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Better than poetry. Inside Coiled Wines.

Posted by Idaho Wine Commission on Feb 11, 2021

Before starting Coiled Wines, winemaker Leslie Preston's life was going down an entirely different path. "I was in grad school at University of California, Davis and my plan was to be a professor and teach French literature," she recalls. What she didn't know at the time, soon her students would be the ones instructing her — lessons that would change the entire course of her life.

"I had some wine students come through my classes. They were taking French to prepare for internships in France. So I kind of started talking to them about the wine program," she describes. "And I was like, wow, that sounds amazing. It just never even occurred to me that I could choose winemaking as a career."

The realization couldn't have come at a better time. Specializing in French love poetry from the Renaissance, Leslie was already beginning to suspect life in academia wasn't as romantic as her subject matter would lead her to believe.

"I was getting pretty jaded about academia and also just recognizing that it wasn't a good fit for me," she says of the time. "So I was starting to think about what else I wanted to do."

So, she decided to see for herself if there was a place in the program. There was, but the road ahead would be long. She lacked the proper requirements. Dr. Roger Boulton, the head of the department at the time, spent the next two hours mapping out her course. "He knew I would do it," she remembers.

And he was right. She backtracked to get the right background — taking basic prerequisites in chemistry and science — all while completing her graduate degree and maintaining her commitments to her students.

Once all that was behind her, she enrolled in UC Davis' esteemed Viticulture & Enology program. And voilà! Leslie closed the book on literature and began writing the next chapter of her life in wine.

A pregnant pause

After graduation, Leslie's new career carried her deep into the California wine country. She got her start at Clos du Bois Wines in Sonoma before advancing to the enologist role at Stags' Leap Winery in Napa Valley and oversaw the production of their white wine. But just as her career was taking off, she put it on pause for another career change: being a mom.

But she couldn't stay away for long, she explains. "I did that for six months, missed one harvest and I was like, nope, I can't do that. So, it was just kind of a couple years of trying to figure out how I was going to combine being a winemaker and be a mom."

Uncoiling the dream

By this time, Leslie was regularly returning to Idaho to visit family. While there, she would stop by various wineries and soon struck up a professional relationship with Brad Pintler of Sawtooth Winery, from whom she still procures all her grapes today.

Later on, the two crossed paths in San Francisco, where they were showing off their Syrah. She was repping Napa, he Idaho. "And here were all these people in San Francisco saying, 'Hey, I just tasted this Idaho wine! Isn't that nuts?'" Leslie recalls, "And I was like, no, it's not nuts at all."

The idea of making wine in Idaho saturated her mind.

In 2006, she tested the idea and made some Syrah and decided to stay through harvest. There, she met another aspiring winemaker, Melanie Krause — who like Leslie, never originally planned to make wine for a living. Now, Melanie was making her first batch for what would come to be Cinder Wines later that year. While they're two different people, they couldn't deny the parallels paths that brought them together.

"Our stories are similar in terms of the boomerang. She got her education and training in Washington. I got mine in California. She's also a Boise girl and we both chose to come back, raise kids and all of that," she explains. "It is interesting that our paths crossed at that time. I have a ton of respect for Melanie and really enjoy any time we're together talking about wine. We're both definitely wine geeks."

Then, in 2007, something big happened. The federal government approved the Snake River Valley as an American Viticultural Area — Idaho's very first AVA. People were taking notice of Idaho wine. The time was ripe for Leslie to strike.

Coiled Wines made its official debut in 2008, with the release of, what else, a Syrah. But Leslie and her family (and their jobs) were still back in Napa. So, in addition to everything else, she began the oddest commute in wine-country history — transporting Idaho grapes 11 hours to California for processing. And then trekking back all 600 miles to sell the wine back in Idaho.

She was encouraged by the early acclaim, but a second baby put the operation on hold again, this time for about a year. "I was raising two little babies and trying to sell wine out of state," she describes. "It just wasn't viable."

So in 2012, the family finally moved to Idaho back to Boise for good. "And that's really when I was like, okay, I'm gonna start growing the brand," she recalls. She hired her first employee (Kelly Marx, who's still part of the team) and Coiled zoomed in popularity – going from selling 400 cases to 2,000 cases within two years.

Then in 2014, Leslie launched a second brand, appropriately named, Translations. Much like a translator working with an alien language, she takes the developing juice of other wineries, then blends, polishes and bottles it with a fun label – a sumptuous reinterpretation of the original that's all Leslie.

Collaboration & community

Finally back in Idaho, Leslie needed a base for her operation. For a while, she shared space in a warehouse owned by Melanie, her old friend from Cinder Wines. Soon, Earl and Carrie Sullivan of Telaya Wine Co. joined in.

In the beginning, the proximity was beneficial for everyone. Leslie explains, "Being kind of an isolated industry, like in an isolated area, that also means we have to work together for modeling or filtration, or whatever. And that was one of the draws to me. I really wanted to be part of an emerging industry because there is more camaraderie."

By this time, the popularity of Idaho wines was surging and soon all three needed more space. "Everybody was just growing at the time and it helps to have a tenant for a while but maybe you need the space for yourself," she describes.

She and Telaya continued to share a new space for another year-and-a-half. By then, "we were big enough we could do that and Telaya needed the space of their own. So, that's when we moved into our current location."

Today, Coiled Wines operates in two spaces. There's the tasting room in Garden City, where you can taste the wines where they're actually made. But for a more intimate experience, there's the wine bar downtown. It's a long, narrow space that feels clean and modern. It also feels connected to the community — something that Leslie realized early on as a graduate student that she needed in her life.

"I was always doing this really esoteric research and feeling isolated sitting all day," she explains. "And that just didn't feel good to me." So when she designed the wine bar, she reached out to everyone she could. "The tables, the bar the furniture, everything... it's all made by local people," she explains. "We have local art on the wall. It was just really important for me to promote other local businesses downtown."

Just don't expect to find any collections of French Renaissance poetry laying around. She left that world back in the past where it belongs.

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