PARMA, Idaho - Scott DeSeelhorst could have chosen a dozen other activities to occupy his time between ski seasons - biking, hiking, golfing.
Instead, the 39-year-old Utahn, whose family owns Solitude Ski Resort, spends the off-season here in the Arena Valley, 40 miles northwest of Boise - a short gondola ride from the Oregon border - growing grapes and perfecting the art of winemaking.
The Utah ski resort may be DeSeelhorst's birthright, but it is the Snake River Winery, which he and wife Susan bought in 1998, that feeds his spirit.
The satisfaction was evident on a recent August afternoon as DeSeelhorst walked a row of blauer zweigelt vines, heavy with dark purple grapes. He was giddy about their pending ripeness and the harvesting that soon would begin.
"I love being a farmer," he said. "I love watching them grow."
DeSeelhorst said he should have paid attention earlier to his high school aptitude test, which listed "farming and ranching" as his best career match.
"At the time, I thought, 'No way,' he said. "I wanted to be a stockbroker. High finance."
After graduating from the University of Arizona, he worked as a commodities trader in Chicago. Then in the late-'80s, he and older brother David became full partners at Solitude, which his father, Gary DeSeelhorst, had invested in as one of three partners in 1976.
Scott DeSeelhorst attended the Scottsdale Culinary Institute to help turn the resort - then without hotels or restaurants - into a destination for out-of-state travelers. He worked as a chef and later as the resort's food and beverage manager, opening Solitude's Roundhouse Restaurant (now the Sunshine Grill) and The Yurt. He stepped down from day-to-day operations in 1997. At the end of each ski season, Scott and Susan would travel to Boise to be near her family. The location, close to a successful Oregon wine region, got DeSeelhorst thinking about wine, something he had come to appreciate more in culinary school. He asked a friend in real estate to find land to start a vineyard.
The agent found something even better - the already established, 80-acre Arena Valley Vineyard, located on a south-facing hillside, 2,300 feet above sea level. It offered perfect grape-growing conditions: warm days and cool nights.
There was much work to be done to bring the vineyard up to DeSeelhort's standards. The former owner had focused on quantity, not quality.
With help from the former vineyard manager and several viticulture and winemaking courses at University of California at Davis, DeSeelhorst trimmed back the vines, implemented a new trellising system and cut the grape production from five tons an acre, to three.
"The difference means a much more intense flavor in the grapes," said DeSeelhorst, who admits that as mostly an amateur gardener, the first year was a "bath by fire."
In 2000, when a 6-acre parcel adjacent to the vineyard became available, the couple bought it and built the winery, naming it after the Snake River that winds it through the valley.
Thanks to his culinary background, making wine was less stressful.
"Winemaking and cooking are similar," he said. "You know what you want to end up with. It's just a matter of getting the right ingredients."
Over the past few years, DeSeelhorst has taken out a portion of the vineyard's chardonnay grapes, replacing them with varieties including a large number of syrah; blauer zweigelt (an Austrian variety); barbera, an Italian red; and two Portuguese varieties, tinto cao and touriga.
In all there are now nine grape varieties planted at the vineyard. (Cabernet sauvignon, merlot and riesling being the other three.)
The first Snake River wines were available for purchase in 2002, and they received a good response from residents and restaurants in the Idaho and Jackson, Wyo., areas. Snake River Winery now produces eight different wines, three whites and five reds. Details are available at the Web site http://www.snakeriverwinery.com
Last year, the merlot earned a gold medal at the Indy International Wine Competition at the Indiana State Fair and the cabernet took top honors at West Coast Wine Competition. The blauer zweigelt took gold at the 2004 Indiana competition.
This year, DeSeelhorst expects the winery to produce almost 5,000 cases of wine, an increase of 1,500 from last year.
Much of the increase will occur because Snake River's merlot and riesling can now be sold in Utah. So far the wines are being offered in liquor stores in Draper, Sandy, Cottonwood, and the Avenues and North Temple stores in Salt Lake City. The riesling sells for $8 a bottle and the merlot is $12.
But the label has yet to make it to the state's wine stores.
"I tasted them two or three times and they weren't interesting enough at the price level," said Brett Clifford, Utah's premium wine buyer.
Still, Clifford and other state alcohol buyers liked the label well enough to stock the general liquor stores; they also felt it important to promote Idaho wines. (The state also recently added Idaho's Sawtooth Winery to its sales list.)
History says the move will pay, as Utahns tend to favor wines from the bordering state. Utah, for example, has been one of the larger markets for Idaho's popular St. Chappell wines.
Several Utah restaurants also have been impressed by Snake River Winery. It is on the wine lists at Salt Lake City's Squatters, Ruth's and Panini restaurants.
"We put them on for two reasons," said Kevin Packer, Panini's general manager. "[DeSeelhorst] is local and we love that. And second, it's actually very good wine."
Packer said the Snake River wines are on the restaurant's "Express List," a collection of "unique but good wines," all of which are sold for either $7 a glass or $26 a bottle.
"It's drinkable and the price is great," said Packer, adding the staff especially likes the merlot and recommends the riesling as a good match for many seafood entrees.
Snake River Wines, not surprisingly, are also part of the wine list at Solitude.
Customers are not forced to order Snake River wines, DeSeelhorst said. But many diners are intrigued when they learn the wine is made by one of the owners.
"It differentiates my wine from the thousands out there," he said. "There's a story to tell."
The DeSeelhorsts suggest you serve this dish, which they call "Sticky Chicky,
Snake River Riesling.
2 pounds boneless chicken thighs or breasts (DeSeelhorst prefers thighs as they retain moistness)
3/4 cup canned coconut milk (use reduced fat if desired)
1 1/2 tablespoons minced fresh ginger
1 teaspoon ground black pepper
1 teaspoon hot chili flakes
3/4 cup rice vinegar
1/2 cup sugar
3 tablespoons soy sauce
1 teaspoon hot chili flakes
1 tablespoon minced ginger
Steamed white rice
Chopped green onions, for garnish
Combine the chicken, coconut milk, ginger, pepper and hot chili flakes. Stir until chicken is coated. Marinate in the refrigerator for at least three hours or overnight if possible.
Grill over medium-high heat turning twice each side and brushing with marinade until it is gone. Be careful to turn one last time after brushing top of chicken to ensure safe heating of the marinade. (Do not overcook the glaze or you will have an interesting flavored hard candy.)
Bring all the glaze ingredients to a rolling boil in a saucepan. Reduce heat and cook until mixture is reduce by about 25 percent, 10 to 15 minutes. The finished glaze should be the consistency of maple syrup or slightly thicker. Be careful not to cook at too high a temperature or for too long.
Place the cooked chicken on a bed of rice and spoon the glaze over the top. Garnish with chopped green onions.
Makes 4 servings.
- Snake River Winery
Asian Style Pork
Serve with the Snake River merlot
4 (1 1/2 -pound) pork tenderloins
1 cup hoisin sauce
1/2 cup plum sauce
cup oyster sauce
1/4 cup red wine vinegar
1/4 cup honey
2 tablespoons soy sauce
2 tablespoons sherry
1 tablespoon sesame oil
1 tablespoon Asian chili sauce
1/2 teaspoon black, white pepper
1 tablespoon lemon zest
1 tablespoon orange zest
10 cloves garlic, minced
1/4 cup ginger, minced
3 tablespoons sesame seeds
1/2 cup cilantro, minced
1/2 cup green onions
Combine all the ingredients for marinade. Reserve some for a serving, if desired. Pour remaining marinade over pork. Marinate overnight in the refrigerator. Grill whole tenderloins until thickest part of the meat reaches 150 to 155 degrees. Remove from grill and let stand, loosely covered with aluminum foil for 5 to 10 minutes before slicing into medallions. (The temperature of the meat will continue to raise 5 to 10 degrees while resting.)
Reheat remaining marinade. Serve pork with sauce.
Makes 8 servings.
- Snake River Winery