New designation would be second for the state
By DAVE WILKINS
Wine producers and grape growers in north-central Idaho plan to submit an application for a new American Viticulture Area in early June.
If it's granted, the designation could help revitalize one of the first major wine grape growing areas in the Pacific Northwest.
The proposed Lewis Clark Valley AVA would include much of the Clearwater Valley in north-central Idaho, with a portion extending into Washington state.
There are about 20 vineyards and four wineries in the area now, said Mike Pearson, owner of Colter's Creek Winery at Juliaetta, Idaho.
Local producers hope an AVA designation will spark more winegrape growing in the area. They believe it compares favorably with the Walla Walla area in southeastern Washington in terms of its ability to produce quality grapes and wine.
Several varieties of grapes do well in the area, Pearson said.
"We've had very good luck with Chardonnay," he said. "Another grape that we feel has a lot of potential is Cabernet Franc. We're pretty excited about that one."
The area is also beginning to produce some good Tempranillo grapes, he said.
Pearson and other local producers hope a decision on the proposed AVA will be made within a year.
If granted, the new AVA designation would be just the second federally recognized grape-growing region for Idaho. The first was the Snake River Valley AVA in 2007.
The application is yet another sign of growth in the Idaho wine industry, said Moya Shatz, executive director of the Idaho Wine Commission.
Idaho now has 43 wineries, up from 32 in 2008. In 2002, there were only 11 wineries in the state.
"We continue to see growth," Shatz said.
Statewide, there are about 1,600 acres of winegrapes, although some of the newer plantings may not be in production yet.
While most of Idaho's wineries and vineyards are concentrated in the southwestern part of the state, it wasn't always that way.
The Lewiston area was once a thriving wine production area, with nearly 1,000 acres of grapes in production around 1900. Prohibition doomed the industry in the 1920s.
The first vineyards in the Pacific Northwest were planted in 1862 in the Clearwater Valley.
The Clearwater Economic Development Association will submit the new AVA petition on behalf of the Palouse-Lewis Clark Valley Wine Alliance.