Corey Sprott Brings Years of Napa Valley Expertise to the Eagle Foothills
Story Amber Johnson
Photos Emma Thompson
3 Horse Ranch Vineyards in Eagle has a new winemaker. Corey Sprott hails from the vaunted Napa Valley, where he has been a winemaker there for nearly 40 years. Arriving in July of last year, Corey lives in Eagle. His daughter Gianna arrived in August to attend Eagle Middle School. In February, he and his wife Nikki moved the last of their belongings to Eagle where they are in the process of buying a new home. The family loves it here in Idaho – the people are friendly; the area is beautiful and “it feels like home”.
When asked why he became a winemaker, Corey says that it was a process that evolved over time. As a teenager, he intended to become a physician. Growing up as the son of an Orthodontist, Corey was familiar with the life of health professionals – long hours of dedication away from one’s family. Entering UC Davis as a Biochemistry major, he soon realized that he wanted neither to be a physician nor a biochemist. Growing up in Napa, drinking local wines with his family planted the seed that he soon understood– winemaking was a perfect outlet to blend his love of science, of wine and of his hometown. He changed his major and was off on a new career.
Corey began his career working at Robert Mondavi Winery, which he affectionately calls “The University of Mondavi” as so many successful winemakers had begun their careers there. It was a great place to learn “where they do it right the first time”, he says. Later he shepherded the cellar growth of William Hill Winery from a small winery to over 100,000 cases – all while helping to design their new winery on Atlas Peak road. Corey honed his winemaking skills at Rombauer Vineyards and then at Napa Cellars. He looks back at Napa Cellars fondly as a time where he was unleashed to make outstanding wines at a great value. In his most recent job in California’s Central Valley, he had a highly compensated operations job – but his heart was not in it as he could not be a hands-on winemaker.
Enter 3 Horse Ranch owner Martha Cunningham, whom Corey had met in 10th grade at Napa High School. As so many folks have done, Martha and Corey re-connected on Facebook and began chatting about their lives. When Martha and her husband Gary decided to build a new winery on the Ranch, they contacted Corey for consultation and advice. During one early visit to Eagle filled with contractor meetings the three of them sat down to taste all of 3 Horse Ranch’s wines. He recalls that he “didn’t want to come to Idaho to make good wines – for Idaho. I want to make great wines that will compete with the best wines made anywhere”. After tasting all the different varieties at 3 Horse his mind was made up. Great wines are made from great vineyards and the grapes grown here in the Eagle Foothills AVA – American Viticultural Area have the potential to compete on any scale. Many months of discussion led to a family decision: Corey would bring his wide-ranging experience to Idaho, taking on the role of winemaker for 3 Horse Ranch and General Manager of the under-construction Eagle Wine Company winery.
Corey gives great credit to the Cunningham’s previous winemaker, Greg Koenig. “Greg has done an amazing job and will be a tough act to follow” he says. His winemaking plans are to only make some tweaks here and there at first. As he gets to know the vineyard, he will make changes that improve the wines. “Our customers have spoken and they like our wines. I wish to make them better but not to re-invent the wheel.” Some examples are that the grapes will no longer need to be trucked an hour away, the tractor will deliver them across the street. The ability to keep vineyard blocks separate, with distinct barrel aging will give 3 Horse the ability to improve wine quality allowing them to determine the highest and best use for each block of grapes. “We have 3 different blocks of Cabernet sauvignon which go into two different wines. Keeping the blocks separate will allow us to blend each wine to its absolute best” Corey maintained.
So, the answer to the question “Why Idaho?” was clear – Corey wanted to come to Eagle to be a pioneer in a new AVA. He says, “I came to do this – to make great wines in this special place”. Imagine being a grape grower/winemaker in the Napa Valley in 1970 – 50 years ago and experiencing the exhilaration of discovering a place that can grow wines of a quality to compete with the Old World. The Eagle Foothills AVA is poised to reprise this revolution in winegrowing – making wines that compete not only with the Old World but with the best of the New World – in Idaho!
Lunch with the Winemaker offers a unique opportunity to slow down, enjoy a meal together, and talk about wine.
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