Monday, January 31, 2011

Idaho/Oregon Rootstock

Recently, I was asked to describe the origin of my interest in Idaho wines.

My mother's family were Oregonians from the 1800's. She and her mother were born in The Dalles. One of those earlier Remington ancestors was from the Dr. Benjamin Rush lineage, who consulted at President Thomas Jefferson's request, by training Merriweather Lewis in medical knowledge and asked him to bring back samples of indigenous medicinal herbs. The voyage of discovery brought many pioneering families into Oregon and Idaho. My Robinson relatives became wheat farmers and livestock ranchers in the John Day and Redmond, Oregon areas. Not wanting to stay on the farm, my mother's father became a salesman and eventually a J.C. Penny Manager in Wenatchee, WA, Bend, OR and Twin Falls, ID.

My mother graduated from Twin Falls HS in 1938. She was the first "Miss Twin Falls" competing in the Miss America pre-lims at Sun Valley. She met my father in elementary school in Twin Falls. He was a 6'th grade student who instructed her 4'th grade class during a 1929 seasonal flu epidemic that knocked out a lot of teachers as well as students.

Photo of Grandmother Stella Haight, my mother Jeanne Robinson Haight and me on GG Perrine's lap.
My father's family roots included Donald McKay who came 'round the horn' from Boston to San Francisco. [see picture of clipper ship] during the Gold Rush in the 1850's. He followed the rush to Idaho in the 1860's and became a "founding father" of Hailey, Idaho.

He must have made a good income from mining: he ordered Kangaroo skin shoes from Australia and wore 3 piece wool suits. He married Amanda Bartholemew, they purchased the McPhail Hotel in Shoshone,and raised two daughters, Stella and Hortense Genevieve. [my great grandmother]. He was a knowledgeable blacksmith as well and was remembered by my grandmother as always carrying mints in his vest pockets.

Ira Burton Perrine left Indiana at age 18 to find his fortune in the Idaho mines. He was too small of stature to do much heavy lifting, but he learned how to use dynamite and knew enough about dairy farming to bring the first herd of milk cows to Hailey in the 1880's. When the snows of his first winter became too deep in Hailey for the cows to graze, he was told by hotelier Henry Walgamott about the Blue Lakes in the Snake River Canyon, where the snows rarely stuck and grasses grew year round - probably due to some of the warm springs. He drove his cows down an entrance through a box canyon, where his only neighbors were a white trapper and a native woman. The present day N. canyon wall double hairpin curved road to Blue Lakes Country Club east of Alpheus creek and the fish hatcheries to the west was a one-lane project that took him 7 years to complete. He was also hired by Mr Walgamott to drive the stage coach back and forth from Walgamott's canvas hotel to the train station in Shoshone, where he met and later married H.G. McKay known to me as GG or GiGi. IB Perrine built a fine house down in the canyon and became an early fruit farmer and orchardist. He took saddlebags of fresh strawberries to the pioneers on the Oregon Trail stopping at Rock Creek station. His prune plums and Roma apples won awards at the 1900 Paris World expedition, as well as the first Idaho State Fair in 1897 and fairs throughout the west. The only ranch building remaining is the bee-keepers cabin on Alpheus Creek.

Ward Hooper graphic of the IBPerrine bridge.

The Perrine family ancestry in the US began with the Huguenot, Daniel Perrin immigrating in 1665. He was granted 80 acres on Staten Island. Winegrape growing was a natural cultural necessity, along with the usual crops for feeding his family.
IB Perrine planted Delaware grapes [from Delaware, Ohio - some believe Napolean's son planted the Ohio vineyard - Lord De La Ware was honored with the common name for a grape which is neither native labrusca, nor a vinefera cultivar, but thought to be a french hybrid] IB made cider from his apples, but no one remembers him making wine. The Delaware grapes were my father's favorite grape. He lived down in the canyon while attending school in Twin Falls. I surmise he accepted employment as a Chemical Engineer with DuPont, thinking he could get those grapes in the state of Delaware.
Although the surname Perrin / Perrine is as common in France as Smith or Jones is here, we like to claim a family relationship with the reliable Southern Rhone family of winemakers - Perrin et Fils or the Champagne Perrins in the Aube/Ardennes between Reims and Dijon.

To be continued ....

Monday, January 3, 2011


Happy New Year !
Resolve to try something new. Perhaps a wine varietal you have not yet experienced.
People often ask me how do you 'taste wine' ? How do you know the different varietals?
In my random tasting experiences, I have garnered a method based on the 'enotype of the varietal', the Davis 20 point system and my own preferences. However, if one is just beginning to explore wine, I would suggest the very logical method suggested by Terry Thies in his new book "Reading between the Vines" : take one white varietal and one red varietal - over the course of three months. You will train your palate to recognize the grape varietal from its basic characteristics. During those three months purchase wine from every region that those two varietals are produced. You will be training your palate to recognize terroir. Other variables you can study - age of vintage, whether the wine was aged in oak [what kind] or not, % alcohol, grape vs wood tannins, dryness or residual sugars and food matching. Take notes on what you find, read, taste and conclude.

Building on the basics - strengthens your knowledge, palate confidence and will lead to your individual preferences.