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Dance for Dionysus: Former Dancers Open Garden City Micro-winery

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Driving down Chinden Boulevard through Garden City is almost like driving through a paved-over version of Napa Valley. Though the grapes aren't grown there, wineries dot the road on both sides, filling unlikely spaces like auto body shops and converted warehouses. Par Terre (9165 W. Chinden Blvd., Ste. 107), the new venture of husband and wife team Travis and Mallory Walker, is no exception—its rolling garage door, built to usher in cars, is just as welcoming to wine barrels.

Par Terre will only have two wines on offer during its soft opening, but will have four varieties bottled for the grand opening April 5. - LEX NELSON
  • Lex Nelson
  • Par Terre will only have two wines on offer during its soft opening, but will have four varieties bottled for the grand opening April 5.

The couple are both former professional ballet dancers, and joke that in switching from dancing to winemaking, they've somehow landed in yet another seasonal line of work. Mallory said that for them, fermenting grapes started out as a passion project, something they brewed up in the garage of a California house they once rented with friends.

"It started small, and that first batch was not good," Mallory said. "We had it in a few glass carboys, and it just got really hot and got ruined, but we were definitely intrigued by what could happen."

The couple—and their one-year-old daughter Harper, who joined in on the interview—has come a long way since then. After leaving the world of professional dance behind when the Boise-based Trey McIntyre Project disbanded, Travis decided to dive head-on into winemaking, commuting to Walla Walla Community College in Washington to earn a degree in oenology and viticulture.

"It was really hands-on," he said, describing the two-year program.

The 2016 Merlot, made with Idaho grapes, is an extremely soft, drinkable red. - LEX NELSON
  • Lex Nelson
  • The 2016 Merlot, made with Idaho grapes, is an extremely soft, drinkable red.

Not only did Travis learn the science of winemaking, he and his fellow students helped make two batches of Washington wine, first watching over their professors' shoulders, then taking over the handling of the grapes. For additional experience, he interned with Indian Creek Winery in Kuna under the wing of wine guru Mike McClure.

"Ninety percent of winemaking is just cleaning, so [McClure was] like, 'Yeah, sure, you can come out and clean!'" said Travis. "He was on board. And then when he realized I'd stuck around he was like, 'What's wrong with you?"

Travis had the wine bug, and so did Mallory, who spent that time earning a degree in business administration and working as an administrator with the Sunny Slope Wine Trail, where she got a crash-course in the Idaho wine industry. With a solid educational footing in place, the couple felt secure enough to open Par Terre, taking their original five-gallon wine attempt up to the roughly 500 cases they now produce.

"The beverage scene in Garden City especially, and just in Idaho with all the wineries and breweries that have come about in the last decade, is pretty impressive," said Travis. "It feels good to belong to that."

Travis Walker and his daughter, Harper, in the Par Terre winery space. - LEX NELSON
  • Lex Nelson
  • Travis Walker and his daughter, Harper, in the Par Terre winery space.

The Par Terre winery space, now fully renovated, is in essence a single room, with lofty ceilings and plenty of natural light pouring through large windows. One side is utilitarian, with stacked cases of wine and a long row of wooden barrels. The other has been transformed into a stylish tasting room, complete with an island for pouring, shelves holding jewel-like bottles and a shallow bar dotted with stools where guests can sit and sip.

When the winery officially opens Thursday, April 5, it will offer four bottles priced under $30: a 2016 Merlot, a 2016 Syrah, a 2017 Rose and a 2017 Semillon. Eager tasters can also try sips of the merlot and rose (the others are still being bottled) at a soft opening Saturday, March 31, and Sunday, April 1.

On a bright day in late March, Travis poured three glasses of the 2017 Rose, a dry, crisp pour made with 100 percent Syrah grapes, and carried them over to the bar.

The Par Terre space in Garden City is spare, but elegant. - LEX NELSON
  • Lex Nelson
  • The Par Terre space in Garden City is spare, but elegant.

Seeing the glasses, little Harper bounced on Mallory's lap and held out her sippy cup. Travis leaned in with his wine glass, clinking them together—it was a move the pair had perfected; the baby beamed and held out her cup again.

The grapes in the rose came from Washington, Mallory said, because although the wine scene in Idaho was welcoming, the temperamental weather was not.

"Last year, the winter was pretty atrocious, so the grapes suffered. And being kind of new kids on the block there wasn't a whole lot left," she said.

The small tasting room at Par Terre has a creative ceiling design that's worth a second look. - LEX NELSON
  • Lex Nelson
  • The small tasting room at Par Terre has a creative ceiling design that's worth a second look.

They'd had better luck with their 2016 Merlot, securing grapes from two Idaho vineyards, Arena Valley Vineyards in Parma and Skyline Vineyards in Nampa. The finished product is unbelievably soft, with light tannins and a fruity bouquet more akin to a Cabernet. In the future, the couple hopes to source nearly all local grapes, preferably from mom-and-pop wineries, and some day, the Walkers hope to own their own vineyard. The name of their winery is a term from their dance days, which roughly translates to "on the ground," and Mallory said she sees a lot of similarities between growing grapes, making wine and dancing.

"When a winemaker makes wine, grapes come in and it's one year, it's one chance to make the fruit into something," she said. "You put it in a bottle, and you don't get to touch it again, which is kind of like a performance—you practice, and you rehearse, but you just have one performance and then it's over ... You've got the audience, and you can't see them always, and you don't know how they're going to experience it. It's kind of a magical thing."