Idaho's wine industry is growing.
Idaho Wine History
© Copyright • Property of the Idaho State Historical Society
Well we better start with the beginning. Idaho is
considered, by some, part of the new frontier of wine-growing areas in the
United States, however the first grapes planted in the Pacific Northwest 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." 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. Robert Wing , who
has a vineyard in Lewiston, ID, researched and authored an article on the
"History of Wine in Lewiston" for the Nez Perce Historical Society in 1990.
Grapes were introduced into the Clearwater Valley by 1872 and thanks to the
pioneering efforts of two French, Louis Desol and Robert Schleicher, and one
German immigrant, Jacob Schaefer, the region rapidly became known for its
wines. Schleicher was most successful, taking a number of gold medals for his
wines at expositions in Omaha, Buffalo, St. Louis and Portland. Thorngate
concludes his assessment with, "I think that in a few years people could well
be scrambling to find a bottle of wine produced in this 'other' state."
The Frenchmen and the German 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
1919 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 Viticulture 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.
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.
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 50, with 1,600 acres of grapes
planted. In order to see the impact Idaho wine industry is having, the Idaho
Wine Commission worked with Boise State University to create an economic impact
story. The results were startling. It was concluded that the Idaho wine
industry had a $73 million dollar impact in 2008 and created nearly 625 jobs.
This growth led to an increase in visibility, more tourism, an enhanced reputation,
and has created tremendous opportunity for expansion.
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.