Book tours Idaho wine country

Dave Wilkins/Capital Press Vines at 3 Horse Ranch Vineyards near Eagle, Idaho, await harvest in mid-September. Idaho vineyards and wineries are getting more attention with the recent designation of the Snake River Valley viticulture area and a new guidebook.

Author describes surprise at variety, intimacy of industry

By DAVE WILKINS

Capital Press

The Idaho wine industry grabbed national attention in 2007 with its first designated American Viticulture Area, the Snake River Valley.

The Snake River Canyon Scenic Byway, the state's first scenic drive focused on agriculture, soon followed. A portion of the byway threads its way through the heart of Idaho wine country.

A new guidebook offers further evidence that the Idaho wine industry is growing up.

Seattle-area author and part-time Sun Valley, Idaho, resident Steve Roberts said he initially had some reservations about writing a guidebook about the Idaho wine scene.

He endured a few snickers when he told people about the project. "Boy, that's going to be a pretty skinny book," he said he was told.

As it turned out, Roberts found plenty to write about after trekking around Idaho with his notebook and camera.

His 120-page book, "WineTrails of Idaho" ($16.95), was published this fall.

Roberts was surprised to find a variety of wines in Idaho that can go toe-to-toe with other quality American wines, he said. Along the way he met a group of dedicated grape growers and winemakers.

"My travels throughout the Gem State introduced me to a bumper crop of winemaking talent ... all with résumés that included extensive winemaking experience in California, Washington and/or other countries," he wrote.

Idaho is often considered the "other" Northwest wine state -- a kind of third wheel to Washington and Oregon.

"'Idaho?' was the common refrain I heard when I told people I was working on a guidebook for the Gem State," Roberts wrote in the introduction.

His two previous guidebooks on the wine industry are titled "WineTrails of Washington" and "WineTrails of Oregon."

The author had sampled wines from Ste. Chapelle, Sawtooth Winery and Frenchman's Gulch Winery, but he was largely clueless about the rest of Idaho's wine-growing region before researching the book, he said.

The book covers more than 30 wineries and contains dozens of color photographs, maps and directions.

Roberts divides the state's wineries into four distinct areas: The North Idaho Wine Trail, Sunnyslope Wine Trail, Boise Area Wine Trail and Thousand Springs Wine Trail.

Most of the wineries can be found within the sprawling 8,263-square mile Snake River Valley region, the state's first -- and so far only -- officially recognized viticulture area.

It probably won't be the last, Roberts said. While researching the book he met a group of winegrape growers in the Lewiston-Clarkston area who are spearheading an effort to get the Clearwater Valley designated as an AVA.

While Idaho's wine industry is clearly growing, it's still small enough to offer visitors an intimate experience, Roberts said.

"One huge advantage to wine-trekking through Idaho is that you don't have to battle the hordes of other wine tourists you would encounter in Napa or on a Thanksgiving weekend in the Willamette Valley," he wrote. "Along Idaho's uncrowded byways, you might be the only visitor to a winery during your tasting stop."

Online

Northwest WineTrails books: www.winetrailsnw.com

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