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Long before Idaho wines began earning national recognition and before the Sunnyslope region of Caldwell was dotted with vineyards and tasting rooms, the Symms family got into the wine-making business.
Forty years later, the winery they started, Ste. Chapelle, produces about 130,000 cases of wine each year, which leads Idaho wineries in both production and sales.
Ste. Chapelle is now owned by the Seattle-based Precept Wine, and it’s in the process of getting a makeover for its 40th birthday.
The winery’s octagonal-shaped tasting room, which is modeled after the 13th century La Sainte-Chapelle in Paris, is undergoing renovations that began last year and are expected to be complete in February, according to Heidi Witherspoon, Precept communications director.
This summer, a new deck was installed that seats up to 150 people and overlooks Lizard Butte and the Snake River. A two-tier boulder rock wall creation was also installed by Blue Ribbon Landscaping.
The 1,800-square-foot upstairs banquet room was updated with wood-textured vinyl flooring, new paint, a new upstairs service bar and a new service kitchen. A clear railing was installed over the windows to let more light in and to open the room to the outdoors.
Work began Monday on the main level tasting room, which will get new restrooms, flooring and a new tasting bar. There will also be in-room seating for up to 40 people with new tables, sofas and cafe-style seating.
Michael Kuhn of K Remodel is the general contractor for the project.
There will be no public retail operations through Jan. 15, and the main level tasting room will be closed until mid-February while construction is taking place. Wine tasting will resume in the upstairs banquet room beginning Jan. 16.
Winemaker Maurine Johnson has been with Ste. Chapelle for 27 years and has been the head winemaker for three years.
Johnson said “approachable” is her mantra at Ste. Chapelle. The winery strives to produce quality wine that’s still affordable, she said. It makes 10 varieties and the most popular are the winery’s soft series, Johnson said. That includes the Soft Red, Soft White and Soft Huckleberry.
“We make affordable wines for everyday people,” she said.
Johnson said over the years the winery has added new and better equipment and undergone a series of remodels, but a lot of it has stayed the same.
Idaho’s wine industry has rapidly grown in the last 10 years or so. In 2002, there were 11 wineries and now there are 50, according to the Idaho Wine Commission. Ste. Chapelle is joined by six other wineries on the Sunnyslope Wine Trail in Caldwell.
“We’re the oldest existing winery in Idaho and we are far and away the largest, so I think we’ve been a pioneer as far as getting Idaho wine out to the consumers,” Johnson said. “Idaho wine drinkers are very loyal. We have a huge customer base in Idaho and out of Idaho, as well. … You can find Ste. Chapelle everywhere.”
In addition to wine, Ste. Chapelle hosts weddings, parties and concerts.