Awww, Idaho wines–there are so many wines regions beyond Napa and Sonoma Valleys. Idaho’s wine regions offer some pretty amazing wines. Please welcome Jeri back for her second post and new role as contributing writer on Finding our Way Now LLC. She also serves as copy editor and book formatter for my publications.
Idaho Wines: The Snake River Valley and Beyond
Idaho may be known as The Potato State, but grapes also thrive in its climate. Idaho wines continue to gain more notoriety. Living in the heart of such an evolving region has fueled my passion for learning about the winemaking process. When I go for a country drive near my home in the Boise area, I’m awed by the tidy rows of grapevines dotting the sunny slopes. To enjoy wine nurtured by the soil under my feet and sustained by the surrounding climate holds undeniable appeal.
The Snake River Valley wine region encompasses twelve of the state’s southwestern counties and two in eastern Oregon. The area became designated as an American Viticultural Area (AVA) in 2007. As such, that means 85% of the grapes used to make the wine must be grown in the area. The climate is comparable to Washington’s Columbia River Valley while the elevation is on par with the high mountain desert of Spain’s Rioja region.
Idaho ranks 22nd in the nation for wine production, but we’re only just getting started. The possibilities for growth are huge. In just over ten years, the number of wineries in the state has gone from 11 to 50 and the economic impact has been extremely beneficial.
Pacific Northwest wines actually got their start in Idaho in 1864, yet such wines are now typically associated with Washington and Oregon. Early on, the wine industry boomed farther north in the Lewiston, Idaho area with a planting of Royal Muscadine grapes. With the start of Prohibition in 1919, Idaho wines ceased to exist as the fertile area focused on producing other crops. It wasn’t until 1970 that grapes were once again planted in Idaho, but this time in the Snake River Valley.
At over 8,000 square miles the Snake River Valley holds practically unlimited potential for winery growth. Only 1,600 acres of grapes are currently planted in the state. If Idaho has one thing in abundance, it has plenty of space! Just imagine the growth Idaho wines will experience in the years to come.
The varied climate provides the ideal set of circumstances for growing grapes as the cold winters allow the vines to go fully dormant. The long growing season’s warm days also enable sugars to remain high while the cool nights help maintain natural acids. By contrast, California’s warmer climate makes it more trying to cultivate the proper acidity for taste and longevity. On the other hand, too much rain in Oregon and Washington can cause issues with natural sugars.
Does it sound like I’m bragging yet? The lack of rainfall in the Snake River Valley is a huge plus. Too much water causes any number of issues with grape vines such as fungus and rot. Luckily, the amount of water the vines receive is easily controlled by irrigation.
Perhaps one of the most unique features of Idaho wines lies in the wide variety of wines the state is able to produce. I’m slowly working my way through the wide offerings, and love Koenig’s Sangiovese as well as Davis Creek Cellar’s Tempranillo. When I’m in the rare mood for a sweet white wine, I inevitably seek St. Chapelle’s Riesling. Approximately 35 grape varietals flourish in the state, which is unheard of in most other wine regions.
The Northern Region includes the Lewiston Area as well as two vintners located higher-up in the state’s panhandle: Coeur d’Alene Cellars and Pend d’Oreille Winery. The Southwest region in and around the Boise area contains the highest concentration of wineries while the Southeast Region lies past Bruneau Sand Dunes in a more scattered fashion.
If you’re looking for a wine country tour slightly off the beaten path, a tasting tour of Idaho wineries will not disappoint. While Idaho may not be the most cosmopolitan state, its isolation, and wide-open spaces marks The Gem State as a scenic wonder. Granted, I grew up here and love Idaho’s treasures fiercely. Now I’m just lucky enough to want to drink them as well.
What wine regions have you had the chance to explore?
Time for a glass…
Permission must be granted by Jeri Walker to use the images in this post.