Known for its breathtaking wilderness and perhaps more famously for its potatoes, Idaho also is home to a fast-growing wine industry and award-winning wines.
Nestled between the Rocky Mountains and the Snake River, the Idaho wine regions nurture the grapes with a moderate climate, limited precipitation, and a consistent growing season that adds complexity to the grapes.
Winegrapes were first planted in the Pacific Northwest in 1862 by French and German immigrants in the Clearwater Valley of northern Idaho. But the enactment of Prohibition in 1919 had a debilitating impact on the industry, bringing production to a halt until the 1970s.
In 1976—43 years after the repeal of Prohibition—Ste. Chapelle began its operation, becoming the first commercial producer of Idaho wines. Today, it’s the state’s largest winery.
Southwestern Idaho has the highest density of vineyards and wineries. The Snake River Valley appellation is the first registered AVA (American Viticultural Area) in the state, officially designated in April 2007. The AVA covers an area of 8,000 square miles, and has comparable latitudes to many famous wine regions of the world.
From a geographical standpoint, area vintners insist, Idaho offers ideal growing conditions. The land in Idaho shows geologic evidence of volcanic sediment and an ancient lake that formed nearly 4 million years ago.
Winegrapes thrive in Idaho’s distinct, four-season climate. The characteristic cold winters allow vines to go dormant, rest and conserve important carbohydrates for the coming season, all the while ridding the plants of bugs and disease.
The region’s summer combination of cool nights and warm days serves to balance grape acids and sugars favorably. The sugars remain high, nurtured during the long day by the abundant sunshine, while acids are maintained at favorable levels by the comparatively cool evenings.
Adequate sugar often is the obstacle in Oregon, where early rains absorbed by the grapes and vines in the final stages of ripening may dilute the fruit’s natural levels of the substance. With precipitation also responsible for other assorted agricultural woes, including mold and rot, the Snake River Valley’s lack of rainfall is considered a plus.
All summer long, the wineries of Idaho will be presenting an array of opportunities for visitors to sample their wares, from food-and-wine pairing events to special music performances. A comprehensive list of events can be found here.