Snake River wineries begin to sparkle with Riesling

Leslie Preston of Coiled Wines holds a bottle of Rizza — her sparkling Riesling — at her winery’s new home in Garden City. (She’s wearing the winery’s Riesling Revolution T-shirt, designed by Julia Allen and available for $15 from the winery.)
Leslie Preston of Coiled Wines holds a bottle of Rizza — her sparkling Riesling — at her winery’s new home in Garden City. (She’s wearing the winery’s Riesling Revolution T-shirt, designed by Julia Allen and available for $15 from the winery.)

Leslie Preston, owner and winemaker of Coiled Wines in Garden City, recently earned a spot on The Seattle Times’ best 50 wines of 2015 with her 2014 Rizza — a sparkling Riesling she’s branded using the Australian nickname for the noble white grape of Germany.

“Oh, my gosh. I love it,” Preston said. “If I had to only make one wine, it would be Rizza. It’s just really fun.”

In Glenns Ferry, Neil Glancey is helping to raise the profile of newly renamed Crossings Winery — formerly known as Carmela Vineyards — with each bottle of 2012 Bubbles Sparkling Estate Riesling. It merited a silver medal at the 2015 Idaho Wine Competition.

“I’ve made sparkling wines for years,” he said. “I started at Lakeridge Winery in Florida, and we’d make 1,200 cases a year traditional methode Champenoise. That was a bigger place — 55,000 cases a year — so it was a great place to learn.”

The Boise High and Boise State grad left Florida’s largest winery in 2001 and returned to Idaho to take over at Carmela. After stints at Sawtooth and the now-defunct Woodriver Cellars in Eagle, he was brought back to Glenns Ferry in 2012 by the Jones family, first as a consultant. It’s no coincidence Glancey talked Roger Jones — who helped dream up the Pringles Potato Chip for Procter & Gamble as a way to use surplus potatoes — into transitioning some of their Riesling into a sparkling wine project.

Jones died before the 2013 harvest, but his son, Doug, hired Glancey full time as a winemaker and brought him in as part-owner of the young Crossings brand as the next generation takes over. Support continues for the Riesling sparkling wine, and 300 cases of the 2013 Bubbles will be released this spring.

“It is unique and nice to see other wineries in Idaho starting to make sparkling wine,” Glancey said. “In traditional Champagne, you are looking for the minerality, and this region lends itself to that because there’s that minerality in the soil, particularly in Hagerman.”

The King Hill vines near Glenns Ferry allow Glancey to develop aromas that offer a preview of what’s in store as brisk notes of dusty Granny Smith apple and lime peel lead to refreshing and mouth-filling tartness. Its fascinating feel in the mouth leads to a lime soda finish.

The profiles aren’t too dissimilar, so those who enjoy the Crossings 2012 Bubbles should also embrace the younger Rizza. Both wines are made in a dry style, meaning there is little residual sugar, and they are not inexpensive. Coiled’s Rizza sells for $28, while the Crossing Bubbles retails for $30. Sparkling wine requires time, patience, skill, stronger bottles and special equipment to produce.

“We’ve gotten a lot of response from people who say they don’t like sparkling wine but they love Rizza,” Preston said. “It’s not aggressive in the mouth, which I mostly attribute to the Riesling. I just love the flavor profile of Riesling and how beautiful the grape is.”

Preston is a recent convert to Riesling, particularly those done dry, and she essentially became an overnight sensation upon release of her 2011 Dry Riesling from Skyline Vineyard near Nampa. The starting point for the Rizza is quite different, with the grapes harvested about a month earlier because Preston wants to capture Riesling’s scintillating natural acidity. She will make adjustments for sweetness in the cellar.

This year, grapes were harvested for the Rizza on Sept. 11 at 19.5 Brix. Preston picks for her Dry Riesling based on the taste, and in 2015, she found the flavors fully developed when sugar level hit 23 Brix.

“I always wait for the terpenes to develop, regardless of Brix,” she said.

For the Rizza, she wants aromas and flavors of stone fruit, Mandarin orange, jasmine, white tea and honey butter. As for the structure, Preston seems to have a knack for the bubble profile, or mousse — the fun froth that allows her to build a marvelous mouth feel of grapefruit acidity and pith. That combination cleanses the residual sugar of 1 percent, allowing for finishing notes of starfruit and slate to create thoughts of serving a glass with oysters Rockefeller.

“Juniper (the Downtown Boise restaurant) paired the Rizza with a raw oyster, which terrified me only because it was my first raw oyster,” Preston said. “However, Chef Aaron (Wermerskirchen) is so extraordinary, I had to try it. The earth moved. It was out of this freaking world!

“But it’s also great with sushi. It’s great with cheese and great with popcorn,” Preston continued. “I love it with everything. You can really dress it up or dumb it down, and it’s still yummy. I dumb down really well.”

Glancey worked in Boise restaurants while growing up, and he has drawn upon that background at Crossing Winery’s on-premise restaurant.

“So often we start our wine dinners with the sparkling wine that it’s become a mainstay for them,” Glancey said. “I also work the farmers market in Boise (the Capital City Public Market) every Saturday and suggest people serve it with fresh fruit like golden raspberries and appetizers. You can also work it into a breakfast situation with eggs Benedict or a Belgian waffle with fruit topping.”

Preston, a University of Oregon grad, jumped from studying French and teaching French Literature at the University of California-Davis to become a student in the school’s prestigious winemaking program. In time, she worked at famed Stags’ Leap Winery in the Napa Valley before moving back in 2012 to Boise, where she and her husband chose to raise their family. It also allowed her to explore her passion for Syrah, bold red blends and the versatility of Riesling. (Interestingly, like Glancey, Preston is also a Boise High grad.)

Judging by the acclaim for the Rizza, Preston has proved to be a quick learner, especially when it comes to her dealing with the dosage. The base Riesling, fermented to complete dryness, receives a small addition — the tirage — of sugar and specialized yeast to facilitate the secondary fermentation. It’s that organic reaction of yeast consuming sugar that creates alcohol and carbon dioxide — the bubbles.

“The tirage is pretty straight-forward and is simply a question of how much pressure you want to end up with,” Preston said. “The dosage is where it gets much trickier.”

There’s little margin for error when it comes to correct chemistry. Last year, the dosage was loaded to 10 grams per liter with a post-fermentation target of 10 grams (1 percent residual sugar), pH of 2.93 and total acidity of 7.5 grams.

“The wine has gone through two fermentations and is dry. The dosage is the final step where the winemaker has influence,” Preston said. “We decide what sweetness to add to bring the overall product into balance. I do not target 1 percent. I target balance. Last year, it was 1 percent. This year will probably be different.

“I was scared to death doing this last year,” she added. “The idea of adding sugar to wine is so outside the norm for me. This year, I had more time to talk to people and learn how they are doing it.”

Last year, she did hand-to-hand combat with the dosage, which meant handling 4,000 bottles and sealing with the crown cap — the same closure as a bottle of beer. Then she waits about two months as the carbon dioxide builds in each bottle. Preston, hard-wired by nature, doesn’t enjoy this waiting game.

“This is such a low pH wine to start with, and it’s going to have C02, which makes it harder for the yeast to do their job,” Preston said. “I’ve just sort of learned to calm down.”

Disgorging — the final winemaking step, which is especially tricky and often performed using secret methods — involves freezing the dead yeast cells in the neck of each bottle to create a wad or plug that quickly shoots out once the crown cap is yanked off. It takes a special tool, some ingenuity and dexterity; otherwise, wine will be wasted in the process.

“Last year we did this by hand and it was a very messy job,” she said.

At that point, the dosage is added, the wine is topped with a new crown cap. The bottles already are silk-screened with her label, so there’s no worrying about paper labels.

This year, she’ll have some help disgorging the wine, which involves taking the bottles on a road trip to see bubble specialist Andrew Davis of Radiant Sparkling Wine Co. in Dundee, Ore. This new approach to the very final touch — and the thirst for Rizza — inspired her to increase production from the inaugural vintage of 300 cases to 500 cases from this year’s harvest. Rizza now accounts for about 25 percent of her production under Coiled, which doesn’t count her recently launched Translation label.

“I’m really, really excited to start this collaboration with Radiant for disgorging the bottles,” Preston said. “It will be less wasteful, and it’s a step in making this project more sustaining. We could do it by hand, but it would just kill us.”

At this point, Davis, who spent eight years at Argyle Winery as a talented acolyte to famed Oregon sparkling wine producer Rollin Soles, deals only with natural cork for Radiant. Preston, however, remains committed to alternative closures, so she took two cappers with her for those 6,180 bottles.

“We use a stainless steel crown cap and a lot of people have asked me about it,” she said. “Most people wouldn’t look at the crown cap and think it’s a high-end product, but our audience is pretty amazing. They understand that I don’t use cork.

“Sure, it’s not a traditional closure, but then it’s not a traditional sparkling wine. I’m going for a very fresh product, and I don’t want anything to affect the brightness of the fruit.”

She’s also invested in the future of her sparkling wine program, buying tanks and a chiller.

“Owning my equipment is a big change,” she said. “And last year, the big hiccup was the filtration. That was a disaster. I fixed that by bringing in Willamette Cross Flow to filter the wines before bottling, and it went very smoothly this year. But honestly, if you told me next year that I need to double production again, I’d say, ‘OK.’ We’ve fine-tuned this.”

She’s already set the bar rather high. The 2014 Rizza finished No. 2 in Wine Press Northwest’s Spring 2015 judging of regional sparkling wines. The top wine, made by a Washington producer, retails for $50.

“The Rizza will stay at $28,” Preston said. “That’s a lot of money for a lot of people to spend on wine.”

Those still looking to buy the inaugural vintage of Rizza are out of luck. It’s been sold out since October. However, the 2015 Rizza — yes, it’s finished fermenting and in bottle already — will go on sale to the public Dec. 17. Last year, sales of Rizza were limited to the tasting room, but this year it will be offered to a few select stores and restaurants.

If you don’t want to wait, join the Coiled wine club in order to get an invite to Preston’s Sparkle Party the night before. It will be one of her final events at the 44th Street wine collective, as Coiled is on track to join forces with Telaya Wine Co. later this winter at Earl and Carrie Sullivan’s new winery and joint tasting room — a stone’s throw from the Riverside Hotel.

Look for both Coiled and Telaya to use their new Greenbelt location as a launching pad for expansion and entertainment. Just don’t expect Preston to start making sparkling wine from Syrah — which is rather famous in Australia.

“People keep asking that,” Preston said. “I don’t care for sparkling reds. Not only that, but I could not imagine the mess! Making sparkling wine is so much work that it has be something that you love.”

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

Visit the wineries

Coiled Wines

The tasting room is currently open from noon to 5 p.m. Thursday through Sunday at 107 E. 44th St., Garden City, 707-480-4919,

Crossings Winery tasting room and saloon

Monday-Saturday, 11 a.m. to 9 p.m.; Sunday, 10 a.m. to 8 p.m.; Sunday brunch, 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.

1289 W. Madison Ave., Glenns Ferry, 208-366-2313,

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