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River Ranch Wine Walk Showcases a Lip Stinger and Fig Tree Wine
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Caitlin Holesinsky shows off some of the wines that made her winery the 2022 Idaho Winery of the Yar.
   
Tuesday, August 2, 2022
 

STORY AND PHOTOS BY KAREN BOSSICK

The Big Wood River danced over cobblestones and the late afternoon sun shimmered through the leaves of towering cottonwood trees as Julie LaFleur and her friends strolled a pathway sampling wines.

Servers poured wines from the Walla Walla and Willamette valleys in Ron and Susan Greenspan’s yard, while vintners from Sonoma County poured grapes in Blair and Cynthia Hull’s yard. The Lemmons’ yard  featured hosted wines from a variety of places, including Argentina, while the Dillons’ yard was transformed into a slice of Napa Valley as part of the Sun Valley Museum of Arts’ second annual River Ranch Wine Walk.

“It’s nice and mellow,” said LaFleur, as she helped herself to an hors d’oeuvre made of grilled peaches, prosciutto, and mozzarella served up by Geoff Felsenthal of the Sun Valley Culinary Institute. “What a lovely event, bringing all these people together with good food and good wine during a walk down the river.”

 
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Attendees found the affair very relaxing as they enjoyed various wines, nibbled on mushroom bites and Reuben sliders and indulged in a quick game of bocce or a nap in a hammock.
 

The River Ranch Wine Walk was introduced in 2021 by Ron Greenspan who, with his wife Susan served as the chair of this year’s Sun Valley Wine Auction. It was an alternative during the pandemic to tasting wine under a big tent or inside Carol’s Dollar Mountain Lodge.

It proved the quintessential Sun Valley experience in the minds of many and so made an encore appearance this week as one of The Museum’s Wine Auction events.

“I love this because this is so Ketchum, so Sun Valley. I love being by the river…it’s so nice,” said Sara Bungard, who with her husband Tim has had a place in Sun Valley for 22 years.

Among those making their first appearance at the Wine Auction--one of the top charity wine auctions in the United States--was James and Caitlin Holesinsky. They own Holesinsky Vineyard and Winery in the Hagerman Valley and got an invite after their winery was named Great Northwest Wine’s 2022 Idaho Winery of the Year and their wines won a trio of Double Platinums at the 2021 Platinum Awards.

 
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Participants followed pathways between the various yards, each of which showcased wines from a different wine-growing region.
 

James Holesinky admitted he was a little intimidated to be among some of the top vintners in the West.

“I feel a little nervous, a little fish in a big pond,” he said.

On the afternoon of the River Ranch Wine Walk, the couple who own the Northwest’s highest-elevation commercial vineyard at 3,770 feet, were pouring a sparkling Buhljolais Sparkling Cuvee, which boasted a lively, full-flavored profile.

“We played off the name of Buhl where we live when we named it,” said Caitlin Holesinsky. “And we just started making a wine seltzer in a can. Locally sourced spring water with our award-winning Syrah makes it a great summer sipper.”

 
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Benches placed by the river offered perfect places to enjoy wine and each other.
 

Just as every wine had a different flavor profile, each had a different story.

The Walls Vineyards in in Walla Walla was named for nearby Fort Walla Wall, and its Ramparts wine boasted a fruity medium-bodied Red Rhone Blend. But the name that jumped out was the Lip Stinger, a delicious white wine that featured pear and other fruity aromas.

“It’s translated from Picpoul—the name of the grape used in it means ‘sting the lip,’ ” said Carrie Alexander. “That refers to its high acidity.”

Three Sticks Wine is a boutique, family-owned winery in Sonoma County making estate-grown small-lot pinot noirs and chardonnays. The winery was named for its founder’s surfing nickname Billy Three Sticks, and its Castenada Rose was named for the Vallejo-Castenada Adobe built on the property in 1842 by the brother to General Mariano Vallejo.

 
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The showcase wines feature artsy bottles and even some different shaped wine bottles.
 

“When we restored the property, we found tons of artifacts, including lots of unusual bottles They’re not your typical wine bottle but we thought we’d keep them going,” said Hayden Schmidter.

Ram’s Gate Winery, founded in 2011, makes pinots and other wines out of grapes that have been fertilized by rams.

“Rams are an adorable part of the family—we try to be as organic and natural as we can be,” said Meredith Hayes. “We also have deer all over the property.”

Mindy Gautreau started Gautreau Family Estate Wines in Oregon’s Willamette Valley, on a whim in 2016 when she got burnt out selling real estate and got interested in a French style of wine. She found her winemaker when his wife spilled wine on Jason Gautreau’s shoe during the International Pinot Noir Celebration and that led to a venture creating small production Pinot Noir.

Those who purchase the wines end up helping the Gautreaus adopt “guats” or goats at a different animal sanctuary every year. This year the boutique winery chose to support Goatlandia Farm Animal Sanctuary, which rescues males that are often thrown away because they can’t be milked.

“We love animals, especially goats, and thought we could make a difference in the lives of animals while pursuing our love of wine,” said Mindy Gautreau.

Sherry Harkins, who was serving up 32 Winds Magnum Rose, recounted how her mother worked for Sun Valley in the 1940s and she worked here in the 1980s.

“I’m tickled to be back. I love the cause,” she said.

Quivira Vineyards in Sonoma County was named for a fictional town of Quivira. The Spanish explorer Coronado learned of it from an Indian while searching for the fabled seven cities of gold, and the name appeared on a 1593 map near what is now Healdsburg.

“It’s a place where golden bells were supposed to grow on trees. And we feel like we’re in paradise with salmon and trout in the nearby creek,” said Brian Scott, as he touted the vineyards’ prized Fig Tree Sauvignon Blanc, which was ranked 26th in the Top 100 Wines of the World by Wine Spectator. “I knew of a man who dumped wine on a tree in the city, and it was the happiest tree on the block.”

While no one found fabled city that afternoon along the Big Wood River, they did seem to find nirvana.

“This is my first time to Sun Valley. I’ve only been here 24 hours but I know I want to come back—it’s been a delight,” said one vintner. “I drove to Galena, went to the top of Bald Mountain. I keep sending pictures to my husband. Rarely, do you experience such warmth as I’ve experienced here. Everyone has really come together to support The Museum and auction.”

Coleen Jennison concurred as she recounted a whirlwind attending a vintner dinner, the wine auction gala dinner and now the River Ranch Wine Walk.

“My husband and I came here with Cox Communications and I can tell you there’s nothing like this in Kansas. I’ve never done anything like this and I’ve loved every moment of it.”

The Sun Valley Wine Auction provides half the annual operating budget for the Sun Valley Museum of Art.

“It is the leading arts educator and producer of cultural programs in the valley—in the visual arts, performing arts, humanities and education—reaching both a wide range of adults and every student in the county through its programs,” said Greenspan. “Its BIG IDEA programming dares to ask tough questions and challenges audiences to open their minds, think creatively and potentially challenge the status quo.”

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