Writer: McCale Ashenbrener
Story: Emma Thompson
To say it is haunted might be a stretch, but Clarence “Dude” DeWalt’s pioneering spirit certainly imbues the gulch in the rugged Eagle foothills that the winery sits over today. In the early 1930’s Dude met his demise where grapes now grow fat on the vine, stabbed by a fellow shepherd in a fight one evening after a hard day’s work. In his honor, Dude DeWalt Cellars crafts wine to embody the same spirit of the land itself, and the pioneers who daringly came before.
Dude DeWalt Cellars began in 2011 and is the passion project of Johnna and Trae Buchert. “I make the wines and Trae takes the vines,” jokes Johnna. As winemaker, she draws much inspiration from the stories of the past. “We believe this rugged and unrefined land played a huge part in the makeup of Idaho’s rich history and tradition. We believe the forgotten stories need to be brought back to light. Each bottle of wine tells its own story.” Johnna and Trae strive to harness the boldness of the region and share it through their wines.
The Buchert’s were inspired by tasting the wine and hearing the stories of so many wineries around the world. Yet, their driving force is always to create wines that they actually like. “What a discovery it was to learn that we could make incredible wines from local Idaho grapes!” remembers Johnna. “Experimenting with new wines, like our new 2019 Hazy Semillon, which we will be offering to the public soon, has been some of the most fun we’ve had.” Dude DeWalt Cellars pride themselves on creating unique, bold, lightly filtered wines that often times go against the grain. “We’ve heard wine connoisseurs say certain varietal styles we’ve created aren’t typical. The funny thing is your average Dude loves it. That’s exactly what we’re trying to accomplish.”
Their first six years of wine making was done in the garage and barn. Grapes were pressed with a hand-crank basket press and wine was bottled by hand. “The current winery was the family barn where hay, horses, and motorcycles were stored. And before the tasting room was a tasting room, it was a chicken coop. On more than one occasion we used the delicate rafters of the barn to rack 600-pound wine barrels when necessary,” laughs Trae. “Our friends that came to help in those days often stood outside during this process in fear that the whole barn would cave in. Fortunately, it didn’t.”
A decade later the Buchert’s are still totally smitten with all there is about wine. “Every part of the wine making process is critical. From harvesting to bottling, everything has to be done well in a seamless process executed wonderfully,” shares Trae. “Then you get to do it all again next year. It’s a big cycle. And in the process, you get to satisfy your customers while making new friends.”
Trae and Johnna were first told the story of Dude DeWalt through an interpreter by Joe Arietta, an old Basque sheep herder that worked for the Highland Sheep Company and only spoke Euskera. “Dude DeWalt was a pioneer of his time, working in a dry and arid land that is the Eagle Foothills. What better way to share Idaho’s history than through wine,” explains Trae. I imagine DeWalt is pleased with his memorialization, glad to grace the tables of joyous people coming together with food and drink.
Learn more and order wine online at https://www.dudedewalt.com/ or stop by their tasting room in the new Eagle Foothills American Viticultural Area. Follow them on Instagram at dudedewaltcellars, or Facebook at Dude DeWalt Cellars for recipe inspiration and the most up-to-date happenings.