Eagle Foothills Soils Produce Ripe Lower-Alcohol Cabernet Sauvignon...
Click Here For Original Article Written by Eric Degerman, Great Northwest Wine:
Koenig, one of the Pacific Northwest’s top winemakers, oversees the Cunninghams’ winemaking program. Koenig has other clients, including his own Koenig Vineyards label. He’s marveled at the unique qualities of some 3 Horse Ranch Vineyards grapes, particularly Cabernet Sauvignon, which naturally arrive at his Caldwell vinification facility at reduced yields.
“The grapes come in with lower sugars but physiologically ripe, which is cool,” Koenig said. “I made a great Cab for them one year that was 13.1 percent alcohol, while all of the rest of us (in the region) are pushing 14.5 and 15 percent sometimes to get that green flavor out.
“Part of it is the weak soils out there. He doesn’t get much canopy, and the yields are low, but the fruit comes in ripe,” Koenig continued. “From a winemaker’s standpoint, that’s great. People have always commented on how the red wines especially are balanced and rich and ripe and not high alcohol.”
In a good year, 3 Horse Ranch Vineyards grows a significant percentage of its own grapes, including Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Malbec, Petit Verdot, Syrah, Grenache, Mourvèdre, Pinot Gris, Chardonnay, Viognier, Roussanne and Sauvignon Blanc.
Despite the many challenges, they’ve built 3 Horse Ranch into the largest family-owned winery in Idaho, ranking third overall in production, trailing only Ste. Chapelle and Sawtooth Estate Winery. (Both brands are owned by Precept Wine in Seattle). Annual production for 3 Horse Ranch stands at about 12,000 cases, but Gary said he could sell twice that if Idaho vineyards could supply him the fruit. Nearly 80 percent of 3 Horse Ranch wines are sold outside of his adopted state — a startling figure for a winery its size — so the Cunninghams serve as key ambassadors for the award-winning Idaho wine industry.
And thanks to their association with Koenig, the Cunninghams’ wines continue to shine in blind judgings.
Wine Press Northwest magazine, a publication based in Washington state, named 3 Horse Ranch Vineyards its 2011 Idaho Winery to Watch. Earlier this year, its 2012 Reserve 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 nation’s largest judging of Pacific Northwest wine.
The most recent acclaim for the Cunninghams’ program came Oct. 8, when the 3 Horse Ranch Vineyards 2012 Syrah-Mourvèdre earned a double gold and best of class at the 2015 Great Northwest Invitational. Cunningham is particularly proud of the estate Mourvèdre in the program.
“It’s a different beast out there,” Koenig said. “It’s so different (viticulturally) than what you read from publications, which all are from California, Washington and Oregon. The fruit is definitely distinctive, and you can tell that when you are tasting from the barrels. A couple of the nicest Cabs I've made are from there. They are super-low yield and the berries are tiny. The Cabernet and Syrah have real potential.”
The Cunninghams made an early splash with an organic approach the 3 Horse Ranch Vineyards estate grapes and lineup of wine, but they abandoned their certification several years ago.