3 Horse Ranch
“As you are driving out, once you leave Eagle you won’t believe there is vineyard out there,” said Greg Jones, PhD, Professor of Viticulture and Climatology, Southern Oregon University. “You just won’t believe it. The landscape is gorgeous. It’s the Wild West, but they are doing a nice job. There are three or four vineyards in the area. Its rolling hills, sagebrush and dusty roads are reminiscent of 30 years ago on Red Mountain in Washington’s Yakima Valley."
3 Horse Ranch plantings make up two-thirds of the 69 acres of vineyards in the Eagle Foothills AVA. Gary manages two other vineyards between 3 Horse Ranch and Eagle. The soils here are distinctive because of the granite pebbles mixed in with the volcanic ash/sandy loam, a sign of the Eagle Foothills’ position along the Boise Front and near the northern margin of Ancient Lake Idaho.
“Rather than multiple flooding events that stacked things up, there was a long-standing lake here that occupied the Snake River Valley — about the same size as Lake Michigan today,” Clyde Northrup, PhD, Professor of Geosciences at Boise State Universit said. “A lot of the rocks that we see here are lacustrine sediments that accumulated in that lake. There’s a mixture of material that washed from the highlands adjacent, so you have the granite that sits in the uplands north of Boise that produced some of the sediment, but there’s also the Yellowstone hotspot that was migrating its way along. So there were big ash clouds that went out and rained down through the water column to the lake as well.”
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.
Great Wine Starts With Great Soil
We chose natural growing methods in order to obtain the strongest and richest grapes possible, with the fewest detrimental effects on the environment. As a result, the grapes have more varietal character and intense flavors. The wines benefit from this, reflecting our dedication to quality.
The vineyard is our home, literally located directly above is directly above the growing vines. As a family, we didn’t want to breathe or otherwise come in contact with traditional herbicides and pesticides. So, we found natural methods to be the right way for us to grow our grapes and tend our vineyards.
Weeds can be a huge problem in any environment. Concerned grape growers have to be more creative than those practicing modern or conventional viticulture to bring a crop to harvest. In the Vineyard, we tackle them with a variety of methods. Hand hoeing between the vines keeps many of the weeds down, but the spring weed invasion requires heavy artillery. A tractor attachment called the Weed Badger (after the local digger in these foothills) is our first line of attack on the weeds. A circular blade drags behind the tractor, cultivating the rows a few inches below ground, uprooting weeds along the way. A sensor arm helps it go between the grape plants to avoid damage to the vines. Natural growers make use of cover crops, beneficial insects, composting and mulch.
Vineyard pests come in many forms, from tiny leaf-hoppers to larger birds. We encourage a sustainable population of beneficial insects including lacewings, ladybugs, predatory wasps, thrips and insectivorous mites. Each year the beneficial insect population grows, helping us naturally manage our vineyards.
Prior to and during harvest, birds can be unwelcome guests in a vineyard. Migratory flocks descend on the ripening grapes, to feast and refuel for their flights to warmer climates. Netting the grapes as they become ripe discourages the scout birds. The flocks by pass the vineyards for other sites with easier feeding opportunities.
The hand pruning and individual training of each plant along with hand picked fruit at harvest ensures our estate grown wines are allowed to develop to their greatest potential. By utilizing environmentally sustainable farming practices our natural approach in the production from our vineyards illustrates not only our personal commitment to future generations of Idaho families, but to the preservation of the land itself.
Our grapes are harvested by hand rather than by machine to reduce stress or damage to the fruit, vine or soil. To be clear, our Estate grown wines are made with 100% naturally grown grapes.