After 29 years of service to Ste. Chapelle Winery, legendary Idaho Winemaker Maurine Johnson is leaving to take a new position with Hogue Cellars in Washington state. Effective July 7, Sawtooth Estate Winery Winemaker Meredith Smith will be promoted to head winemaker of both estates for Precept Wine in Idaho.
“Maurine is an institution in Idaho and in 29 years she helped propel Ste. Chapelle to the forefront of winemaking in here,” said Smith, who was recently voted Idaho’s first Distinguished Member of the Year, by her peers throughout the industry. “I am deeply honored to guide this effort and help continue our efforts to gain recognition of the beautiful wines we are making here.”
“I’ve spent my career building the wine program at Ste. Chapelle and I am proud of what it has become, a destination to enjoy premier wines from Idaho,” Johnson said. “But I have been waiting for the opportunity to begin a new adventure and when this opportunity came along, I couldn’t let it pass by.”
The announcements come as Precept Wine seeks to galvanize its position as the leader in Idaho by making more than a $2 million investment in Idaho for both estates in addition to the purchase of 40 acres of land upon which Ste. Chapelle Winery is currently located. The master plan for the property includes development of new estate vineyards, a 5,000-seat amphitheater as well as a new tasting room for Sawtooth Estate Winery at the property’s edge.
“This is a strategic evolution that marks a new era for our heritage wineries and enables us to offer world-class consumer experiences in the heart of Idaho wine country,” Precept Wine Chief Marketing and Sales Officer Alexandra Evans said. “We are truly excited about these investments and believe they will help grow the Idaho wine industry and help to achieve even greater recognition of our successes.”
There are currently 13.5 acres of Riesling under vine at Ste. Chapelle Winery and with the purchase, up to 20 more acres could be planted to vine once the old Red Delicious apples are removed.
To meet these goals and accommodate Smith’s new position, winemaking at Sawtooth Estate Winery will roll into Ste. Chapelle in time for the coming harvest – creating a winery within a winery.
In preparation for this move, substantial investments at Ste. Chapelle’s winery have been made to accommodate the small-lot production that Sawtooth requires. This includes the purchase and installation of sorting equipment, small-lot fermenters and tanks as well as designing and installing a new barrel room specifically for Sawtooth. The estate vineyard sourcing, from which Sawtooth has built its esteemed reputation will also remain the same.
“I am excited about the investments I see being made for both Sawtooth Estate Winery and Ste. Chapelle now and in coming years,” Smith said. “I want to foster deep collaboration between our two teams at all levels – winemaking, cellar, and tasting room – to make the most of these.”
By spring of 2017, both the amphitheater and new Sawtooth Estate Winery tasting room will break ground.
By relocating operations, Precept seeks to develop Ste. Chapelle Winery and Sawtooth Estate Winery now and in the future in three ways:
1. Create higher quality wines resulting from new estate vineyards and control over viticulture decisions.
2. Anchor Precept Wine’s presence in the popular Sunnyslope Wine Trail community, creating a destination effect for both wineries while complementing the area’s wine tourism. The relocation is expected create significantly more visitor exposure to both properties and to the coming amphitheater.
3. Increase efficiency in production by sharing knowledge and resources.
Helping to provide a smooth transition, Winemaker Bill Murray, Director of Idaho Winemaking for Precept Wine, will remain in place.