Inaugural 'boot camp' marches media through basics of growing industry
By DAVE WILKINS
The first ever Idaho Wine Boot Camp didn't entirely live up to its name.
"Boot camp" suggests a grueling experience. This event wasn't -- unless you consider sampling good wine and food and stomping grapes to be arduous tasks.
It was like boot camp in the sense that it was basic training in all things related to Idaho wine.
At the invitation of the Idaho Wine Commission, about 20 members of the media toured five area wineries and vineyards in September. Here's some of what they learned:
* There are 40 wineries in Idaho (up from 32 in 2008), producing a wide range of wines from Chardonnay to Pinot Noir.
* The first vineyards in the Pacific Northwest were planted in Northern Idaho in the 1860s. Prohibition put an end to the fledgling industry in the 1920s.
* It wasn't until the 1970s that winegrapes were again planted in Idaho, this time along the Snake River Valley in the southern part of the state.
* The Snake River Valley Appellation was named the first registered American Viticultural Area in Idaho in April 2007. The area encompasses 12 counties in Southern Idaho and two in Eastern Oregon.
Idaho has generally been regarded as the poor stepchild of the Pacific Northwest wine industry. That's ironic given that the first vineyards in the region were planted in Northern Idaho, industry officials said.
The Snake River Valley's rich volcanic soils, hot summer days and cool nights make it an ideal place to grow a variety of winegrapes.
Most of Idaho's wineries are small operations, and many of them hand craft their wine in limited quantities.
Leaders of the industry want it to continue to grow, but not just by the numbers. It's more important to maintain a reputation for quality, said Moya Shatz, executive director of the Idaho Wine Commission.
"We don't want just anyone starting up a winery in Idaho," she said. "We want good wineries and people who are serious about producing a good solid product, not just for Idaho, but for the world."
Ste. Chapelle produced the first commercial wines in Idaho in 1976. It built its reputation on award-winning Rieslings.
But the state is gaining a reputation for superb reds as well. Idaho wineries have snagged a slew of awards from regional wine competitions in recent years.
It shows that Idaho's vineyards and wineries stack up well against those in neighboring Oregon and Washington, said winemaker Greg Koenig of Koenig Distillery and Winery. A reserve Syrah made by Koenig was named the best red wine at the Northwest Wine Summit a couple years ago.
"It shows we can grow that kind of fruit here," he said. "The climate is definitely well suited to red wine production."
Idaho's wine region is small, but growing. There are now about 1,600 acres of planted vineyards in the state.
Roger Williamson, a longtime Sunny Slope orchardist, planted his first vineyard in 1998. Growing winegrapes and tree fruit are similar in some ways, but there are differences, he said.
"Eye appeal isn't as important with grapes," Williamson said. "You're looking for things to intensify flavor."
Williamson now has 40 acres of winegrapes.
Some of Idaho's small wineries sell as much as half of their wine from tasting rooms. The other half goes to grocery stores and restaurants that buy through a distributor.
The profit margin is higher with tasting room sales, but selling through a distributor helps get a winery's name out to the public, said Mike McClure, winemaker at Indian Creek Winery near Kuna.
Indian Creek makes about 5,000 cases of wine a year, mostly Pinot Noir.
McClure said the winery has the capacity to double production to about 10,000 cases, but he's hesitant to expand that much. He and his wife, Tammy, want to keep it a small family winery, he said.
Staff writer Dave Wilkins is based in Twin Falls, Idaho. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org.