It’s official: Idaho has its first American Viticultural Area, and it’s called the Snake River Valley.
In early March, the Alcohol and Tobacco, Tax and Trade Bureau approved the 8,263-square-mile appellation. But it’s not just Idaho vintners that are celebrating. Because the appellation also dips into eastern Oregon, the Snake River Valley also is the 16th AVA in the “Beaver State.”
As defined by the governmental agency, the Snake River Valley winegrowing area stretches across 12 counties in Idaho and two in Oregon. Presently, there are 15 wineries, 46 vineyards and 1,107 acres of grapevines in the AVA, which became official on April 7.
From an historic quality standpoint, most of the top vineyards in this new appellation are situated west of Boise, near the cities of Nampa and Caldwell.
What makes the region unusual, and thus eligible for AVA status? Its high elevation, as most of the vineyards sit anywhere from 2,000 to 3,000 feet above sea level. Warm summer days and cool evenings help ensure ripe fruit with amazing acidity, even though the growing season is relatively short.
Because of that characteristic, the region is best known for white wines such as Riesling, Gewurztraminer and other defined-by-their-acid varieties. That said, classic Bordeaux and Rhone varieties also are successfully being made by such wineries as Ste. Chapelle, Sawtooth, Hells Canyon, Koenig and others.
Even if you’re not familiar with Idaho wines, you’ve probably heard of Ste. Chapelle. It’s owned by the giant Constellation Brands, and produces around 150,000 cases per vintage.