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Idaho Wine History

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It All Starts With The Grapes

Idaho is considered by some to be part of the new frontier of wine in the United States. But the first grapes planted in Idaho were actually grown in Lewiston in 1864. In other words, we’ve been at this for a while.

Read on to learn more about the time, effort, and expertise it took to create the award-winning wines we produce now.

Man in Idaho vineyard black and white image

“In Idaho we’re the oft-forgotten ‘other’ state in the Pacific Northwest,” says John H. Thorngate, Ph.D., formerly a professor at the University of Idaho, now Applications Chemist, Research & Development, Constellation Wines U.S. But it’s worth remembering that Idaho was home to the first wineries in the Pacific Northwest. 

Before any grapes were ever planted in Washington or Oregon, they were planted here in Idaho by immigrants—Louis Desol and Robert Schleicher from France, and Jacob Schaefer from Germany. They were winning awards around the country before Prohibition took a debilitating toll on the industry and brought production to an absolute halt. 

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. This is where Idaho’s first American Viticultural Area (AVA) was established on April 9, 2007, and where most of the state’s wineries are located today. The Snake River Valley AVA covers more than 8,000 square miles and has a near-famous latitude for growing grapes, comparable to regions from around the world. Its immense size is a great advantage, allowing for tremendous room to grow. In other words, there’s room for everyone here.  

The approval of the Snake River Valley AVA was a vast undertaking that gained attention around the world. And even though 2007 wasn’t so very long ago, our roots in winemaking grow much deeper. We’ve been at this for more than a century, making world-class, award-winning wine. So while some may see Idaho as the “oft-forgotten” state in the Pacific Northwest, we know better—great wine comes from Idaho!

Idaho vineyard leafy vines black and white image

Idaho Wine: A Timeline


Million Years Ago

Idaho map

Lake Idaho

Ancient Lake Idaho is formed, stretching 200 miles from Weiser to Twin Falls


Crop survives winter

An article dated September 5, 1865
in the Idaho Statesman reported that a vineyard of Royal Muscadine cuttings had been planted early in the spring of the previous year (1864) and it had survived the winter well and was beginning to produce grapes in Lewiston

Idaho vineyard black and white image


Idaho wine industry booming

purple sketch art of a hand holding a wine glass



Prohibition halts the wine industry across the country with the 18th Amendment

Men dumping out barrels of alcohol.


Prohibition-era black and white picture of a woman pouring wine out of a pitcher into the glasses of several people gathered around her

Prohibition ends

Prohibition ends with the 21st Amendment being ratified on December 5, 1933


First winery

First winery to open after Prohibition. “The Garden of Eaves,” owned and operated by Gregory Eaves

Grape vine illuestration


Chateau Juliaetta

The second bonded winery was established in 1972 in Troy, Idaho, called Chateau Juliaetta. They grew and produced wine from a hybrid grape called Chelois, and they also purchased grapes from some local growers in the valley


green sketch art of a bunch of grapes

Grapes planted in Snake River Valley


Ste. Chapelle Winery

The state’s largest winery, Ste.
Chapelle Winery, opens

purple sketch art of the Ste. Chapelle Winery


Idaho Wine Commission Logo

The Idaho Grape Growers & Wine Producers Commission is formed


656 acres of grapes planted

green sketch art of a bunch of grapes


purple sketch art of a winery

11 wineries in Idaho with more vineyards being planted


Snake River Valley

The Snake River Valley American Viticultural Area (AVA) is approved as a federally designated grape-growing region in Southwest Idaho

Grape vine illuestration


$73 million

Boise State University completes study finding that the Idaho wine industry has a $73 million economic impact


green sketch art of a bunch of grapes

43 wineries in Idaho and 1,200 acres planted


Economic impact rises to $169.3 million

money illustration


Eagle Foothills

The Eagle Foothills AVA is approved as a federally designated grape-growing region within the Snake River Valley AVA

Grape vine illuestration


Lewis-Clark Valley

The Lewis-Clark Valley AVA is approved as a federally designated grape-growing region in Northern Idaho


Economic impact rises to nearly $210 million

money illustration


green sketch art of a bunch of grapes

Over 65 wineries and 8 cideries in Idaho and 1,300 acres planted

Sunset in a vineyard

Location, Location, Location

Producing incredible wine is our birthright, geographically speaking. Idaho’s warm days and cool nights, limited rainfall and geographical location make it an ideal place for growing grapes. 

Vinifera, a.k.a. wine grapes, actually love our four-season climate. While cold winters might seem like a disadvantage, the low temps allow vines to go into hibernation mode—to rest and conserve important carbohydrates for the coming season—while ridding the plants of bugs and discouraging disease. 

In summer, the cold nights and warm days balance the grape acids and sugars for the tastiest results. Thirty-to-forty-degree diurnal temperature variations are typical of this higher elevation—swings from 30° to 65° are common—and sugars are nurtured by the abundant sunshine during the long day. By contrast, the cool evenings help maintain the acids. These natural acids are important for the wine’s taste and longevity but can be difficult to maintain in, for example, a warmer climate. Adequate sugar, on the other hand, is often an obstacle in places where early rains absorbed by the grapes and vines in the final stages of ripening dilute the fruit’s natural acid levels. Here in Idaho, the balance is just right. 

Excess rain is also responsible for a bunch of other agricultural woes, including mold and rot. That’s why the lack of rainfall here is considered yet another plus—here, wine growers can control the water 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—and we’re just getting started. In 2008, we had 38 wineries. Today, there are over 70 wineries and cideries and 1,300 acres of grapes planted. But there’s plenty of room to grow. With lots of recent recognition, a tight-knit community of passionate winemakers, and all eyes on what we’ll do next, this is an exciting (and delicious) time to be in the Idaho wine industry.

man dumping grapes into a bin at harvest
purple background with wine glass pattern
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