Tuesday, January 07, 2014

Rocky Mountain High-The Story of Idaho's Telaya Wine Co.

"Comin' home to a place he'd never been before.  He left yesterday behind him, you might say he was born again.” 

It’s not too often that a song could describe something or someone (other than the songwriter or an ex of theirs) better than John Denver’s Rocky Mountain High describes the proprietors of Telaya. Telaya (Tetons + Playa = Telaya) is the union of college sweethearts Earl and Carrie Sullivan. 

Earl, a native of Kentucky, and Carrie, an Indiana suburbanite, met as juniors in college while studying tropical ecology on a fishing boat in the Galapagos.  The two continued to work together on various scholarly pursuits in places like San Salvador, the Bahamas, College Station, Texas (where Carrie enrolled in a masters program in molecular genetics, Nigeria, Angola and obviously, Columbus, Ohio (where Carrie earned a degree in veterinary medicine).  It was in 2002 that the couple ended up in Boise, Idaho for Earl’s career and it was in Boise that they finally had found their home.

During a vacation on the beaches of Cabo, the couple really started to reevaluate what it was that they felt compelled to do, what it was that they were truly passionate about.  They went down the list that included the logical answers like family, friends and providing a strong and morally sound upbringing for their two sons.  They also thought about how much they love to travel and of course, wine.  From tastings, to food pairings and the fact that wine production combines agriculture with science, they had decided what the next chapter of their lives would hold.

The Sullivans began to make connections with various winemakers in Washington State and it was through those introductions and conversations that they were able to form a partnership that would produce a product that the two felt would represent their brand the way they had always imagined.

The Sullivans with Kathryn House (pictured at right)
In the autumn of 2011, Telaya joined the 44th Street Wine Collective in the Boise suburb of Garden City.  The 44th Street Collective provided the Sullivans an urban ambiance that they were hoping for to host tastings, wine events but also the opportunity to learn.  Today, Earl and Carrie have a great mentor to learn from in Kathryn House, formerly the assistant winemaker of Betz Family Winery.

Telaya isn’t your typical Idaho winery as they originally sourced fruit from select vineyards in Washington State, but began making wines from Idaho vineyards in 2012.  The current offerings of Teleya are two vintages (2009 and 2010) of Syrah, Cabernet Sauvignon and their proprietary blend called Turas (a blend of Syrah, Merlot and Cabernet).  In 2011, Telaya produced their first white wine, which was viognier from Gamache Vineyard that was aged for ten months in stainless steel and two months in neutral oak barrels.

I had the opportunity to sit down with Earl at their 44th Street location and try through some of the wines. The first wine that I tried was their 2010 proprietary red blend, Turas, which is Irish for journey.  Turas is comprised of 60% Syrah, %20 Cabernet Sauvignon and 20% Merlot.  The nose has bold aromas of sweet mountain berries, plum and white chocolate.  The palate is medium bodied with pronounced tannins, black cherries, dried tobacco, baking spices and black pepper.

The second wine I tasted with Earl was their 2009 Syrah.  Earl let this wine sit in oak for 31 months, nine of which were in neutral oak.  This wine had a lot going on with notes of tar, figs, raspberries, baker’s cocoa, blackberry pie, toasted almond and a kiss of oak.

The last wine that I had the pleasure of trying was Telaya’s 2010 Cabernet Sauvignon.  Sourced from Washington’s esteemed Weinbau Vineyard, this Cabernet is very true to site with notes of blueberries, bell peppers, white pepper and bold tannin without being heavy on the palate.

Telaya may not be your typical Idaho winery, but they are doing some special things and looking forward to the future.  Earl told me that although  they plan to always make wines from Washington state, they have shifted to sourcing 80% of their fruit from the Gem State for the 2013 harvest and will continue to showcase what Idaho has to offer, so be sure to keep an eye out for their upcoming wines as they have already begun establishing themselves as a key part in the future of Idaho’s wine industry.


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