Idaho Wines: Meandering through the Snake River Valley

Idaho Wines: Sunset View at 3 Horse Ranch Vineyards
For many wine enthusiasts, the thought of wine being produced in Idaho seems far-fetched. For those who know about Idaho wines, it is a misnomer. The higher elevation makes for some extraordinary wine.

Most people think of Idaho as a potato-growing region, but that is a misconception. The fertile soils are suitable for many different types of crops, including grapes.

On a recent visit, I discovered ten wineries and explored Boise, the hub of the Snake River Valley. Boise has become a very vibrant city, reminding me of San Louis Obispo. Although a smaller town with a large Basque population, Boise is expanding its culinary horizons as the farm-to-table movement, known as Live Eat Local and wine industry grows. This concept applies to Idaho’s grapes and wine. The expression farm to glass aptly promotes how Idahoans envision their wine industry because most wine produced stays in Idaho.

Idaho’s wine industry began in 1863. The first wineries in the Pacific Northwest were located in the Northern Clearwater Region of Idaho.  Unfortunately, Prohibition put a halt to wine production. Interest in growing grapes in Idaho did not return until 1970.  In 2007 the Snake River Valley became Idaho’s first AVA. Idaho now consists of three appellations Snake River Valley, the southwestern region; Lewis Clark Valley, also known as the northern region and Eagle Foothills. All three regions lie between the Rocky Mountains and the Snake River. Idaho’s wine industry is fast growing. In 2002 there were 11 wineries; today, there are 52.

What makes the region different from California, Oregon and Washington are the vinifera/wine grapes thrive in the four-season climate of Idaho. The cold winters allow the vines to go dormant, conserving carbohydrates for the coming season while simultaneously rid the plants of bugs and discourage disease. In the summer, cold nights and warm days assist in balancing grape acids and sugars.  The sugar remains high due to the amount of sunshine, and the acid levels are maintained by the cool nights. In addition, the Snake River Valley’s lack of rainfall helps mitigate mold and rot.  The high desert keeps the acidic levels balanced in Idaho Wines.

The soils are a combination of sediments from an ancient lake and volcanoes.  One finds red cinder in the soils. There is a wide range of varietals grown in this region, including Riesling, Chardonnay, Muscato, Viognier, Sauvignon Blanc, Chenin Blanc, Roussanne, and Gewürztraminer in the whites. The red varietals are Cabernet Sauvignon, Malbec, Merlot, Petit Verdot, Grenache, Syrah, Petite Sirah, Tempranillo, Mourvedre, Nebbiolo, Sangiovese, Cinsault, and Barbera. The growing conditions make this an ideal area to produce Ice Wine, the dessert wine made from frozen grapes.

This is an excerpt from an article Cori Solomon wrote about Idaho Wines for Big Blend Magazine.

To read more about Idaho Wines