Powder and Pomace: Pend d'Oreille Winery's Steve Meyer Lives the Dream in Sandpoint
The lure of fresh powder has shaped Steve Meyer’s life profoundly. In 1985, Meyer took a gap semester before enrolling in college. He bought a one-way ticket to France and packed his skis.
“I figured I would get a job in the Alps as a ski patrolman or a ski instructor,” he said. “Along the way, I stopped off to visit an acquaintance who was a French winemaker. … I ended up staying on Francois’ couch for six months, working in vineyards, learning about wine and just having a life-changing experience.”
After Meyer returned from Meursault, France—a town in Burgundy renowned for Chardonnay—he immersed himself in the craft of winemaking. He got a job with Roudon-Smith Winery in the Santa Cruz Mountains, where he eventually became an assistant winemaker. But soon, the snow summoned him elsewhere. Meyer and now-wife Julie relocated to Sandpoint—home to the Schweitzer Mountain Resort—and opened the Pend d’Oreille Winery in 1995.
“The idea was to combine lifestyle preferences,” said Meyer. “The skiing theme is pretty strong in our lives so that was an important reason to be here.”
Though Pend d’Oreille Winery is celebrating its 20th anniversary this year, Meyer still feels the rippling effects of that long-ago trip to France.
“It was formative, in that the French winemaking style really focuses on balance and varietal integrity,” said Meyer. “In other words, the intent is for the grape and for the character of the fruit to be able to show, instead of the winemaker. … My intent is to create wines of balance and finesse, and part of that is by having some restraint in how we approach it.”
One of Meyer’s flagship wines—a Chardonnay with a “kiss of oak” made with grapes sourced from Kirby Vickers’ vineyard in Sunnyslope, is essentially a love letter to his time in France.
“That’s really an important wine for me for a couple of reasons: One, Kirby does such a fine job producing the fruit. The other is it gives me the chance to make the wine that I learned to make in Burgundy,” said Meyer. “Out of all the wines we make, that one truly reflects our formative winemaking years.”
Though Meyer has made other wines with Idaho grapes in the past—sourcing Malbec from the former Woodriver Cellars Winery and Pinot Noir from Indian Creek Winery—most of his current grape contracts are in Washington’s Columbia Valley.
“I would like to make more Idaho wine but the distance thing is a little bit of a challenge and the other thing is, until recently, there really wasn’t much red wine grapes available, so we’ve turned our focus to the Columbia Valley, where I’m physically closer to and I can go out and sample the vineyard,” said Meyer.
In addition to working with more common varietals like Chardonnay, Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot, Meyer also likes experimenting with lesser-known grapes like Albariño, Carménère, Mourvèdre and Cabernet Franc.
“Even though we are not the actual farmer in this case, we are producing the wines in Sandpoint and when people see our trucks come in with the harvest and they see us out working on the wine press, it helps to create a connection between the glass of wine in their hand and the vineyard,” said Meyer.
By sponsoring Cyclocross racing and Telemark skiing, and hosting events where customers can stomp grapes and blend wines straight from the barrels, Meyer says Pend d’Oreille Winery has been able to “expand the wine experience” in Sandpoint. And the winery’s new tasting room has helped them connect even better with consumers. The sprawling, open space boasts a gift shop, a long tasting bar and a bustling restaurant, The Bistro Rouge.
“In this new facility, we have a full-blown kitchen where we can do dishes that complement the varietals that we’re producing,” said Meyer.
Bistro Rouge Chef Stefhanie Royer’s modern Northwest menu includes items like Idaho steelhead served over pea purée—which Meyer says is “off the hook delicious” with Pend d’Oreille’s Chardonnay—and beet con lardons, an artfully arranged salad with microgreens, goat cheese and a balsamic reduction.
“That dish with our Roussanne, or even Cabernet Franc, is a wonderful combination,” said Meyer. “The pepper and attitude in the Cab Franc marries really well with the richness of the beet.”
Meyer says that Pend d’Oreille’s new space has “added to the deck of cards that makes downtown click.”
“I think one result of all the effort that we put in all the time is the development of what I term ‘community capital,’” added Meyer. “That’s when we’re walking down the street and somebody says, ‘Hey, good job, Steve. Love the new venue. Love that new Cabernet Franc or the Albariño.’ It makes us feel really good that we’re connecting with Sandpoint.”
After 20 years of hard work, it seems like Meyer is living the dream. And that’s fitting, considering that’s essentially the winery’s motto.
“On our cork we have a French saying: ‘Rêves ta vie, vis tes rêves,’ and that means, ‘Dream your life, live your dreams.’”
Pend d’Oreille Winery
301 Cedar St. #101, Sandpoint, ID 83864
208.265.8545 • PoWine.com