When you think of Idaho, you might think of outdoor adventures and potatoes. But, wine? Believe it or not, the young, small, yet mighty and quickly growing wine community is producing some pretty fantastic wines. It makes sense, considering acclaimed wineries sit just over the border in Oregon, Washington and even the Okanagan Valley in British Columbia. The terroir for growing grapes in Idaho is ideal: hot summer days and cool nights, vine-loving volcanic soils, good water sources and cold winters that allow vines to go dormant and rest.
Idaho claims more than 50 wineries (and expanding), many within an easy day trip from the capital Boise down south in the Snake River Valley. A smaller community is gaining acclaim up north near Lewiston, the most inland port in the West, in the Lewis-Clark Valley AVA (which also bleeds into Oregon). All this, yet you may still be shaking your head. Idaho … for wine? Yes, and it’s time to discover it.
Throughout the wine regions, you’ll find proud winemakers planting 1,300 acres of grapes, producing a range of red wines including cabernet sauvignon, cabernet franc, syrah, cinsault, grenache, merlot and tempranillo, as well as whites like chardonnay, riesling, sauvignon blanc, viognier, albariño and pinot gris. The only drawback? You either need to become a member of their wine clubs or spend more time in Idaho, which really isn’t a bad deal. Until word spreads and more wineries get better national distribution, be a pioneer and seek out some of the more surprisingly delicious wines being produced in the U.S. today.
If you’ve read anything about Idaho wines, it’s likely from the array of wineries around the Snake River Valley, about 40 minutes outside of Boise. The more popular, and frankly, easier-to-get-to wine area is home to acclaimed wineries like Sawtooth Estate Winery, Koenig Vineyards and Ste Chapelle, which was the first winery to emerge post prohibition.
Below is just a sampling of the growing Idaho wine world, which if they have anything to say, will make their neighbors to the west start to sweat a bit as it continues to gain attention.
One of the more established wineries in the Lewis-Clark AVA, Colter’s Creek was started in 2007 and is run by husband-wife team Mike Pearson (vineyard manager) and Melissa Sanborn (winery manager). The pair crafts award-winning estate-grown wines including syrah, cabernet sauvignon, chardonnay and a grenache/syrah/mouvedre blend. A number of its wines have received 89 and 90 points from Wine Enthusiast, including the 2011 and 2013 syrah and the 2014 ice wine, which also received double gold at the 2015 Idaho Wine Competition. The winery has two tasting rooms, one in Moscow that opened in 2018, where you can refill bottles from a selection of wines on tap, and the original in Juliaetta, which also serves lunch and dinner featuring an eclectic menu of dishes like Baja fish tacos, honey Creole ribs and panko-crusted Washington razor clams.
Clearwater Canyon Cellars
Set on a small parcel of a much-larger family farm, Clearwater Canyon Cellars came to life in 2003. Co-owners Karl and Coco Umiker (he grows the grapes, she expertly turns them into wine) produced their first vintage in 2004 and have gained a reputation for top-quality wines earning the title of 2015 Idaho winery of the year. Clearwater Canyon’s 2017 Lochsa chardonnay (that also includes 10% riesling and 7% viognier) won double gold and best of class at the 2018 Cascadia International Wine Competition, essentially naming it the best chardonnay in the Pacific Northwest. Other wines of note that you can enjoy at the tasting room: a quaffable albariño with notes of lychee and pear; a spicy merlot with nice acid; and the balanced 2016 Century Farm cabernet franc (harvested on the 100th anniversary of the family’s farm), which offers woodsy notes with just a hint of pine and herbs and lovely dark fruit.
Lindsay Creek Vineyards
Lindsay Creek Vineyards, owned by brothers Art and Doug McIntosh, comprises just 10 of the more than 7,000 acres on their fourth-generation family grain farm, but gives people plenty of reason to visit. The property has a substantial tasting room and event space, a bocce court, gorgeous pergola and a great lawn, where it hosts a summer concert series featuring local talent. But it’s really about the wines: 14-month-aged tempranillo; elegant cabernet sauvignon; malbec aged 18 months that offers dark fruit, mocha and leather; a bright, acidic sauvignon blanc; and the 2014 merlot, which took best of class at the 2017 San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition.
One of the newer wineries in the area, Vine 46, based in Lewiston, produced its first vintage in 2014 and really came out of the gate with a bang. A number of its wines have received best of class, gold and double gold awards at the Cascadia Wine Competition and Idaho Wine Competition, including its malbec, cabernet sauvignon, sangiovese and its Latitude, a blend of cab, tempranillo, malbec, syrah, sangiovese and petite verdot that’s peppery, dark, smoky and has nice tart cherry notes.
Pend d’Oreille Winery
Pend d’Oreille Winery (pronounced “pond ar-ay”), a super cool little winery that has been around since 1995 in Sandpoint, lets patrons refill growlers with the wine at its tasting room, making it more sustainable and ecological. The winery produces a range including petite sirah, pinot gris, albariño, chardonnay, syrah and cabernet franc, as well as a reserve line with primitivo, petite verdot and malbec, among others.
Based in Boise, this is a rock star winery that focuses on Rhone varietals and pushes the boundaries of winemaking. As Split Rail says on its website, “We create wine that is spawned from whimsy, driven by the soil that you stand upon, and conceptualized from the mindset that we all like what we like, not what we’re told to like.” The Horned Beast is a bold GSM blend that can pair well with hearty fish like Idaho lake trout as well as big red meat like wagyu beef tenderloin from Snake River Farms.