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Newcomers and visitors to Idaho are often surprised to discover a flourishing wine industry. In the late 70s Idaho had one winery that I know of. Now there are over 50 wineries around the state, many clustered in the southwestern region near Boise.

Many of the wineries are small and must think creatively to keep costs down. One way to boost loyalty and defray labor costs is to invite the public to participate in wine making chores like grape stomping and planting.

One of my favorite local wineries, thanks to their hospitality during my Sideways by Bike tour many years ago (and, by the way, the subject of my first blog post), is one such small winery. Indian Creek Winery has been showcasing splendid Pinot Noirs and a host of other varieties and blends for 34 years. In that time, vines grow old and unable to resist pests and diseases. When their productivity declines, it’s time to replace them.

This year, the owners purchased a batch of Malbec and Tempranillo plants from Washington. It’s imperative to get those little guys into the soil as soon as possible. Planting thousands of plants is daunting. But even a black thumb like me can learn the basics.

We started with rows marked with bamboo stakes to indicate plant placement, which coincides with the drip system.

We started with machine cut rows, marked with bamboo stakes to indicate plant placement. Part of our crew shoveled holes at each of the stake marks.

The vines were shipped in bundles with their roots encased in damp sawdust.

The vines were shipped in bundles with their roots encased in damp sawdust. The next crew grabbed bundles of vines and trimmed their bushy, wild roots.

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A batch of Tempranillo vines.

Trimming the roots also helps stimulate growth. A trimmed root is placed at each hole.

Trimming the roots also helps stimulate growth. A trimmed plant is placed at each hole. The third crew carefully situates the plant and piles loose dirt around it, tamping the dirt down and piling up more till the plant is standing proudly.

Finally, winemaker Mike McClure replaces the drip irrigation lines, ensuring that each plant is lined up with an emitter. A finished row looks like this:

It's a little hard to see those tiny little stalks sticking out of the ground. But they will grow quickly.

It’s a little hard to see those stalks sticking out of the ground. But they will grow quickly.

Conveniently, at lunch time, the roiling clouds that had been chasing each other across the sky opened up. A light drizzle became a downpour. We hustled back to the storage area adjacent to the tasting room where founders Bill and Mui Stowe greeted us with one of Mui’s famous, delicious lunches.

Rice, barbequed chicken, and a to-die-for peanut curry sauce, with wine of course!

Rice, barbecued chicken, and a to-die-for peanut curry sauce, cucumber salad with Thai chili peppers, and wine of course!

Mui is constantly on the move. When she’s not in the kitchen cooking up batches of food for hungry workers, she’s tending the extensive gardens of the winery grounds, or she’s helping with whatever else is going on grapewise. I hear she’s a force to be reckoned with on bottle labeling days.

Appropriately enough wine barrels oversaw the eating frenzy.

Appropriately enough wine barrels oversaw our eating frenzy.

A little bling, anyone?

A little bling, anyone?

The rain gave up while we were eating. After a few more hours in the field, we ran out of grapes vines to plant!

A good day's work.

A good day’s work . . .

Deserves a reward!

Deserves a reward!

My efforts were generously rewarded with two bottles of wine of my choice.