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The wild and wonderful science of Potter Wines

Posted by Idaho Wine Commission on Jul 22, 2020

Stepping into the tasting room of Potter Wines is a bit like going back in time. The art deco-themed space is more speakeasy than winery. Overall, the aesthetic is polished and sophisticated. It's only when you examine the wine list that you register the madness just under the surface.

"Does that say... jalapeño?" you may ask in disbelief, adjusting your glasses.

You bet your sweet pepper it does. And you've never tasted anything like it.

Ordinary people

In the beginning, the Potters were just ordinary people like you and me. They held day jobs, drank wine casually, and enjoyed exploring Idaho's many charms. They never imagined one day they'd open one of the most inventive and exhilarating wineries in the heart of Boise's Urban wine region.

And yet, some 12 years after creating the highly flavorful and utterly unforgettable jalapeño wines, here they are, co-owners of popular Potter Wines. Crystal handles the business. Von handles the grapes. (Yes, they're married.)

From hobby to jalapeño

It began as a simple hobby back in 2007.

"Von had a bunch of backyard grapes," Crystal recalls. "So he just thought he'd make wine out of them," she continues. "And it ended up being delicious."

They began entering their wines into amateur wine competitions. And they were winning. But what started as an innocent hobby soon twisted its way into something a bit more devilish.

"He likes to tinker around," Crystal says, which you might say – staring into your glass of jalapeño wine – is an understatement. She goes on, "He said, 'I can make any kind of wine. But so can anybody else. So let's do something different and see what the reception is.'"

And from there, he went to work – his wine setup now his lab.

In 2008, Von had a revelation: What happens if you cross grapes with jalapeño?

"I tell everybody it was a bad dream," he says deadpan.

They began taking bottles to the farmer's market. Jalapeño wine was an instant sensation. "We knew we had something that not everybody had," Crystal says. "It just took off."

"That's what catapulted us into deciding that we could do this commercially," she adds.

Jalapeño wine was born. And with it, Idaho's newest winemakers.

Weird science

Today, jalapeño wine comes in lots of interesting variations – including chipotle, pineapple, and their signature jalapeño lemonade.

"We've just experimented with different flavors and different ways to use it," Von says. "And we haven't found a real bad way for it yet."

And those aren't the only experiments Von's been working on. He's been Frankensteining fruit wines for a while now. "We like to experiment. We like to try new things," he explains. "We'll start to do some more small-batch stuff to see what sticks, what doesn't."

So, if jalapeño wines weren't enough to blow your mind, Von has a secret weapon.

"We've also done a peanut-butter-and-jelly wine that tastes just like having a peanut-butter-and-jelly sandwich," he shares, channeling his inner Wonka. "That was one of the first ones we did. It was just an experiment. We haven't made it again. Maybe someday we'll bring it back out."

And that's not all.

"Pumpkin wine is another one that was really big that we definitely need to bring back," he explains. "I gotta be in the right headspace for that one."

These early creations were ambitious. And also a lot of work.

What makes them so complicated is how they're made. Von's flavors are not infused (which is simply adding one flavor on top another), but rather are part of the fermentation process – meaning all the flavors combine simultaneously.

"From the very beginning, all our flavors go in and they ferment with whatever grape we use as the base," Von explains. "From start to finish, they're in there together."

Turns out he's less a mad scientist and more just a perfectionist.

The OGs of Garden City

Looking back on things, you could say, the Potters were destined to make wine.

Born and raised in Idaho, they were living in Garden City, the heart of Boise's urban wine region, before it was cool. (They moved in back in 2002.) Today, more than 15 breweries, cideries, and wineries that dot the Greenbelt — forming a popular urban wine tour.

For Von, it's especially convenient. "After a long day of experimenting with tastes, I can walk home if need be," he explains.

In 2018, after years of taking their wine to their customers, Potter Wines opened its own tasting room.

"For so long we called ourselves a mobile tasting room. We went to farmers' markets and festivals, which we still do," Crystal says. "But it was nice when we opened the tasting room, we finally had someplace that we could just open our doors and people could come to us."

"It's such a great thing to be able to come in through the door and talk to the winemaker himself," she adds.

Jalape-NOPE? Not so fast!

Jalapeño may not be your glass of wine. And that's okay. You're not alone. Despite the overwhelming popularity of the wine, newbies tend to approach with caution... at first.

"They'll walk in the door and they'll tell us, 'I've heard about your jalapeño. I'm not gonna try it. There's no way you can get me to try it. I don't even want to talk about it.' Okay, that's fine," Von describes.

Cut to a little while later: "They'll say, 'Well, tell me about the Jalapeño," he says. "They walk out with an arm-load of the Jalapeño Wine Lemonade or the ones that we drink, cook, or make cocktails with."

The spirit of Idaho wines has always been about challenging the norms and stereotypes that swirl around wine. And perhaps no other winery has embraced that attitude more than the mad geniuses at Potter Wines.

"It's fun to get people who think that wine has to be a certain way. And it's a really neat thing to change their minds," Crystal explains. "And watch their head spin as they realize, 'Oh, wine can be really fun. It doesn't have to just be this one way.'"

Topics: Support Local Wine, Winemakers & Growers Feature

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