acres along Willow Creek Road. They named their property for the three horses that belonged to their family, and for years they boarded other horses to help pay for their vineyard plantings, which stand at 46 acres. It’s not a hobby business for either of them. He manages the vineyards when he’s not on the road selling their wine, and Martha operates the tasting room across Pearl Road from their barn.
Since its launch in 2002, they’ve built 3 Horse Ranch into the largest family-owned winery in Idaho, ranking third in production behind Ste. Chapelle and Sawtooth. And thanks to their association with Koenig, the Cunninghams’ wines continue to shine. Wine Press Northwest magazine, a publication based in Washington state, named 3 Horse Ranch Vineyards its 2011 Idaho Winery to Watch. Earlier this year, their 2012 Merlot won best of class at the Seattle Wine and Food Experience Wine Awards, and the 2014 Estate Pinot Gris merited a gold medal at the Great Northwest Wine Competition, the country’s largest judging of Pacific Northwest wine.
Annual production stands at about 12,000 cases, but Gary claims he could sell twice that if Idaho vineyards could supply the fruit. And since nearly 80 percent of 3 Horse Ranch wines are sold outside of the state — a startling figure for a winery its size — the Cunninghams serve as important ambassadors for the Idaho wine industry.
In a good year, 3 Horse Ranch Vineyards grows a significant percentage of its own grapes, including Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Malbec, Petit Verdot, Syrah, Grenache, Mourvèdre, Pinot Gris, Chardonnay, Viognier, Roussanne and Sauvignon Blanc. One of the nearby vineyards, not far from Beacon Light Road — which forms much of the southern boundary of the AVA — grows Sangiovese.
Going forward, the Cunninghams hope global climate change will help their vineyards, which top out at 3,000 feet in elevation, and the availability of water for irrigation does not loom as an issue. It’s a beautiful, beautiful area, and then once you pass Eagle, you are in those foothills. The Cunninghams estimate 3 Horse Ranch includes an additional 550 plantable acres, and that the best sites have not been touched.
Hiding behind the foothills north of Eagle is an area filled with poor soil, sandy loam, and few marks of a prime agricultural area. Despite an environment that would be hostile to many varieties of agriculture, it’s just what many varieties of popular wine grapes love, and they’re thriving at 3 Horse Ranch Vineyards. The resulting wines have been stellar, with the winery capturing about a dozen awards for the different varieties made from the grapes growing on this unlikely fertile plain. But the secret of this hidden gem — and about a dozen other vineyards in the region — is about to be revealed... Continue »