Idaho’s Wine History
The wine here in Idaho is great; all the locals know it even if we might not get the recognition we deserve. While the Idaho wine scene as we know it got its start in the 1970’s the first recorded planting of wine grapes in the state was actually at least 100 years earlier. According to the Idaho Wine Commission, the first record of harvested grapes in Idaho was in Lewiston all the way back in 1864, which makes them arguably the first in the entire pacific northwest.
Tea Totaling Tragedy
By most accounts the regional wine industry was quite successful, winning awards and renown until the state outlawed alcohol in 1916 and the nation followed suit in 1920. When the US as a whole decided to end prohibition in 1933 Idaho reluctantly followed suit making spirits again legal in the state. The wine industry however, would take much longer to recover. Though there were a couple of wineries (literally two) that opened after the repeal of prohibition, for the next 40 years there wasn’t really a wine industry to speak of. By most accounts it wasn’t until 1976 that the Idaho wine industry began to pick up speed again.
A Slow Start
As the industry began to grow in the late 1970’s folks began to realize something largely forgotten for the last 60 years – Idaho can be a great place to grow incredible grapes. The industry really began to pick up steam in 1984 with the establishment of the Idaho Grape Growers and Wine Producers Commission. Things continued to go well for the industry with over 500 acres of vineyards planted in the state by the turn of the century. In 2007 the Snake River Valley AVA (American Vinicultural Area) was federally recognized. Since then, we have seen the industry grow and thrive not only in the valley but also return to the north of the state where it all began. In 2009 the governor declared June to be Idaho Wine Month finally showing the industry the full support of the state. These days Idaho boasts over 50 wineries and 1600 acres of grapes, all making wines that have surprised the country and the world with their flavor and sophistication.
We Got the Grapes
So what makes Idaho so special for making wine? As mentioned earlier, Idaho grows some damn fine grapes, but in truth much of the state isn’t really suitable for grape cultivation, conditions need to be just right. Grapes can be a finicky thing, they need a temperate climate and perfect soil. Much of the Treasure Valley is an ancient lakebed; this provides soil that has ideal PH levels especially conducive to quality grapes. The soil coupled with the valley’s climate of hot days and cold nights results in a grape that is both distinctive and flavorful.
While it might seem that anywhere in Idaho south of the 45th parallel would offer a favorable climate to vineyards, much of the region is too cold or too dry. It turns out that prime grape country in south Idaho is around the south central and south western parts of the state, namely the areas within the Snake River Valley AVA. The SRVAVA covers over 8000 Square miles of southwest Idaho and eastern Oregon across a number of Idaho counties and the Oregon counties of Malheur and Baker.
So what’s next for Idaho wine country? Well, that’s an important question for any growing industry but also a complicated one. Changing climate around the world will certainly offer both new opportunities and challenges, but Idahoans are nothing if not resourceful. Regardless of what the future brings, it’s going to be delicious!