Little Split Rail winery takes big prizes
If judged only by the bizarre labels and the eclectic names, then traditional wine consumers might not take Jed Glavin or his Split Rail wines seriously.
Horned Beast Cernunnos? Oh, dear. What is a Laser Fox? And why would anyone put Idaho wine in a can?
The beauty of a wine competition is that it offers professionals the opportunity to judge wine under blind conditions. And Glavin’s wines shined during the Idaho Wine Competition in September. In fact, his latest release of The Horned Beast Cernunnos — a $29 blend of Syrah, Grenache and Mourvèdre — was voted the event’s best red wine by a panel of wine experts who jetted into Boise from the Bay Area, Houston, Seattle, Portland and Coeur d’Alene.
“You’ve got to get wacky sometimes for people to get interested,” Glavin said. “When we first started, we wanted to call that wine by a cool name, and it’s next to impossible any more to come up with a unique name for a wine.”
He went with Cernunnos, a horned god from Celtic mythology. That launched a tradition of unusual names and fascinating artwork for Glavin’s Split Rail Winery, which began with 100 cases from the 2010 vintage, a project that grew out of his garage.
“The logo for the Horned Beast is a deer head with grape vines for horns and wine bottles for the head,” Glavin said. “It became our flagship wine, and for a lot of people, that logo represents the winery more than the Split Rail logo. We did 240 cases of that in 2014. There have been different variations and different quantities of it each vintage, but it’s always been our top wine in terms of accolades. A lot of people who come into the winery come in for The Horned Beast.”
Wines from grape varieties native to France’s Rhône Valley are favorites of Glavin. That interest and passion shows with the Syrah-based Horned Beast from Snake River Valley vineyards Sawtooth and Williamson. And there’s also the Laser Fox, a Cinsault — another Rhône grape and another lot he purchased from Sawtooth Vineyard, the bread basket for the Idaho wine industry.
This time, the logo is a drawing of a fox that shoots wine bottles out of its eyes.
“It might look super cheesy, but people have thought it was cool, too,” Glavin said.
Again, what’s in that bottle impressed Idaho Wine Competition judges, who awarded a gold medal to the 2014 Laser Fox.
“People weren’t really dabbling with Rhône varietals in Idaho outside of Syrah, and I’ve always had an attraction to Rhône stuff, so that’s our focus more or less,” he said.
A wine culture in Twin Falls
Glavin’s folks planted the seed for Split Rail Winery while they were raising him in socially conservative Twin Falls.
“They were big winos and had friends with this small wine shop, so there were these really cool wines around,” Glavin said. “They’d have these supper clubs with amazing wines in the house — Rothschild and expensive (stuff) that I still can’t believe they would let us taste.”
Soon after graduating from the University of Idaho in 2002 with a degree in economic development, Glavin and his wife, Laura, lived in Europe, where he taught English. They eventually returned home and found work in the Treasure Valley, where Jed worked as a planner for engineering firms.
“She has a real job in the pharmaceutical industry,” he said. “I quit my job two years ago after years of spending my lunch breaks making sales calls to restaurants. Now, it’s myself and one employee, and we’re fully committed to this. It’s cool to be a part of building an exciting young wine empire that we have here in Garden City.”
The Glavins started their family about the same time they launched Split Rail. Glavin, who couldn’t readily remember if his age was 36 or 37, will help raise their two children in an environment surrounded by wine, music, skiing, fishing, camping and visits to the grandparents in Sun Valley. There’s son Boone, 5, and Eloise, their recently adopted baby girl from the Marshall Islands.
“Skiing is my shtick, and I’m also into fly-fishing,” Glavin said. “We love Idaho because of the outdoors, which is why we came back.”
A garden spot for craft beverages
When it came time to make the move from his garage to a commercial facility, Glavin knew the best fit for Split Rail Winery would be the urban environment helped established by Melanie Krause and Joe Schnerr of Cinder Wines on 44th Street in Garden City, a Boise bedroom community.
“We were always fans of the wines being produced in Walla Walla. Then we started tasting Idaho wine and noticed it was getting good,” Glavin said. “With the industry being small, we thought we could start a little winery in Idaho. It was always going to be in Garden City because of all the craft beers there, and then we saw that space next to Cinder. We wanted to be close to the other wineries because it made sense with people being able to park their car, walk around and taste wines from several different wineries.”
He found an ideal roommate in Mike Crowley, the talented winemaker with his own Syringa brand and the hired gun for Vizcaya Winery.
“At the time, I had only made wine in my garage and was going to school for enology,” Glavin said. “I’ve asked Mike a lot of questions over the years.”
Next year, Crowley will move his production into Vizcaya’s new facility, giving Glavin the room to grow from 5,000 cases to 6,000 cases in 2017.
Schnerr, co-owner of nearby Cinder Wines, says Glavin has been a great neighbor.
Jed is a “fun, exciting, hardworking character who is bringing a good dose of playfulness to the Idaho Wine scene,” Schnerr said. “Jed is predictable only in that he’s always bringing a fresh perspective to things, and he never combs his hair.”
At the same time, Schnerr respects Glavin’s blend of marketing and business.
“What he is doing with wine in cans and with the way he approaches his storytelling is just very eclectic,” Schnerr said. “I remember him asking me about wine in kegs. I’d had Cinder and Laissez Faire in keg for years, and he was probably the first person to ever really pick my brain about it.
“The fact that he did that, weighed the costs/benefits and then went for it told me he was a risk taker,” Schnerr added. “I think that choice has been a wise one for him as I really think the future of wine by the glass will be dominated by wine in keg in the future.”
Ultimately, Split Rail brings some ideas that complement the Idaho wine industry.
“I enjoy his approach because I think that wine can sometimes be too serious and elite, yet on the other hand the playful labels sometimes don’t show much design thought,” Schnerr said. “Professionally, as long as the ‘juice’ is good — and his red wines are really very, very nice and some of my favorite local wines — that is ultimately what I really care about.
“I want more and more people making high quality wines in Idaho,” Schnerr added. “When that happens — as it is happening with Jed — everyone is more successful. Jed is doing that, and he’s doing it with a smile on his face and glimmer of mischief in his eye, which make it even better!”
Canned audience for Strange Folk
Much of Glavin’s early inspiration came from drinking Bordeaux with his parents. Then came a fascination with Walla Walla mavericks Charles Smith and Christophe Baron. Then in 2014, Glavin saw the buzz from Oregon surrounding the sleek aluminum cans of Pinot Noir and Pinot Gris by Union Wine Co.
When it came to wine in a can, Glavin was on his own. And it was no small step or trial. The only supplier he could find was in England, and the minimum order on the barge across the Atlantic would be 150,000 cans.
“It was a bit of a science project,” he said. “I found there was only one company in the country with a canning line that can travel, and it’s out of New Mexico. It took six months of planning and coordination. I kind of began to know why no one else was really doing it.”
Glavin created the Strange Folk brand for these nonvintage wines in cans. There’s an off-dry Riesling ($6) from Sawtooth Vineyard he calls Le Bohéme and a red he’s dubbed Le Commandante ($7). Both wines are delicious, particularly the red. The formula for the Commandante is Syrah (60%), Counoise (12%), Cinsault (12%), Grenache (10%) and Mourvèdre — a blend similar to the Horned Beast that wowed judges at the Idaho Wine Competition.
“We decided that if we’re going to do this in a can, our goal was to offer better-quality wines than people expect,” Glavin said.
Juice for both came from the stellar 2014 vintage, and combined production checked in at 2,500 cases — more than half of his entire production.
“It was a tough sell at first because there can be an Old World mentality about selling wine, particularly to older generations,” Glavin said. “But now when you go to Whole Foods, you’ll notice that one of the trends is canned wine. Walk over to the cooler at their stores and you’ll see quite a bit of it.”
Thanks to Strange Folk, Idaho wine in 375-milliliter cans is represented in coolers at Whole Foods in Boise and in Colorado. There’s more coming, although Glavin plans to move Le Bohéme toward a blended dry white wine and away from Riesling.
Pipe-smoking rabbits, 3-eyed jackalopes
There’s a method behind this perceived madness from Glavin. While he grew up in a home where wine was appreciated, he certainly doesn’t put it on a pedestal.
The label for his 2014 The Horned Hare Carménère presents a jackalope-looking creature with three eyes that’s flanked by skeletons in top hats brandishing forks. And then there’s the 2014 Gerfeffling, an aromatic blend of Gewürztraminer and Riesling featuring a rabbit smoking a pipe.
In this year’s Idaho Wine Competition, Glavin earned a silver medal for his interpretation of Barbera, an Italian variety. He named that wine — now get this — Barbera. Split Rail also plays it conservative on the label of its standalone bottlings of Cabernet Sauvignon and Mourvèdre.
“It might be too confusing if we have a wacky name for all of them,” he said with a chuckle.
To meet the growing demand for his wines, Glavin has established a relationship with Yakima Valley grower/winemaker Marcus Miller that’s given birth to a true field blend of Grenache, Syrah and Mourvèdre from the vineyard for Airfield Estates north of Prosser, Wash.
Meanwhile, Split Rail fans are waiting to see the label campaign for Glavin’s latest pet project — a style of sparkling wine the French call pétillant naturel, also known as pét-nat.
“They are weird — all hazy and kind of yeasty,” Glavin said. “They just explode out of the bottle, which is super cool.”
Eric Degerman and Andy Perdue run Great Northwest Wine, a news and information website. Learn more about wine and see more of their stories at GreatNorthwestWine.com.
About Split Rail Winery
Where: 4338 W. Chinden Blvd., Garden City
Regular tasting room hours: 12-6 p.m. Wednesday-Sunday
Learn more at SplitRailWines.com.
Here’s a look at some of the other winners at the 2016 Idaho Wine Competition
The Idaho Wine Commission brought in a group of restaurateurs, buyers, educators, retailers and winemakers from Washington, Oregon, Idaho, California and Texas to judge the seventh annual Idaho Wine Competition.
There were 169 entries from wineries throughout the state, and the judges met Sept. 20 at Ruth’s Chris Steak House in Boise. They awarded 21 gold medals, and among those were six double gold medals, which means the judges were unanimous in their decision.
Consumers across the state have begun to embrace these wines. Lane Hoss is wine buyer for Puget Sound-based Anthony’s Restaurants and its 30 locations throughout the Pacific Northwest. She’s been gobsmacked by the thirst for in-state wines at her company’s new restaurant in Coeur d’Alene, selling more than 25 cases of Idaho wines each week.
Here is some more information about the winning 2016 wines.
Best of show/best dessert/double gold medal
Koenig Vineyards 2014 Botrytis Single Berry Select Late Harvest Riesling, Snake River Valley, $30
Made in the classic trockenbeerenauslese style of Germany comes this gorgeous dessert wine from the Sunnyslope area of the Snake River Valley. Aromas of apricot, honey and rich peach are backed by thick, textured flavors of crème brûlée and apricot. It is a stunning achievement and labor of love by veteran winemaker Greg Koenig. (12.8% alc.)
Split Rail Winery NV The Horned Beast Cernunnos Syrah-Grenache-Mourvèdre, Snake River Valley, $29
The imaginative Jed Glavin comes through with the best red wine of the competition, a Rhône-style blend pulled from Sawtooth and Williamson vineyards that leads with Syrah. And it’s a classic, thanks to luscious aromas of gaminess, purple fruit and red tones. On the palate, it offers great depth and length, along with peppery notes. Tucked in corners of this wine are complex notes of spiciness and black pepper, all backed by lingering acidity and tannin. (14.9% alc.)
Sawtooth Winery 2015 Classic Fly Series Grenache Rosé, Snake River Valley, $25
Sawtooth winemaker Meredith Smith — who recently took over the cellar at Ste. Chapelle, too — makes one of the best rosés in the Pacific Northwest year after year. This is the third consecutive year her rosé has earned best of class at the Idaho Wine Competition. It’s a beautiful color and offers aromas of orange oil, pink raspberry and a hint of plum, followed by bright flavors of white peach, Rainier cherry and ripe strawberry. This bone-dry pink will be perfect with that holiday bird. (13.3% alc.)
Open Air 2015 Chardonnay, Snake River Valley, $18
This Chardonnay is part of a new label for Ste. Chapelle. Longtime winemaker Maurine Johnson, who resigned this past summer and moved to Hogue Cellars in Washington, crafted this in a fresh style that could be likened to white Burgundy. Aromas of limestone, almond and Golden Delicious apple give way to flavors of fresh orchard fruit and just a whisper of oak. (13.7% alc.)
Best of class/double gold
Vine46 2014 Cabernet Sauvignon, Washington, $32
Lewiston natives Jeff Ebel and Mike Yates brought in grapes from Rosebud Vineyard on the Wahluke Slope, one of Washington’s oldest vineyards, for this delicious Cabernet Sauvignon. Aromas of sweet, dusty herbs, plum and late-summer blackberry give way to flavors of ripe dark fruit backed by a hint of oak and firm tannins. (15.5% alc.)
Indian Creek Winery 2014 Mountain Syringa Dry White Wine, Snake River Valley, $14
Bill Stowe’s multi-generation operation is one of Idaho’s oldest producers, and they’ve crafted a superb Gewürztraminer that reveals classic aromas of lychee, clove and grapefruit, followed by flavors of orange peel, clove and tropical fruit. It is a dry and focused white that would pair well with delicate seafood dishes. (12.6% alc.)
Cinder Wines 2015 Off-dry Riesling, Snake River Valley, $18
Garden City winemaker Melanie Krause now makes a Riesling, and her collaboration with five different vineyards is one of the best examples you’re likely to find in the Pacific Northwest. On the palate, it reveals aromas of fresh apple, pear and peach, followed by clean, bright flavors of peach and nectarine. Its bright acidity balances out the touch of sweetness. (12.2% alc.)
Best of class/gold medal
Terra Nativa Vineyards 2012 Reserve Merlot, Idaho, $40
Based in the town of Meridian — not far from Boise — Terra Nativa Vineyards has crafted a superb Merlot with classic aromas of coffee, red plum, a hint of oak and black fruit. On the palate, it’s a smooth wine with notes of black cherry and a hint of vanilla. It is beautifully balanced on the palate. (13.5% alc.)
Cinder Wines 2014 Tempranillo, Snake River Valley, $29
Often hailed as Idaho’s best winemaker, Melanie Krause is making her reputation — and perhaps that of Idaho — with this Spanish variety. Her work with Sawtooth and Martin Brothers vineyards is another great example from her Garden City winery, thanks to aromas of bright red fruit, including raspberry and Rainier cherry, followed by lots of high-toned red fruit and a hint of dusty earthiness. It’s all beautifully balanced with right-on flavors and backed by smooth tannins. (14% alc.)
Clearwater Canyon Cellars 2014 Phinny Hill Vineyard Carmenere, Washington, $28
Boise native Coco Umiker and her husband, Karl, were competitive cyclists at the University of Idaho when they struck up a friendship with another rider, Dick Beightol. Little did they know they it would blossom into a grower/winemaker relationship that has helped Clearwater Canyon earn West Coast acclaim for its work with this obscure Bordeaux variety. Beightol’s Phinny Hill Vineyard in Washington’s Horse Heaven Hills ranks among the Northwest’s premier plantings for Carménère, and the Umikers’ approach allows for classic aromas of green peppercorns alongside dried strawberry, dried cherry and orange oil. It’s a suave red with flavors of cassis, red cherry and bell pepper that fans of Cabernet Franc will particularly appreciate. Their wines are available throughout the Gem State via Idaho Wine Merchant’s distribution. Last year, this Lewiston winery sold through all of its wines, and the Carm might be its most sought-after. (15.1% alc.)
Clearwater Canyon Cellars 2014 Umiker Vineyard Estate Syrah, Lewis-Clark Valley, $28
The pride and joy of Karl and Coco Umiker’s program is their vineyard within the Lewiston Orchards. It’s a 6.5-acre planting in the historic Lewis-Clark Valley and on their family’s century farm. Aromas of vanilla bean, blueberry and black currant pick up hints of grilled sausage and light toast. It’s not a syrupy style of Syrah. Instead, it’s more of a cool-climate expression with blueberry pie and cherry flavors backed by vibrant pomegranate acidity. Balanced tannins and a pinch of lavender lead to a lingering dark raspberry finish. Suggested pairings include gamey meats, lentils and dishes featuring fresh herbs. (14.8% alc.)
Crossings Winery 2012 Zabala Vineyard Cabernet Franc, Snake River Valley, $19
Glenns Ferry winemaker Neil Glancey continues to show his skill with this less-appreciated Bordeaux variety, and this same wine has now won a gold medal at the past two Idaho state competitions. (He won best of show in 2011 with Cabernet Franc during his days at now-closed Woodriver Cellars.) Glancey pulls from nearby Zabala Vineyard in the Hagerman Valley for this stunning Cab Franc that offers a theme of sweet oak with plenty of red fruit flavor akin to cassis, raspberry and cranberry. There are pinches of leafiness and white pepper joined by great acidity, prized components among Francophiles. Its trace of green tannins and Craisins in the finish make this quite a quaffer. (12.5% alc.)
Crossings Winery 2012 Bleu Noir Blaufrankisch, Snake River Valley, $19
Crossings owner/general manager Doug Jones is a West Coast promoter of Blaufrankisch, a rare red grape with Austrian origins. It’s more commonly known in this country as Lemberger, but Jones has enjoyed success labeling and marketing it as “Blue Noir,” a term he’s trademarked yet is willing to share with other wineries to help the cause. Neil Glancey’s winemaking with these estate vines is delicious, thanks to aromas of cranberry and blueberry, followed by spicy flavors of blue and purple fruit and backed by supple tannins and just the right amount of oak. At Tannins, the on-premise restaurant for this winery formerly known as Carmela, they suggest Chicken Fried Steak with the Bleu Noir. (12.5% alc.)
Split Rail Winery 2014 The Laser Fox Cinsault, Snake River Valley, $24
Jed Glavin readily admits his fondness for Rhône varieties, and he merited two gold medals for his work with them. Cinsault is another grape rarely seen in Idaho, but it is grown at Sawtooth Vineyard. It offers aromas of cinnamon, sweet spice and raspberry. On the palate, it unveils flavors of red currant, cherry and just a touch of meatiness. It’s a beautiful and distinctive example. (14.3% alc.)
Huston Vineyards 2015 Chicken Dinner Red, Idaho/Washington, $18
One of Idaho’s best-known wines also ranks among its best, a classic red blend Melanie Krause develops with Gregg and Mary Alger, and it tends to win a gold medal year in and year out. This young example leads with Cabernet Sauvignon and makes good use of oak. On the nose are aromas of cherry, purple fruit and lavender. On the palate, this leads with salivating flavors of blackberry, dried cherry, Marionberry and a spicy finish. (14.6% alc.)
Bitner Vineyards 2012 Reserve Petit Verdot Merlot, Snake River Valley, $32
Longtime grape grower Ron Bitner works with Sunnyslope winemaker Greg Koenig to craft this delicious Bordeaux-style red blend that leads with Merlot. Bold, dark, dense aromas of molasses, plum and black cherry from the Petit Verdot are backed by flavors of red fruit, tobacco and a hint of oak. It’s all backed by ample acidity and well-managed tannins. (14% alc.)
Holesinsky Winery 2011 Fat Man Red Blend, Snake River Valley, $12
This bargain red from Buhl winemaker James Holsinsky features Merlot and Syrah grown at his organic vineyard less than two miles south of the Snake River. There’s a remarkable intensity of fruit throughout, starting with aromatic hints of cranberry juice, black cherry and vanilla, joined by baking spice, espresso and toast. Those notes are joined by ripe strawberry and pepper as the structure is smooth yet balanced by ample acidity. (14% alc.)
3 Horse Ranch Vineyards 2015 Merlot Cabernet Franc, Washington, $21
Greg Cunningham’s vineyards in the Eagle Foothills — and many others in the Snake River Valley — struggled during the 2015 vintage, so he and his winemaker Greg Koenig developed this blend of Merlot and Cab Franc using grapes from Washington’s bountiful Columbia Valley. Aromas of red cherry, crushed raspberry and fresh strawberry lead to flavors of bright red fruit along with chocolate tones. This wine delivers a lot for the price. (13.9% alc.)
Huston Vineyards 2015 Riesling, Snake River Valley, $19
Gregg and Mary Alger pull from Williamson Vineyard, just down the Sunnyslope from their tasting room on Chicken Dinner Road and the Huston post office, for this dry and delicious Riesling. Spicy aromas of ginger, honey, Pink Lady apple and Asian pear lead to clean and crisp flavors of Bosc pear and Granny Smith apple. Enjoy with seafood, herbed chicken, Asian fare or tacos. (13.5% alc.)
Bitner Vineyards 2015 Riesling, Snake River Valley, $17
Bee biologist Ron Bitner entered the Idaho wine industry more than 30 years ago by growing Chardonnay, yet he’s achieved international acclaim recently for his work with Riesling, thanks in part to the winemaking talent of longtime friend Greg Koenig. Fresh and spicy aromas include hints of dried pineapple and ripe pear. Here’s another dry and delicious Idaho Riesling that’s loaded with fleshy orchard fruit and wiped nearly clean of sugar with lemony acidity, making for a balanced and long finish. (12.6% alc.)
Sawtooth Winery 2015 Classic Fly Series Riesling, Snake River Valley, $18
Meredith Smith put this Riesling on the world stage at the 2016 Riesling Rendezvous in Seattle to much acclaim. It earned gold medal at the Idaho Wine Competition, thanks to crisp, spicy aromas of apple, pear and peach, backed by rich flavors of ripe orchard fruit and backed by bright acidity through the clean, lengthy finish. (13.2% alc.)