Grapes Instead of Potatoes? Idaho’s Growing Wine Industry


All it takes is a drive outside of any city in Idaho, and you’ll know what most of the state is about. You’ll find farmland and fields everywhere. And of course, you’ll see it on every Idaho license plate: “Famous Potatoes.” While potatoes are one of Idaho’s claims to fame, that’s not all there is to Idaho.

A lot of people come to visit Idaho because of the plentiful recreational opportunities that are abundant here, as well as the beautiful scenery, like in the Sawtooth Mountains. And plenty of people decide to call Idaho their home. For good reason, because Idaho is a great place to live. It’s beautiful, clean, and has a relatively moderate climate, although winters may be a bit shocking for new residents.

But, that’s not all that’s big in Idaho, and a different kind of agriculture is making a big splash in Idaho’s economy. It has nothing to do with potatoes. This is a fast growing industry. It’s experiencing an explosive amount of growth, and it brings in over a hundred million dollars every year into Idaho. It’s grapes.

The Boom of Idaho Wine

More specifically, it’s what’s done with those grapes. That’s right, Idaho is making a big splash in the wine industry, and it’s taking off fast. Local wineries are growing so quickly that they are outgrowing their facilities, sometimes in the space of a few years. With the explosive growth of the wine industry, you might think that wine in Idaho is a recent undertaking, but you couldn’t be further from the truth.

Wine in Idaho actually had its start 150 years ago, up in Lewiston. In 1965, the first grapes planted in Idaho survived their first winter, and the wine industry in Idaho started to take off. Over the course of several decades, Idaho wine grew and won many awards and medals. At one point, people were searching high and low for this Idaho wine, even though they only thought of Idaho as some “other state.”

Unfortunately, that rise was short lived, and in 1919, with the introduction of Prohibition, the wine industry (and alcohol) was killed. In 1933, Prohibition was repealed, but it took Idaho until 1970 to start recovering. And it’s been an uphill battle ever since, until recently.

The Rising Popularity of Idaho Wine

Not that long ago, within the last twenty years or so, Idaho wine was the butt of a lot of jokes. But that’s changed. In 2007, the Snake River Valley of Southwestern Idaho was named as an American Viticulture Area. This area is prime for wine grape growing, and covers 8,000 square miles on the ancient location of the Lake Idaho. The creation of the Snake River Valley AVA was huge in putting Idaho back on the map for wine.

While most of Idaho’s wine is still only distributed throughout the state, more Idaho restaurants are picking it up, and it’s starting to spread across the rest of the Pacific Northwest. Now, people are asking for Idaho wine, and it’s been helped by wine companies creating award winning wines. In just five years, the amount of Idaho wineries grew from 38 to 51, showing that Idaho has great potential for wine.

The Potential of Idaho Wine

One of the reasons for the growth of Idaho’s wine industry is the Snake River Valley AVA. While the AVA is 8,000 square miles, only approximately 1,200 acres of grape vineyards have been planted. There’s still a huge amount of room for growth, and contrary to popular belief, Idaho is the perfect place to grow wine grapes.

The winters actually allow the grape vines to go dormant and save energy for the growing season. The cold also gets rid of bugs and works as a deterrent against disease. The dramatic temperature shifts of Idaho summers balance out the sugars and acidity of the grape, creating excellent flavors. And the lack of rainfall allows grape growers to irrigate themselves, perfectly controlling the amount of moisture the grapes receive.

It turns out that Idaho is a great place to grow grapes and make wine, and people from all over are realizing that. As the popularity of Idaho wine grows, so does the potential of the wine industry here. As more winemakers and grape growers see the benefit of Idaho grapes, more people will come, and Idaho wine will just continue to grow. Not to mention, June is Idaho wine month. So if you haven’t, try some Idaho wine, and support a local industry.


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