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ADVERTISING: Advertorial — Idaho Wine: An emerging region making its mark

by LAURA OLSON/The Dinner Party
| November 29, 2023 1:00 AM

Idaho may not be the first state that springs to mind for vino fans. But with modern winemaking dating back to the 19th century long before powerhouses like Washington and Oregon, Idaho is rapidly emerging from its neighbors’ shadows as a rising western region to watch. Though prohibition nearly eradicated the state’s early industry, it wasn’t long before pioneering producers reopened their doors and vineyards in the 1970s, paving the way for a reinvigorated proliferation of wineries over the last 20 years. 

Idaho’s growing wine industry has led to the establishment of three distinct and noteworthy AVAs to date, each showcasing different terroirs and microclimates suitable for wine production. The Snake River Valley in Southwestern Idaho was the first, established in 2007 in a highly fertile region where temperamental climate enables everything from aromatic whites to full-bodied reds to thrive among over 30 wineries. Further east the Eagle Foothills AVA, nestled at elevations reaching 3,000 feet with distinct sandy soils, was designated in 2015 and is a niche area for some 20 wineries to produce unique wines — notably the only AVA located completely in the state of Idaho. And straddling Idaho’s northwestern border with Washington lies the emerging 2016 Lewis-Clark Valley AVA, where a cooler climate presents ideal conditions for delicate white and aromatic varietals among a handful of pioneering boutique wineries along rugged river and creek beds that shape this distinctive terroir.

Today, standout operations like Cinder, Coiled, Koenig, and Ste. Chapelle are earning national accolades and helping establish the Snake River Valley AVA as a prestigious winegrowing region. Take Ste. Chapelle Winery — one of Idaho’s most decorated producers since the 1970s — whose delicate Riesling Ice Wine took home “Best of Show” honor at 2020’s LA International Wine Competition, proving Idaho vintages can compete on the global stage. And second-generation family winery Koenig, crafting renowned reds and sweet late harvest wines on their estates since the 1970s, hasn’t gone unnoticed by critics either with scores breaching into 90+ point territory. 

Over 50 wineries call the fertile Snake River Valley AVA home. A good portion of these wineries line the Sunnyslope Wine Trail, a 15-mile road on the northeastern side of the Snake River that winds through sagebrush meadows, orchards, and of course mile after mile of vineyards. The scenic trail makes an ideal way for wine lovers to experience some of Idaho’s most exciting boutique producers and tasting rooms. Beyond liquid in glass, these family-run producers aim to craft an experience through charming tasting rooms and views of emerald fields backed by craggy mountains.

So, what sets the Snake River Valley AVA apart for viticulture? As with acclaimed regions, much credit is due to Idaho’s terrain — high mountain elevations hovering 2,000-3,000 feet where hot summer days fuel fruit ripeness, but cool nights keep acids fresh and vibrant, while also posing the challenge of a short growing season. These climate extremes combined with sandy-silt volcanic soils concentrated with shells, sandstone and minerals imbue complexity into grapes like Syrah, Cabernet, and Riesling grown across the valleys over 1,300 acres under vine. 

Nestled along the border of southeastern Washington and north central Idaho lies the emerging Lewis-Clark Valley AVA. Officially designated as an AVA in 2016, this charming wine country spans approximately 660,000 acres, with vines planted on the ideal south-facing slopes above the Snake and Clearwater Rivers. The area’s unique terroir — characterized by granite and basalt soils as well as cool mountain air drainage — gives its wines a distinctive flavor profile. A diversity of both cool and warm climate varietals thrive here, including aromatic whites like Chenin Blanc and Chardonnay as well as elegant Cabernets and Syrah. 

While the AVA remains small, with just over 300 planted acres, it has already attracted over nine boutique wineries such as Clearwater Canyon Cellars, Colter’s Creek Winery and Lindsay Creek Vineyards. These small producers craft exceptional single-variety wines that reflect the Lewis-Clark Valley’s exceptional soils and climate.

The character of place shines through prominently when sipping on Idaho wines, validating predictions that the Gem state will soon hold equal footing next to its Northwest winemaking kin. So, for those keen to experience our inspiring region before it garners household name status, be sure to look in your own backyard and add Idaho’s burgeoning Sunnyslope Wine Trail and Lewis-Clark Valley to your itinerary or stop by The Dinner Party and snag yourself a bottle or two. Our region's stellar family producers are pouring passion into every glass — and it’s just a matter of time before the rest of the country catches on.

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Laura Olson is co-owner of The Dinner Party along with her partner, Joe Petersen. You can also follow us on Facebook at facebook.com/#!/dinnerpartyshop or visit www.thedinnerpartyshop.com.