Beneath sweeping views of the Gros Ventre and Teton mountain ranges, a grassy meadow unfolds along Spring Creek, and a relaxing evening settles down to the soundtrack of bubbling water and birds singing of summer. Picnic tables, Adirondack chairs and large, overturned barrels complete the picture as a group of five rambles out into the scenery from within an old 1900s barn, wine glasses in hand. Ian Schroth and Michelle DeLong join the group, Schroth holding a bottle of chardonnay and Delong pouring a silky stream of pinot noir into a glass, then handing it to one of the guests. And with that, Jackson Hole Winery’s summer tastings are in full swing.
“All the wine is made here,” Schroth says, who is the assistant wine maker of the family-owned business that utilizes Jackson’s high altitude to their full advantage. “At 6,000 feet, there’s 16% less oxygen, and that’s what builds the complexity and the more refined flavors.” It’s not possible to grow the grapes in Jackson, but after 6 or more trips hauling grapes back from California’s Russian River Valley during harvests, the family has created a growing selection of award-winning wines, from their summery rosé to their smoky zinfandel to their best-selling chardonnay. Though the winery feels remote and rustic, it’s actually only a few miles from Town Square, making it an ideal spot to wind down after the day before your dinner reservation.
DeLong, who runs the tasting room, is the only staff member outside of the family, and she’s the perfect addition – ready to talk at length about the process and each of the wine’s distinct flavors. “Typically in tastings we go from chardonnay to pinot to zin to cab,” she explains. “But it’s also fun to go from a rosé to pinot because they’re both made from the same grape.”
The winery started in 2009, when Schroth’s brother, Anthony, realized if he could source the grapes from California, Jackson’s elevation would be an innovative ingredient to help the fermentation process. His brother and parents, who had all been interested in building a family business out of their 17-acre property, jumped on board. By 2011, their barn – which used to be the town’s original creamery in the late 1940s – had been transformed into the tasting room. The family keeps everything small – their process doesn’t use any automated machinery from fermentation all the way to hand bottling.
DeLong and Schroth have moved the group onto the zinfandel, while they talk about how grapes are grown more inland for this wine. Schroth says zinfandel and cabernet grapes see more heat, giving them higher sugar contents and bigger red berries. “Zin isn’t the boldest wine, but it has the highest alcohol content,” he says. “It’s particular – people tend to either love it or hate it.”
He continues the tour into the winery where 70-gallon barrels are stacked to the ceiling, and then lets the group in on a little secret – “We’re bottling our first riesling next week.” Those grapes will be sourced from Oregon, and their goal is to create a dry riesling with a floral nose. “A lot of people wouldn’t put it in a barrel,” he says, twirling a taste of it in his glass. “But that’s what gives it such a creamy mouth feel while still having the big fruity flavors.” He passes out glasses, and aftertastes of lemon, green apple, subtle pear – even a touch of grapefruit – linger.
The riesling isn’t the only exciting addition to the family this year. There are plans for a malbec, a dessert wine and even a brandy partnership with local distillery Jackson Hole Still Works, so stayed tuned.
Back in the tasting room, Schroth’s dog, Cinco, playfully greets guests and hopes to get his ball thrown into the creek once in awhile. “He sells more wine than I do,” laughs Schroth. The guests meander out to the picnic tables, gazing over the landscape as the evening sun sends a golden glow across the meadow, another day in the books.