Idaho's only all Sparkling Winery

June is Idaho Wine month — Gov. C.L. “Butch” Otter made the proclamation 10 years ago. Look for a number of events highlighting the local wine industry throughout the month.

According to digital marketing company, VinePair, Idaho residents drink more wine per capita than any other state — and there are now more than 50 Idaho wineries.

One of them is 3100 Cellars.

3100 Cellars: an effervescent adventure

There are over 3,100 miles of whitewater in Idaho and there are approximately 1 million bubbles ascending through a single flute of quality sparkling wine. For winemaker Hailey Minder, those numbers are interconnected. Hailey and husband Marshall are co-owners of 3100 Cellars, which started producing sparkling wine in 2014. They have the distinction of owning the only Idaho winery devoted exclusively to this category of wine.

Bringing the old world home

While Idaho is now home, Hailey’s earlier travels put her in the path of old-world traditions that helped shape her venture into an Idaho business that is very new world in execution.

Hailey spent her final two high-school years in Switzerland and there gained her first real exposure to, and appreciation for wine. And after a post-college trip to Italy, where she worked for a month at a winery that made an Italian sparkling wine, the Idaho native knew that her future was in plain view.

She returned home and during a short stint as a teacher started studying about vines, grapes and wine making. She apprenticed at wineries in Walla Walla, Washington. But Idaho was calling her back, not in small part because she met the man who would become her husband and stabilizing partner in this new wine making venture. “We met on the Middle Fork of the Salmon,” said Hailey.

Marshall also hails from Idaho and convinced her that this place of water and mountains was where they should share their lives.

“My (real) interest in wine came when Hailey entered my life,” Marshall admits. In addition, they found a common interest — an appreciation for bubbles in liquid created an undeniable bond. “The great thing is that I also found good beer along the way,” he said.

Hailey started working with Carrie and Earl Sullivan of Telaya Wine Co. in Garden City, Idaho and still serves as an assistant winemaker there.

With such support from the local wine community, the Minders were encouraged to venture out on their own. The Sullivans even offered warehouse space for Hailey to process and store inventory.

And so, in homage to the 3,100 miles of whitewater cascading through Idaho, 3100 Cellars was born.

In keeping with her Italian wine making influences, Hailey decided to produce sparkling wines, exclusively, which she calls “bubbles.” The Minders explain that making only sparkling wines made sense because no one else in Idaho was doing it. Plus, “sparkling wine has dynamics to it that reminds us of the dynamic water you find on any river: eddies, rapids, whirlpools, and more,” Hailey said. Plus, opening a bottle of 3100 Cellars wine can be a real “wine popping” experience, Hailey said. “If you don’t know what you’re doing, it can look a little tumultuous and frothy coming out of the bottle, just like a rapid in a river.”

“It’s nice to see a young winery focusing on only Idaho sparkling wine,” said Moya Dolsby, executive director of the Idaho Wine Commission. “They are making exceptional ones.”

Hailey said working with Telaya before branching out with 3100 Cellars, gave her confidence in moving forward.

Working at Telaya introduced me to so many people who are passionate about Idaho wines. They gave us hope that another winery, especially one making bubbles, had a place in the overall narrative of the Idaho wine story,” she said.

What’s in a name?

The name of the winery is more than merely branding. “Every important decision of my life was made while rafting somewhere on Idaho’s whitewater or in its back country,” said Hailey, “and that includes meeting and eventually getting engaged to Marshall.” Other water-influenced decisions followed, like deciding to start the winery in the first place.

The Minders’ first release in 2017, Whitewater, was produced from 2014 Chardonnay grapes from Bitner Vineyards in Idaho’s Sunnyslope region. Subsequent vintages have also borne names conjuring up images of the couple’s time on Idaho waters, including Runoff Rose and Eddy Out Extra Dry.

Working toward the future

But establishing the winery is only one component of the overall business plan. Hailey’s parents, Lee and Mary Parsons, moved to Eagle and have succumbed to their daughter’s desire to have locally-sourced fruit form the basis for future 3100 vintages. Three varieties of vines are now covering their 10-acre Eagle foothills property, prior home to mostly sagebrush and badgers. They cleared the ground, dug the holes and planted fruit on the coveted southern-slope, an orientation that is much preferred in Idaho vineyards and worldwide.

“We are probably not the best model for farming vines,” said Lee. “I liken us to the Beverly Hillbillies of Idaho wine.” There may be some initial hiccups, but the idea is to one day produce quality grapes from the Parsons vineyard. And while sourcing grapes from a relatively new wine region presents plenty of opportunities for experimentation, there is also inherent risk that comes with it.

Eagle’s newly-formed wine region finds over a dozen growers attending to a who’s who of grape varietals found throughout Idaho’s regional vineyards. Think Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah and Chardonnay. And, while Chardonnay and Syrah are planted on the Parsons’ acreage, it is a third varietal that adds an element of uncertainty. While Pinot Noir is traditionally that third varietal in the sparkling wine mix, it has been a tricky grape for Idahoans to grow successfully.

In its place, Hailey decided to plant Malvasia Blanca, a white grape cultivated originally in the Mediterranean and not commonly known here. It would more likely be found in certain Italian still wines. Since each of the three varietals will lend specific complexities to the finished product, the addition of Malvasia is an important part of the equation.

Historically, the Champagne region of France is the only geographical area that can use Champagne in the final product name. Only three specific grape varieties are used there, without exception. But the production of sparklers at 3100 Cellars has a lot in common with Champagne.

The Minders incorporate the Méthode Champenoise is a winemaking technique that involves a second fermentation in the bottle by adding sugar and yeast coupled with additional time and labor.

And what’s next?

“We hope that 3100 Cellars is in its own space — hopefully with a cave or something close for storing our bottled wines — and has a big enough following so we can have a limited tasting room,” said Hailey.

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