John and Scott Williams of Kiona Vineyards and Winery

In 1972, Red Mountain offered farmers plenty of sagebrush and rattlesnakes, but no water, electricity, roads, or fellow residents.   This desert is where metallurgists John Williams and Jim Holmes decided to plant their vineyard.  They paid $200 an acre, and planted varietals such as Riesling, Lemberger and Chenin Blanc on ten of the 87 acres they purchased.  The necessary power line cost $25,000 – the price of a house back then -- so they lured others to the area to plant vines in order to share the cost.  Scott calls it a classic Huckleberry Finn “come-help-me-paint-my-fence” strategy.  People thought they were crazy, but soon other folks making wine in the state were talking about John’s and Jim’s grapes.  It was lucky for them that water was scarce on Red Mountain so they couldn’t overwater, an irrigation mistake confirmed years later by careful research.  

Today Kiona Vineyards and Winery includes 3 estate vineyards on 260 acres, and they sell to roughly 40 wineries.  A key thing they’ve learned since the early 70s is that you can’t farm from the seat of a pickup.  You need to have your feet on the ground and live where you farm.  In Scott’s words, “The best fertilizer is your footprint.”  Today they make at least 20 wines under three different labels, including 5,000 cases of estate Lemberger, three different styles of Chenin Blanc, Bordeaux blends that include Carmenere, to mention just a few.  Listen here to learn about why Lemberger has been so successful at Kiona, why Chenin Blanc makes an ideal ice wine, the virtues of vertical blending, what likely lies ahead for Red Mountain, and much more.  

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