Idaho Wine - 150 Years in the Making
2-9 Million Years Ago
1865 - 1919
2009 - MAY
2009 - JUNE
It all starts with the grapes.
Well we better start with the beginning. Idaho is considered, by some, part of the new frontier of grape-growing areas in the United States. The first grapes planted in Idaho were actually grown in Lewiston in 1864.
John H. Thorngate Ph.D., formerly a professor at the University of Idaho, now Applications Chemist, Research & Development, Constellation Wines U.S., says, "in Idaho we're the oft-forgotten 'other' state in the Pacific Northwest. Which is rather ironic, considering that the first wineries in the Pacific Northwest were located in Idaho, and that Idaho had a nationally renowned wine industry until Prohibition, as in other regions, closed the industry down.
Two French, Louis Desol and Robert Schleicher, and one German immigrant, Jacob Schaefer planted grapes in Idaho before any were planted in Washington or Oregon. They were winning awards around the country before Prohibition took a debilitating toll on the industry and brought production to an absolute halt. National prohibition, which followed state prohibition in 1916 and lasted until 1933, took its toll on the wine regions, its growers and makers, and it wasn’t until 1970 that wine grapes were again planted in Idaho, this time along the Snake River Valley in the southern part of the state where most of the state’s wineries are located.
It was in the Snake River Valley that that Idaho’s first American Viticultural Area (AVA) was approved in April 2007. Southwestern Idaho currently has the highest density of vineyards and wineries and includes the Snake River Valley AVA, which covers over 8,000 square miles with comparable latitudes to many famous wine-growing regions in the world. The immense size is a great advantage, allowing for tremendous growth. The approval of the AVA was a vast undertaking and has truly helped propel the industry, gaining attention around the world.
The story behind Idaho wine: location, location, location.
From a purely geographical standpoint, area vintners insist, southern Idaho offers ideal growing conditions. Vinifera, or wine grapes, actually thrive in this distinctly four-season climate, The characteristic cold winters, which might at first seem a disadvantage, are in fact quite conducive, allowing vines to go dormant, to rest and conserve important carbohydrates for the coming season, while ridding the plants of bugs and discouraging disease. In addition, the region's summer combination of cold nights and warm days serves to balance grape acids and sugars favorably. In the 30*-40* diurnal temperature variations typical of this higher elevation—swings from 1--* to 65* are common—sugars remain high , nurtured during the long day by the abundant sunshine, while acids are maintained at favorable levels by comparatively cool evenings. These natural acids, important for the wine's taste and longevity, can be difficult to maintain in, for example, the warmer California climate. Adequate sugar, on the other hand, is often the obstacle in Oregon, where early rains absorbed by the grapes and vines in the final stages of ripening dilute the fruit's natural levels of the substance. Because such potentially ruinous precipitation is also responsible for assorted other agricultural woes, including mold and rot, the Snake River Valley's lack of rainfall is considered a plus; here, water is one element that can be controlled by the grower through irrigation, according to calculated timing.
Harvesting Good Times
The Idaho wine industry has been a steadily growing community for the last 30 years with remarkable growth in the past decade. With 11 wineries in 2002, Idaho is now home to more than 50, with over 1,200 acres of grapes planted. The industry will continue to grow as national wine consumption increases, as well as Idaho's grape growing potential. Idaho wines have been discovered across the country ranking 22nd in the nation. The Idaho wine industry is just in its infancy and is expected to see remarkable growth in the next 15 years. It is just coming into its own, receiving a great deal of recognition, and winemakers and growers are learning as they go while making great wine along the way.