(Abstracted from www.wineeconomist.com) Read the full story here.
We spent a weekend in the Idaho wine country last month and I’m still trying to make sense of the experience. It seems like every time I think I know what Idaho wine is I shift my ground a little bit and see something new and usually something different.
So the view keeps changing. Rather than trying to ignore this problem, I thought I’d make it the theme of this column.
Snake River Valley Views Let’s start with the natural elements. The main vineyard area in Idaho winds along the Snake River and some of the views are spectacular.
The vineyards reach down towards the river and the slope is key both because these hillsides provide a natural solar-collector effect (the area is called Sunnyslope), but also because cold air drainage is an important factor in preventing frost damage to the crop and freeze damage to the vines.
The view shifts when you move along a few miles. This region is a high desert plateau. A lot of the land is pancake flat, ideal for many crops but not necessarily wine grapes, especially given the cold issues. Rainfall is surprisingly sparse here so access to irrigation water is key.
Although Idaho shares borders with both Washington and Oregon, there’s no question that its wine industry is more Columbia Valley than Willamette Valley. This might seem obvious since the Snake River joins the Columbia River on its way to the Pacific Ocean, but it’s mainly because they share that dry plateau feature. No sense looking for a “signature variety” in Idaho as they do (in Pinot Noir) in Oregon. No, Idaho is more like Washington — lots of grapes can thrive here (in the right spots) and lots of interesting wines are possible. A blessing from a winemaker standpoint and a bit of a curse from a marketing point of view. Riesling to Tempranillo and lots of options in between….