JACKSON HOLE, Wyo. — The cup of Syrah juice fresh from the destemmer looked like purple gazpacho. Whole grapes, skins and a few stems floated in the cool, frothy soup.
To the palate, it was sweet, watery yet rich, textured with bits of chewable grape flesh. In the cool October air, it proved refreshing.
But most of all, it tasted alive — which it probably was.
Winemaker Anthony Schroth had just driven a Budget rental truck laden with freshly picked grapes from California to the Schroth family's 14-acre property in South Park.
Brother Ian Schroth shoveled purple bunches from crates in the back of the truck into the metal destemmer resting on a blacktop driveway. With an electric efficiency, the machine processed fresh fruit into what could one day be a bottle of Jackson Hole Winery's Rendezvous Red.
Father and proprietor Bob Schroth hovered in the back of the truck as family and friends worked and watched at the first winery in Teton County and the second in Wyoming. Curiosity abounded, but people also were having fun.
Anthony Schroth, who spent some of his youth in Jackson, was excited about the harvest.
"2011 will be an incredible year," he said, holding a few grapes in hand. The fruit was delicate and light, and the seeds were crunchy — just what he wanted.
The Schroths, awarded a winery license from Teton County on Dec. 7, 2010, are more than hobbyists. In starting a winery, they are starting a business.
"We are doing our own distribution and marketing," Bob Schroth said. "We have talked to a number of restaurants and liquor stores in the valley and the reception has been terrific. One thing we hear over and over again is people are always asking, 'Do you have a local wine?' "
As a boy, Anthony Schroth dreamed of playing professional baseball. The Schroths moved from San Diego to the west bank in 1990, and the Schroth brothers attended valley schools.
Halfway through high school, Schroth, now 30, moved back to San Diego, and baseball took him to Sonoma State University, in the heart of the northern California wine country.
That move proved fortunate for Schroth. While he didn't make it in the big leagues, he fell in love with the wine business.
Through classes, internships and jobs at small wineries, he learned the trade hands-on.
Bob Schroth and his wife, Linda, enjoyed seeing their son find a post-baseball passion. They traveled to California, drank good wine in beautiful country and looked for ways to help him.
They even made an offer on a winery in the Golden State.
While going through their due diligence, investigating the winery and the business, they realized the 14 acres they owned in South Park could become a winery.
The land had been productive before: It once housed the Spring Creek Dairy. The original barn still sits on the property.
"We said, 'Well, this is a nice historical place. It would be great if we could do something with it,' " Bob Schroth said.
Schroth, 62, grew up in New Jersey, the son of an ironworker. His grandfather was a farmer who managed to keep his family fed during the Great Depression.
Schroth left the Northeast to study and play defensive back at the University of Tennessee. He got hurt, dropped out of school and returned home to work his father's trade.
The story sounds like a Bruce Springsteen song, which it could be, since Schroth's extended family knew The Boss. Schroth even met the artist who would one day rocket to fame.
"I didn't know who he was at the time," he said.
Schroth eventually broke his back working iron and went back to school — in San Diego. He became a lawyer and often represented ironworkers hurt on the job.
During those years, and on cross-country trips, Schroth discovered and fell in love with Jackson Hole. He camped in the valley and knew friends who had migrated from the East to the mountain paradise.
He bought 5 acres near Alta, then a condominium in the Aspens and, in 1992, the property in South Park.
Schroth practiced law in California and in Jackson, a trade that proved lucrative.
"Law was good enough to us that we were able to make a good investment" in the winery, Schroth said.
His legal background proved important as the Jackson Hole Winery secured permits and licenses with the county, state and federal governments.
The biggest regulatory hurdle Schroth faced was the paperwork required by the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau. He called it "one of the most difficult applications I've ever filled out — for myself or a client."
Essentially, the federal government wanted Schroth to prove that Jackson Hole Winery was going to be able to pay taxes once it started delivering its product.
The revenuers wanted their cut.
This fall, the family bottled its first 200 cases of Rendezvous Red. Those cases are being cellared in what on the outside looks like a garage. Indeed, the white cases of wine are parked in the spots two cars might take up.
The corners of the storage room are filled with old baseball trophies, remote control airplanes, skis and golf shoes. A child's plastic SUV rests on top of some cases.
The cask room is filled with 42 barrels, most of which are full of wine.
One a recent weekday, Anthony Schroth, who also makes wine and works in California, opened a barrel containing the Syrah pressed in mid fall. The richly colored liquid was going through its second fermentation. It still held the sweet essence that poured from the destemmer in October, but it also had developed the dry, tannic flavors that characterize big red wines.
The wine still had to evolve. The Syrah might not be sold until 2014.
In the coming month, the Schroths plan to bottle 225 cases of chardonnay. (The number could vary depending on how much of it they drink during the bottling process, Anthony Schroth said.)
Like the wine, which is on the way to becoming market ready, Jackson Hole Winery is on track to become a full-fledged business.
"It's fun to make wine," Anthony said, "but you have to sell it too."
Information from: Jackson Hole News And Guide, http://www.jhnewsandguide.com