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SVMoA River Ranch Wine Walks Showcases Wine Stories
Michael Passmore served up a concoction of caviar, roe and sturgeon grown at Passmore Ranch in northern California.
Tuesday, July 2, 2024


As a 2021 Wood River High School graduate, Natalee Morse grew up attending art and music programs offered by the Sun Valley Museum of Art for the valley’s 4,000 schoolchildren.

This weekend the SVMoA contributed to her wine studies as she poured a ruby red South African wine from Anwilka Vineyards at the SVMoA’s 4th annual River Ranch Wine Walk.

Morse is pursuing a degree in wine studies at Linfield College, a school of 2,000 students in McMinnville, Ore., so she said it was a treat to learn from the vintners pouring at the SVMoA’s 43rd Sun Valley Wine Auction.

Linda Myhrvold poured a couple Hillfighter wines grown in the Tri Cities area.

“I’m learning about everything from winemaking to distribution, even about grapes grown in the desert where you wouldn’t expect them to grow,” she said. “It’s business-focused but we take microbiology and we got to make our own pinot noir. I love it here, but I think I would like to go to Australia where I can live by the ocean and work in the wine industry, given the current political climate.”

The Sun Valley Wine Auction raises more than a million dollars each year for the SVMoA through vintner dinners at private homes, a gala wine auction and even a bicycle wine ride from Ketchum to Hailey that left everyone in good spirits at Roots Wine Bar despite it raining the entire way.

“Everyone kept a good sense of humor,” said Ron Greenspan, a co-chair of this year’s Wine Auction who dreamed up the bike ride last year.

The River Ranch Wine Walk, which Greenspan conceived of four years ago, greeted about 300 people with sunny skies as they meandered through the backyards of three homes situated along the Big Wood River. Those in attendance nibbled on tiny polenta cakes, Italian-inspired bison meatball sandwiches, lamb sliders, watermelon gazpacho and huckleberry and strawberry gelato served up by the Sun Valley Culinary Institute and gelato maker Nadine Keller while sampling wines from 22 vintners.

Carmen Finegan and Heidi Young—and Carmen’s dog—thought the event a perfect way to spend a Sun Valley summer afternoon.

Scott Billeci told how the organic ZD vineyard of Napa Valley was started by his wife’s grandfather Norman deLeuze, who experimented with making some pinot noir for himself while working on the space shuttle program during the mid-1960s. He left the aerospace industry in 1969 to concentrate on wines, which he named ZD for Zero Defense, a reference to ensuring everything’s of the utmost quality.

Billeci had brought a batch of Rosa Lee Pinot Noir Rose, which is organically grown and hand-picked, its pink color lending itself to aromas of strawberry and raspberry. Normally, he said, you can only get it at the winery since only 300 cases were made.

Austin Rusack told of Rusack Vineyards’ fine-tuned dance to grow chardonnay and pinot grapes on Catalina Island. They must be picked early enough so they can get on the plane and flown to the winery before they get too warm.

“A lot of very tricky coordination but we get great wines out of it,” he said.

Natalee Morse pours Anwilka’s dessert wine, which is grown on the coast of South Africa.

Linda Myhrvold told how she and her husband Cameron had established Weathereye Vineyards, named 2022 Winery of the Year in Washington, on 350 acres of land on the top of Red Mountain north of Kennewick, Wash. So far, they’ve planted only 34 acres because it’s so steep but they hope to plant 80.

For this event she was pouring 2021 Estate Hillfighter White, which comes from golden and russet-colored berries that glow in the late-season sunlight before being pressed and transferred to French oak barrels from where they emerge with notes of honey-coated pear, cinnamon and even a touch of dried banana.

“My husband’s career was Microsoft, but he went to Cal-Berkeley so he wanted to make wine,” she said. “Our area was carved out by the Lake Missoula flood—Red Mountain was the only part that stood above the floodwaters. It’s rocky, so we pile up rocks around the vines to protect them from wind, rather than planting shrubs or trees. Being able to pour here at the Sun Valley Wine Auction along a river like this is a treat—we’ve poured in stadiums, parking lots, at other events.”

Guy Cherp said his Cox Communications has long been a sponsor of the wine auction because of The Museum’s mission to educate the youth and provide connectivity.

Lella Archer sold tickets to a Plinco game, in which patrons dropped a yellow button in to see which bottle of wine they had won.

It was the first time, however, for Heidi Young, who moved to Sun Valley this year from San Francisco: “This is our first summer. And I’m so happy to be out of the fog—it still catches me off guard the way it rolls in so ominously. This River Wine Walk is pretty special,” she said.

William Pinney, who was also attending Wine Auction events for the first time, agreed.

“It’s a good way to casually try a lot of good wines. No pressure and you find some excellent wines—I just bought a case from Phiffer Pavitt,” he said. “We’ve never been to something like this—even the porta-potties at the Wine Auction were like walking into Buckingham Palace.”

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