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Destination Foothill Libations

New facilities bring sunset views for dining, live music and events.

By John Hand  Photos Heather Claramunt & Brandon Alegria

3 Horse Ranch

Martha and Gary Cunningham, proprietors of 3 Horse Ranch Vineyards and Winery, are familiar to many local wine enthusiasts for both their wines and the winery’s memorable setting north of Eagle.  Since they acquired the 1,600 acre property in 1998, the Cunninghams have successfully navigated the challenges inherent to the wine-industry—they now operate the largest family-owned winery in Idaho.

Its physical location sets 3 Horse Ranch apart from other prominent Idaho wineries located along the Snake River to the southwest or in the Lewiston area far to the north.  As part of the Eagle Foothills American Viticultural Area (AVA), the local geography and elevation combine to produce unique wines.  “[The] play of sun and shade, along with cooling breezes off the Boise Front range and the high altitude of the vineyards, are what define wine from the Eagle Foothills,” according to Martha.  “The cooling influences of shade and breeze help keep ripening and acidity in check, producing wines of exceptional quality and value.”

As I visit the winery on a cool, breezy day it is apparent that, beyond the physical setting of the winery, other human qualities—passion and determination, for example–contribute to their success.

Our conversation shifted to “the next thing”, the culmination of years dreaming and planning and listening to customers.

Earlier this spring, 3 Horse Ranch Vineyards unveiled a stunning new facility which houses not only its tasting room and wine production facilities but offers restaurant and event services as well.  Perched across Pearl Road from the vineyards, the “Ranch House @ Horse Ranch Vineyards and Winery” offers beautiful vistas which can be enjoyed both inside or from the Sunnyside Terrace and adjacent Great Lawn.

With the winery’s expanded attention to food and events, the Cunninghams recently recruited new General Manager Travis Everhart to 3 Horse Ranch.  Raised in Fresno, Travis began cooking as a youth, attended California Culinary Academy, spent three years managing kitchens in Hawaii, and became Executive Chef at Newport Beach’s well-known Rusty Pelican.   After joining Islands Restaurants, Travis enjoyed a lengthy career in which he “oversaw all culinary direction”, which included development of both people and new menu offerings.

Eventually, family drew Travis and his wife to Idaho, and he is excited to leverage his culinary and operations experience at 3 Horse Ranch.  “I’ve circled all the way around,” he says on the phone while prepping the day’s cuisine.  Travis is pleased to be in an environment in which he creates menu items based on what is sourced locally: “Rather than taking a year to add a new item, at the winery we can do it in a day.”

Everhart’s enthusiasm for the work and his team is matched by his enthusiasm for the winery’s legacy and spirit of “creativity and flexibility”.

A few days later, Travis provides me a tour of the new facility where he acknowledges the work of Head Winemaker Corey Sprott is still of a mystery to him—and a great learning opportunity!  What is not a mystery for Travis, though, is the limitless opportunities to create meaningful experiences for the winery’s customers.  The new grounds with their vistas provide one pallet for Travis and his team.  A less obvious pallet includes the Fermentation Hall and Barrel Room themselves which will double as event space and soon include member-focused food and wine-paring experiences.  Other prospects seem to beckon Travis, no doubt driven by the winery’s creative and flexible culture.

Over the years, 3 Horse Ranch Vineyards has qualified to label their wines as “estate bottled” which, according to the Wine Spectator, is defined as:  “the winery listed on the label owns or controls 100 percent of the grapes that went into the bottle, and the wine was crushed, fermented, finished, aged and bottled all in the same place, and that place has to be located in the same viticultural area that’s stated on the label.”

After development of their “estate” designation in the Eagle Hills AVA, opening an impressive new facility and hiring a new General Manager, one could not blame Martha and George Cunningham for resting a bit on their laurels.  Instead, sitting on the expansive new patio with the vineyard-covered hills in the distance, the sparkle in Martha’s eyes peers into the future at “the next thing.”

Spring Creek

Like Travis Everhart, Marc Grubert and Jeff Badigian of Eagle’s Spring Creek Brewing Company were raised in Fresno.  They met in 1976, became elementary school friends, graduated high school and then lost touch.  It was not until 2008 when a mutual friend reunited them, when they learned both were recent transplants to Idaho.  Their friendship quickly rekindled.

Spring Creek Brewing Company is the product of that friendship and, importantly, Jeff’s experience as a homebrewer.  “I first brewed beer with my friend Jim Byron who was also our first investor at Spring Creek Brewing.  The first beer that I made was a cream ale…I shared it with my friends and neighbors and they really seemed to enjoy it.  I think that was probably when I decided that I really liked the process and science behind brewing.”

In 2017, during a backyard barbeque, Jeff and Marc brainstormed an idea to open a brewery and that night began years of planning, fundraising, and building.

The result is a new 6000 square foot brewery and restaurant in Eagle’s Avimor community.  The location made sense for three big reasons:   the growing neighborhood had limited beer or dining options, it is a natural launch point for hikers and bikers into the Avimor Trail System, and its proximity to Highway 55 traffic is excellent.

Besides its location, Marc explains that a few other facts might not be obvious: “Our sunsets from the patio are world class and we’re less than 10 minutes from downtown Eagle.  It feels like you’ve escaped to Scotland for a pint.”

After three years working to make their dream a reality, Marc and Jeff scheduled to open in March 2020.  Covid-19 interrupted their plans and forced them to drastically adjust their business plan.  Only in August were they able to have a limited opening.  While it impacted their cash flow, the circumstances provided a silver lining as they learned important lessons about their products and customers.

The experience was both gut-wrenching and rewarding.  “The kindness and generosity of human beings should not be underestimated, and people genuinely are hoping you succeed,” says Marc.  Jeff points out how other local brewers supported their work and “cooperation between breweries” is excellent and synergistic.

Slowly at first, their business grew as more people become aware of the brewery. The Avimor neighborhood has been incredibly supportive, to be sure.  More surprising are the customers finding their way from Eagle, Meridian, Boise—and Horseshoe Bend!

Originally envisioned as a “pizza and beer” experience, Marc and Jeff instead expanded the menu to broaden its appeal and are “laser-focused on high-quality beer and craft food.”  As Marc says, “We brew and create dishes to style but aren’t afraid to present a twist on traditional expectations.”  Like 3 Horse Ranch, Spring Creek Brewing Company is focused on local suppliers to build a local experience while paying homage to the community and its heritage.

Despite the challenges mounted by the pandemic, Spring Creek Brewing continues to make up ground each month.  Both founders are quick to smile and are optimistic even as they acknowledge hard lessons learned: “We are still good friends and this experience gives you faith in the human spirit.”