Wine buff plans world-class event

George Balling, owner of the Dinner Party in Coeur d’Alene, is the organizer of the Winter Wine Rodeo, which will be  Saturday at the Kootenai County Fairgrounds.  (Kathy Plonka)
George Balling, owner of the Dinner Party in Coeur d’Alene, is the organizer of the Winter Wine Rodeo, which will be Saturday at the Kootenai County Fairgrounds. (Kathy Plonka)

Longtime wine connoisseur and self-trained chef George Balling had a vision.

He was confident that a global wine competition in Coeur d’Alene would prove successful.

Last summer such a competition was held during the North Idaho Fair and Rodeo, with entries of more than 225 wines from all over the world.

Based on that success, the fair board approached Balling about adding a winter installment with more enhancements and new and different wineries.

“The success certainly is a testament to the caliber of the wine industry in North Idaho, from wineries to distributors and retailers,” said Balling.

The Winter Wine Rodeo will be held on Saturday from 3 to 6 p.m. at the Kootenai County Fairgrounds. According to Balling, the time was selected so tasters could attend and then proceed to other holiday events.

The $15 ticket price includes a North Idaho Fair and Rodeo crystal wine glass, five tastes of wine and five appetizers from area restaurants. Attendees will have the opportunity to purchase additional tastes and appetizers.

The restaurant list includes Scratch, Bistro on Spruce, and Angelo’s. All of the wines sampled during the event will be available for purchase.

Chicago native Balling has a degree in economics and finance. He met his wife, Mary Lancaster, while both were employed in the investment banking industry.

They left banking in 2002, and during a visit to Spokane to see Mary’s father, they decided they wanted to pursue a business they loved in an area they loved.

Balling’s passion for wine and good food, and Lancaster’s passion for floral design and décor, made an ideal business partnership.

“We would entertain friends who often remarked that we had the best dinner parties in town,” said Balling.

That became the name of their Coeur d’Alene store, the Dinner Party.

Balling and Lancaster have developed and nurtured wine industry connections from all over world for many years, but they are continually impressed by area winemakers.

For example, local Kootenai Health radiologist Arne Michalson from Reasons Winery won Best of Show Red Wine out of 130 entries during last summer’s competition. He also won second place in the cabernet category. Michalson will be featuring new vintages during the winter event, according to Balling.

“This is phenomenal considering he makes fewer than 1,000 cases of wine annually,” says Balling.

Kevin Rogers from local TimberRock Winery, a consultant for Michalson and Reasons Winery, also makes impressive wines, Balling said.

Balling said local winemakers will be available to help attendees learn more about wines and the winemaking process. Local judges will answer questions, provide insights on the process of judging and reveal what judges look for in wines.

“The opportunity to taste so many wines in one location is, for wine geeks like me, a fabulous experience,” said Balling.

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