First a bit of history: You may have read that the first grapes planted in the Northwest were in Idaho, where, in 1864 Royal Muscadine vines came to Lewiston. Unfortunately that date has us actually playing second fiddle to Washington. Grape vines first came there in 1825 when the Hudson Bay Company planted them at their Ft. Vancouver. It’s unknown whether they ever produced wine, but we do know that hybrid varieties reached Puget Sound in 1854 and that Italian immigrants in Walla Walla were growing wine grapes, including Cinsault, by 1860. So our claim to being first is close, but no cigar.
What is true is that by 1872 the Clearwater Valley was on the cusp of becoming one of the Northwest’s best-known wine regions. A Frenchman, Louis Desol started things off, but it was a German, Jacob Schefer, who achieved the most notable success. His wines received gold medals from competitions in Omaha, Buffalo, St. Louis and Portland. Today the majority of Idaho Vineyards are further south in the Snake River AVA, most notably, Sunny Slope and the Arena Valley, but things are starting to heat up in the panhandle. Thanks in large part to Clearwater Canyon Cellars’ efforts, the Lewis-Clark Valley achieved AVA status this spring.
Like many wine regions of the late 18th and early 19th century, things came to a screeching halt with prohibition. Though it was repealed in 1933 after just over a decade, the damage was done, and it was slow in turning around. It wasn’t until 1970 that wine grapes were again planted commercially. Ste. Chapelle kicked things off; Pintler and Facelli followed close behind. But after an encouraging start, things slowed down significantly. By 2002, there were only 11 Idaho wineries (contrast that with the explosion of new wineries in Washington). Still, the last decade has shown promise and the number of wineries has more than quadrupled. AVA status certainly has helped, attracting young talent from other states.
Still, production is very limited. With only 1200 acres of vines planted (contrast that with Washington’s 50,000) most wineries remain small, with distribution confined mainly to Idaho. Despite the quality, it makes national recognition difficult to come by, but there are glimmers of hope. The recently created Eagle Foothills AVA currently
includes only 70 acres of vineyards but there are plans to plant 450 more. And we’re starting to become at least a blip on the wine radar screen. The influential Wine Spectator has rated several of Greg Koenig’s wines 90 points or more. You may not have to wear shades, but the future does look much brighter for the 21st century.
To celebrate Idaho Wine Month, we’re offering a special sale
Save 15% off on every bottle of Idaho wine thru the month of June!