The countdown to Valentine’s Day has begun, and your heart is pounding. That’s because you haven’t done anything for your wine-loving lover.
Fortunately, the Snake River Valley is wine country, and few know more about the Idaho wine industry than Ilene Dudunake, owner of A New Vintage Wine Shop in Meridian. This vivacious lady is “The Dude” of Idaho wine and aims to please her legions of longtime supporters. She also talks about wine in approachable, conversational terms — a perfect fit for the Treasure Valley.
“I’d say at this time of year, it’s mostly men who come in and say, ‘Oh, God, it’s almost Valentine’s Day! Can you help me?’ ”
Last year, she couldn’t help the ultimate procrastinator. A New Vintage Wine Shop is closed on Sundays and Mondays, and in 2016, Valentine’s Day fell on a Sunday.
“ ‘You were closed on Valentine’s Day. How can you be closed on a holiday?’ ” Dudunake said she was told.
That was one of the few people Dudunake, a proud Orofino High School and University of Idaho graduate, ever has disappointed. She tended bar in Moscow and then The Resort at Coeur d’Alene before working a decade in the California wine trade.
“Basically, I start off by asking anyone who comes into my shop what they are looking for and what they like,” she said. “If they are shopping for someone else, I ask them if they have seen their significant other drink red wine or white wine, what the bottle looks like, what they’ve had before, and go from there. I try to pull as much information as possible out of them. And then I want to know what price they want to be at. If they come in and they are looking for something in the $15 range, it’s not right for me to try to sell them a $30 bottle.”
That approach to customers both new and regular has been the reason why Dudunake toasted the 15th anniversary of A New Vintage Wine Shop last year. Her background is in wine and retail shows, having helped open Nordstrom’s first two stores in Washington, D.C., in 1988 and 1989. She also knows her market, now a Treasure Valley resident for 27 years. That business savvy enabled her to survive the economic fallout from the 9/11 attacks and then the Great Recession.
There’s no doubt Dudunake enjoys the lighter side of wine and loves to promote the home team. Among her longtime favorites is Koenig Vineyards in Caldwell. Greg Koenig was the first winemaker to visit her shop more than 15 years ago.
“One of the things that I’m recommending for Valentine’s Day is the Koenig 2014 Devil’s Bedstead Zinfandel,” she said. “Wouldn’t that be fun? The Devil’s Bedstead on Valentine’s Day? After all, you’ve got to have fun with this.”
A core component of Dudunake’s shop is sweet wines. It’s a natural starting point for those new to wine.
“I’ve had customers who have been coming in here for 10 years, and I’ve never been able to move them off the barrel where I display the sweeter wines and Moscato,” she said. “I’m not kidding you. I can’t get them to move!”
A standby has been the late harvest Riesling from Kiona Vineyards on Red Mountain, and another Washington-made Riesling that Dudunake does well with is from Nine Hats, the successful second label of acclaimed Long Shadows Vintners in Walla Walla.
“There’s also the Huckleberry Blush ($15.99) from Pend d’Oreille Winery in Sandpoint. They use real Idaho huckleberries.” And that base wine will be Idaho Riesling.
“I’d say about 25 percent of my sales are Moscato and sweeter Rieslings,” she said. “When I’m trying to move someone out of a sweet wine, I’ll start by moving them to a fruity Pinot Gris.”
Often that will be a Pinot Gris from Sawtooth. Those searching for an oak-influenced Chardonnay can find Huston Vineyards Private Reserve Chardonnay at A New Vintage. Those looking for something beyond a bottle can find wine charms and other “blingy things” that sell for $15 or less, Dudunake said.
“Sometimes what boys need is something that’s just easy,” she said. “They’ll come in and say, ‘I need to get my wife something.’ Little items like that are easy and perfect.”
Among those quick ideas are individual servings of sparkling wine, a pleasant way to get any evening started.
“We’re selling those 187-milliliter little bottles of bubbles in a little satin bag,” she said. “That’s an easy gift. They come in all types — brut, brut rosé, Vueve du Vernay and Blanc de Bleu (from organic blueberries). It’s in a Tiffany-type package and tastes like blueberry. It’s not my gig, but it sells. I had someone come in at Christmastime and said, ‘I want nine of those.’ ”
A New Vintage Wine Shop also found a growing demand for Tipsy Tags, strongly magnetized gewgaws that help identify your wine glass or tumbler at a party. They come in a variety of shapes and motifs, ranging from baubles to Scrabble tiles to slogans or nicknames. The company, based in Vancouver, Wash., even makes a red button that reads “Dude.”
“They come in a set of four, but we’ll break them apart into individual packages; that way you get to pick. I’ve only been carrying them for about three months, and I had to do a huge reorder right before Christmas.”
And if someone has time to shop and relax at A New Vintage, Dudunake pours between 15 and 20 wines by the glass. Expect one of her six-ounce pours to cost less than $10, and she has seating for 20. She’ll offer you pretzels, but you are welcome to bring in your own cheese and charcuterie.
“I’d say nine times out of 10, people will sit down and have a glass of wine,” she said. “We opened in May 2001, so even though we’re not new, we have people who have walked right on by our door for years on their way to Bed Bath & Beyond before noticing we are here.”
Eric Degerman runs Great Northwest Wine, a news and information website, with Andy Perdue. Learn more about Northwest wines and see more of their stories at www.greatnorthwestwine.com.
Visit the shop
A New Vintage Wine Shop is at the Meridian Crossroads Center, 1400 N. Eagle Road, Suite 104, Meridian, ID 83642. The shop at the corner of Eagle and Fairview is open 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday. Call at 208-855-9230 or visit www.anewvino.com.
The Dude’s local picks for Valentine’s Day
Here are three Treasure Valley favorites available at A New Vintage Wine Shop, plus the shop can give you additional Idaho recommendations tied to your tastes when you visit the store:
▪ Koenig Vineyards 2014 The Devil’s Bedstead Zinfandel, Snake River Valley, $25 — “I love the flavors, especially the raspberry note. And it’s not overly jammy like some from California. It fills your whole mouth with yummy dark fruit goodness. It’s just fun to drink.”
▪ Split Rail Winery 2013 The Bearded Quixote Tempranillo, Snake River Valley, $29 — “I love that wine. I like the pepperiness and the other spices and the way it leaves you wanting more. And I love, love, love the packaging on (Jed Glavin’s) wines. They remind me of the Freakshow Cab by Michael David from Lodi. The longer you stare at the label, the more things you find in the artwork.”
▪ Koenig Vineyards 2012 Riesling Ice Wine, Snake River Valley, $23 — “It’s a 375-milliliter bottle, which is cool. If certain people come in and want to get something sweet but something that’s more special, I will teach them about ice wine and how it’s made. They are like, ‘Oh, wow! It’s like liquid gold.’ My favorite thing to have with that wine is a lemon bar. It’s like sour meets sweet, and it mellows in your mouth. One thing I have to do is remind people that it’s not meant for your regular six-ounce pour. Just a little bit at a time — and sip it!”