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Northwest Wine: Idaho’s Snake River Valley coming into its own

  • Written by Andy Perdue and Eric Degerman, Wine Press Northwest

Let’s get this out of the way: No potato wine is made in Idaho.

The Gem State is famous for its potatoes, but thanks to the increasing quality of Idaho vintners, Idaho’s wine industry is growing in stature and size.

Just three years ago, Idaho had 32 wineries. That has grown to 43, and inquiries about starting wineries come to the Idaho Wine Commission in Boise on a weekly basis. Most of the wineries are in the Snake River Valley, primarily around Caldwell and Nampa.

About 1,600 acres of vineyards are in Idaho, primarily in the Caldwell-Nampa region. The largest vineyard, Skyline, is 450 acres and owned by Precept Wines in Seattle.

Idaho’s oldest and largest winery is Ste. Chapelle in Caldwell, which started in 1976 and is owned by Ascentia Wine Estates in California. Thanks to Ste. Chapelle, Riesling is the state’s largest variety, though Chardonnay, Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot also are important. Moya Shatz, executive director of the Idaho Wine Commission, said Rhone varieties such as Syrah and Viognier grow extremely well in the Snake River Valley.

"I think that’s what we’ll be known for eventually," she said.

The Snake River Valley is high mountain desert, with elevations between 1,500 and 3,300 feet above sea level, much higher than other West Coast regions. This gives Idaho a distinct advantage, as warmer days and cooler nights help retain grapes’ important natural acidity and give resulting wines better balance. Shatz pointed out that while Idaho’s growing season is a little shorter than Washington’s, the Snake River Valley has few issues getting grapes ripe.

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