In 2002, there were 11 wineries in Idaho. Today there are more than 70.
The Idaho wine industry is celebrating the 15th anniversary of Federal Wine Designation which is considered the primary catalyst for the rapid growth that has occurred in the state’s wine industry in recent years.
Idaho received its first U.S. viticultural area designation in April 2007 with the creation of the Snake River Valley AVA.
An AVA is a specific viticultural region designated by the federal government because of certain growing conditions, boundaries, and history.
“An AVA puts you on the map,” says Mike Williamson, winemaker and owner of Caldwell Vineyards. “When your state has an AVA, that’s kind of a finishing point. That’s saying something.
Idaho’s first AVA designation “put us on the map and gave us this recognition and validation that we didn’t have before,” says Moya Shatz-Dolsby, executive director of the Idaho Wine Commission.
An AVA designation lets wine connoisseurs know that wine produced in a specific region has certain distinct characteristics, says Caldwell winemaker Martin Fujishin.
When the Snake River Valley received its AVA designation, it opened the doors to more restaurants and other retail outlets, he says.
“When you have a bottle of wine that says Idaho on it, it only gets you so far,” Fujishin says. “But when you can say, ‘This bottle is Snake River Valley,’ all of a sudden wine merchants start taking notice. One AVA says, ‘This is a recognized wine region. These guys are the real deal. everything changed for us.
AVAs are designated by the Federal Bureau of Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade. According to the ATTTB website, “These appellations allow winegrowers and consumers to attribute to its geographical origin a given quality, reputation or other characteristic of a wine made from grapes grown in a region.”
The Snake River Valley AVA designation has been the main catalyst for the rapid growth of the state’s wine industry since 2007, Shatz-Dolsby says.
“An AVA designation proves you’re different from anywhere else in the county,” she says. “It gave us validation.”
Idaho’s rapid population growth over the past decade has also helped.
Idaho has been one of the fastest growing states in the country by percentage for the past 10 years and most of these newcomers have settled in Idaho’s Treasure Valley, home to the vast majority of wineries in Idaho.
This has given these wineries a growing clientele.
“If we hadn’t had this population growth over the past 10 to 15 years, Idaho’s wine industry wouldn’t have been able to grow the way we have,” Williamson says.
But this rapidly growing population also resulted in the loss of much farmland in southwestern Idaho and strained the agricultural industry.
Growth is a double-edged sword, says Fujishin: “The more people here (as potential customers), it’s great. But the flip side is that it puts more pressure on our main agricultural land than what we have here in the region. We are seeing increased pressure on the best wine sites. Everyone says, Where’s the best place to grow grapes? It is a southern slope above a river. Well, where does everyone want to live? They all want to live on a southern slope above the river.
The process of obtaining an AVA designation is not easy, and applicants must prove that their region is indeed unique from other wine regions.
In the case of the Snake River Valley AVA, the Idaho wine industry has shown that the region has a defined set of soils and a unique climate.
When a region receives an official AVA designation, says Fujishin, it’s a signal to consumers: “Hey, these wineries really know what they’re doing here and have been willing to put in the time and effort to show and research. about what makes their region different.
The 8,000 square mile Snake River Valley AVA is one of the largest in the nation and encompasses 12 southwestern Idaho counties and part of eastern Idaho counties. ‘Oregon of Malheur and Baker.
Since the Snake River Valley AVA was designated in 2007, Idaho has added two more AVAs.
The Eagle Hills AVA, which is located in the Eagle foothills, and is a sub-AVA of the Snake River Valley AVA, was designated in 2015.
The Lewis-Clark Valley AVA, which includes a 40-mile-long strip of canyons in the towns of Lewiston and Clarkston in the middle, and parts of Asotin, Garfield and Whitman counties in Washington, was designated in 2016 .
On average, Idaho wineries harvest more than 2,000 tons of grapes each year from 1,300 acres of vineyards and produce 131,250 cases of 12-bottle wine.
According to an economic impact study funded by the Idaho Wine Commission, the state’s wine industry impacts the state’s economy to the tune of $210 million each year.