As a child, Melanie Krause unknowingly sowed the seeds for the rest of her life as she helped her parents tend the family garden in Boise.
Now, its the winemakers own daughter who provides a healthy perspective and makes a grown-up work space Cinder Wines in Garden City a better place.
Weve set up a kids room and nursery in two spare offices, Krause said of the Urban Winemakers Cooperative that includes Coiled Wines and Telaya Wine Co. My daughter, Charli, spends one day each week with us at the winery. The other winery owners and Kat House, owner of House of Wine, all have kids, as do several of our employees.
We see other kids down at the winery at least once a week, Krause continued. What I find really fascinating is how wonderful it is for all the adults when any of the kids are there. They seem to inject a huge dose of cheer into the work environment, bringing smiles to everyones faces.
Krause, 36, describes it as a real revelation.
The same could be said for her influence on the Treasure Valley since her homecoming in 2006.
Cinder has had a tremendous impact on the Idaho wine industry, said Moya Dolsby, executive director of the Idaho Wine Commission. They are truly leaders. They are setting an excellent example of how, if a winery works hard to make good wine and goes out there to sell it, then success can be had.
This fall, Cinder received acclaim in famed British writer Hugh Johnsons annual Pocket Wine Book, a scouting report that read a breakout Idaho winery making small amounts of marvelous Viognier, a unique Mourvedre/Tempranillo blend and very good Syrah.
Johnsons three-star rating for Cinder places it on par with many of Washington states top wineries. No other Idaho winery received as many stars.
The reception has gotten better and better the whole time, Krause said. What started as a trickle has become a stream. It was certainly difficult to sell my wine the first year I went around, and now its just so easy. The first year, I had to bang down peoples doors and force my wine down their throat because they werent enthused with Idaho wine.
Now that sense has totally turned around. We have people calling, Hey, I need an Idaho wine on my menu. That never happened two years ago. The momentum is really exciting. Its been building the last couple of years, and this last summer, our company and other Idaho wineries have had an incredible increase in sales.
She gives much of the credit to the five years of training she received while working at Chateau Ste. Michelle in Paterson, Wash. And that might not have happened were it not for Joe Schnerr, whom she met while both were students at Washington State University.
When I got out, I had a general biology degree and a Spanish degree and had agriculture in mind, she said. My husband, Joe my boyfriend at the time moved to Umatilla, Ore., to run a chemistry lab there. I thought, Umatilla. Thats going to be the end of our relationship! But I looked around and realized right across the river are all the Washington vineyards. I thought, That would be fabulous. Ive got a good background for that.
Those years in her parents garden, her language skills and the research in WSUs winter wheat lab made Krause an easy hire for Ste. Michelle Wine Estates in 2001. She spent two seasons as a vineyard technician before moving into the winery as an enologist. In time, she was promoted to an assistant winemaking position, working at the Canoe Ridge red wine production facility alongside future Columbia Crest winemaker Juan Munoz-Oca. Her supervisors were Ron Bunnell, now at his eponymous winery in Prosser, Wash., and Chateau Ste. Michelle winemaker Bob Bertheau.
They were fantastic with the education they gave me, Krause said. I remain in touch with both Ron and Bob. They were great mentors, and they really helped me out.
In hindsight, theres little doubt that Krauses winemaking talents and Schnerrs business management would have worked in Walla Walla, where she would have been a bigger star at an earlier stage. Launching their winery in Hood River, Ore. a recreation-minded community was another option, but Krause believed in the Snake River Valley.
The whole time I was working in Washington I was coming back to Idaho and exploring the vineyards and tasting the wines and thinking, Hmm, this place has a ton of potential, she said. When my husband and I decided to start our own winery, we chose Boise, first for the climate and the idea we could make world-class wines here, and second for the business climate, and third, its an amazing place to live.
Plans fell into place when they came upon a former fruit and vegetable processing warehouse in Garden City. Their business model didnt necessarily include planting vines in wine country, and many of their personal ties are in Boise.
Thats been a critical piece of luck to find this building to lease, Krause said. There are huge marketing implications to being close to population.
It also fit nicely into their lifestyle.
Pre-Charli, I did bike to work frequently, she said with a smile. Its about 20 minutes from our house along the Greenbelt
Earlier this year, the other half of the warehouse became available, which allowed Krause and Schnerr to expand, remodel and also create a remarkable urban winery experience similar to those in Portland that are gaining national acclaim. The rolling garage doors have even turned Garden City into a summer night spot.
Weve been holding some events and wedding receptions, and people will come by on their way home from work every day of the week and we sell them wine, she said. They seem to enjoy the atmosphere, and thats been a real boon to our business.
Perhaps its not surprising that critical acclaim for Krauses wines came before Boise truly embraced them. The 2006 Syrah from her first commercial vintage received Wine Press Northwests top rating of Outstanding! and Cinder earned the regional magazines Idaho Winery to Watch award in 2009. That same year, Wine Business Monthly named Cinder one of its Hot Small Brands of North America.
Last year, Wine Press Northwest selected Cinder as the Idaho Winery of the Year.
Most of my experience in Washington has translated pretty easily here, and its fun to be in a cutting-edge region, Krause said. Weve got a fairly big population here in Boise that didnt have an indigenous wine industry, so weve had a great reception and sell a really high percentage of our wine right out of the door.
The promise of continued success opened the door of opportunity wider for Schnerr, who was a chemist at Micron Technology. Their teamwork allowed Cinder to grow production from 1,000 cases to 4,000 cases a year, which doesnt include the winemaking Krause does for Huston Vineyards in Caldwell or the time spent checking on the wines for Coiled and Telaya.
Somewhere between where were at now and 10,000 cases, well find a sweet spot, Krause said. That gives us pretty good margin, and we wont have to distribute so widely that were constantly on the road while maximizing the productivity of this space. Weve built it into a comfortable company where we have enough employees that we can step back and take a vacation once in a while.
The growth not only means success but also the opportunity to get back some family time. I dont want to work stupid hours anymore, and Im more conscious of delegating, Krause said.
We have a pretty cool working environment at the winery, but the difference that the kids make reveals to me how focused and a little grim the adults get when they are at work, Krause said. Being able to create a workplace where kids are welcome is one of the most rewarding parts of owning my business.
More help is on the way. Melanie and Joe are expecting that the 2014 vintage will produce a baby brother or sister for Charli.
Andy Perdue and Eric Degerman run Great Northwest Wine, a news and information website. Learn more about wine and see more of their stories at GreatNorthwestWine.com.