When the former executive director of the Washington State University Alumni Association asked Melanie Krause (’00 Spanish, Biol.) and Joe Schnerr (’99 Chem.), founders of Cinder Wines in Garden City, Idaho, near Boise, to design a trip for WSU alumni through northern Spain, they didn’t hesitate.

Not only are they proud Cougs, they’ve already visited the Rioja region, which “grows a lot of tempranillo, one of our focus grapes at Cinder. It’s also close to Basque country, and Boise has a lot of Basque descendants, so it’s a good fit for us on several levels,” says Krause, who “picked out beautiful coastal parts of Basque country to visit. It’s going to be incredible. And it’s been in the works for something like four or five years.”

Left: Melanie Krause; right: Joe Schnerr
(Courtesy Cinder Wines)

Tim Pavish (’80 Comm.) recruited the couple to lead the trip before his 2022 retirement and before the start of COVID-19 pandemic. This spring, “it’s finally happening, and it’s really exciting,” says Krause, noting the May 28 to June 4 trip is already sold out.

If you’re not among the approximately two dozen people who get to go, you still have lots of other trips to take with Cougar alumni. The WSUAA partners with top travel companies to offer members myriad exciting opportunities year ’round to explore the world—from the Galapagos Islands, southern Spain, northern France, Norway, Scotland, Greece, and Italy, to Belgium and the Netherlands; Bulgaria and the Czech Republic, South Africa, Botswana, and Zimbabwe, and more.

“We already offered some amazing trips,” says Kelly Brantner (’96 Busi., ’97 MBA), director of membership and marketing for the WSU Alumni Association. “We looked for ways to build on the success of the Wine-By-Cougars Wine Club. Adding a travel component with Cougar-connected wineries provides an experience for Cougs you can’t get anywhere else. The expertise of the winery, coupled with an engaging travel experience, and a group of great Cougs, creates a magical combination that the Cougs lucky enough to go on our trips will never forget.”

The limited-availability Rioja-Basque trip starts in the Basque port city of Bilboa. “From there we’ll be traveling through some of my favorite little towns in the region. Haro reminds me of Boise in that it’s walkable and friendly,” says Krause, adding, “it’s completely built on the wine industry. They have a winemaking museum and, where other cities might have statues of former presidents, they have statues of winemakers and winemaking processes sprinkled throughout the town.”

Day five brings the tour group to the medieval, walled, hillside town of Laguardia. “What I love about it is there are so many wine cellars underneath the town”—more than 300—“that no one’s allowed to drive cars inside the town. You have to park your car at the base of the hill because your car might fall through the street and into a wine cellar. It’s so awesome that the wine industry, my industry, is at the center of everything.”

After excursions for wine tasting in the countryside, the trip ends in San Sebastián, known as “a great foodie town,” and the only place on the itinerary that Krause hasn’t visited. She’s looking forward to relaxed wine dinners there and throughout the trip as well as getting to know the participants. “The wonderful meals with all of the guests are going to be a highlight of the trip,” she says.

Her grandfather and brother are Huskies, but “we’ll ignore that,” she says, noting her parents, aunts, and uncles are all Cougs.

Her mom and dad, Gary Krause (’67 Civ. Eng.) and Elizabeth “Liddy” (Armstrong) Krause (’65 Gen. Stu.) met in the same place on campus where she met her husband: the food court in the CUB. “My dad was a houseboy for my mom’s sorority, so they had seen each other before but hadn’t talked until he approached her in the CUB, and that’s where Joe and I met the first time,” she says. “Both of my parents always talked about how much fun they had at WSU, and I liked it the best. I toured colleges in Idaho and Oregon, too.”

She had been thinking about medical school. “I was definitely a science nerd,” she says. But she soon figured out she didn’t want to be a doctor. “I don’t like being in hospitals—or inside in general—very much.”

She got involved with the winter wheat breeding program and enjoyed being outdoors. After graduation, she took a job teaching English in China. Seven months later, she was back in the states, moving to Umatilla, Oregon, where Schnerr had found work within an hour of some of Washington’s renown vineyards. “As soon as I realized that, I was convinced that’s what I will do, and after that moment there has never been another career for me. I went about becoming a winemaker.”

She started in the vineyards, learning the viticulture side of the industry, before becoming a winemaker. When she and Schnerr decided to get married, they also decided to start a winery and move back to the Boise area, where Krause grew up.

They founded Cinder in 2006, specializing in tempranillo, syrah, and viognier. “That first year we just made about 50 cases,” she says. “We grew steadily for the next 13 years, and now yield about 10,000 cases per year. That sounds large, but in the wine world it’s quite small.”

Today, Cinder employs about 20 people, and Cinder wines are distributed throughout Idaho, Wyoming, and Utah. The winery also ships to “pretty much every state where it is legal to ship to.”

The tasting room is about a five-minute drive from downtown Boise. “We definitely have an urban winery,” Krause says. “There are also other wineries and breweries right in our area. There are a bunch of high-end places that have popped up around us, so you can make a whole day of tasting wine or beer and eating good food, and it would just be lovely.”

And, if you happen to be in the Boise area in December, “we have a rocking WSU alumni holiday party. We get about 150 Cougs crammed into our tasting room for Cougar Gold and Mistletoe. We’ve hosted it for the last five years, and it’s really fun.”

On the web

Cinder Wines

More info about WSUAA travel

Cougs + wine (WSM, Summer 2023)