Let’s cut to the chase: Is there enough evidence to convict the Treasure Valley of being an up-and-coming wine region – maybe even a destination?
I am inclined to believe the wine glass is half full. I’ve been sampling Idaho grapes for two years now and these are my observations after a decade of tasting experiences in California, Oregon and Washington.
Idaho has award-winning wine and wine makers and is no slouch when it comes to retail selection. I can appropriate a case of Three Buck Chuck at Trader Joes for $36 or walk down the street to Bodovino and sample a $116 five-ounce pour of Opus One – that mostly Cabernet iconic wine members of the Supreme Court likes to sip before dozing off. If you go to the Boise Co-op Wine Shop to pick up a bottle or just to browse, you are going to learn something. Napa and Sonoma in California, the McMinnville/Willamette regions of Oregon, and the Walla Walla/Woodinville/Yakima regions of Washington were not built in a day. Idaho has a fighting chance in the wine world:
SNAKE RIVER VALLEY AVA
Unlike a lot of independent wine enclaves scattered across the landscape of the 50 states, there are more than 8,000 square miles of Snake River Valley AVA registered with the federal government since 2007. A true AVA means there can be prescribed labeling of wine from the region and its identity can be enhanced, broadcast to home and far-flung markets and further enhanced. A second AVA, Willow Creek, could happen. Idaho won’t and shouldn’t try to be California, which has more than 160 AVAs and at least 2,000 wineries. With roughly 50 wineries producing grapes on 1,200 acres, there is plenty of room to capitalize on unique terroir and microclimates that kiss grapes with heat spikes by day and cool them down at night.
SUNNY SLOPE DISTRICT
The concentration of 13 wineries around Caldwell and Nampa is what you want to lure culinary tourists. Good wine is produced there and some of the tasting rooms are a model for the future. Bitner Vineyards has good wine, a patio with a panoramic view, occasional music, a bed and breakfast and a nearby restaurant – the Orchard House. These kinds of combinations will elevate Sunny Slope as it continues to mature. California wineries have wine trains, buses, limos and bicycles bringing folks to taste. Maybe this is something for the district to work on? Uber, anybody?
Savor Idaho, a splendid food and wine event held each June at the Idaho Botanical Garden, is obviously a hit. Nearly 1,000 people show up. So why aren’t there more events on this scale? Wine people love to pair their lifestyle with food, entertainment, picnics – even kid and dog friendly spots. The more winery collectives coordinate barrel tastings, bud break, harvest and any other excuse to sip and swirl, the easier it is to plan an excursion instead of just a wine run. I crave a WineFort at Treefort Music Fest (thank goodness Split Rail was there at the Main Stage). Yes, Treefort has a beer vibe, but today’s craft beersters are tomorrow’s wine sniffers. The new convention initiatives coming to Boise are going to bring new wine drinkers. How will we connect them with the wine?
URBAN TASTING ROOMS
Bingo! The Garden City wine zone is great on so many levels: Some of the best wine made in the state is accessible to Boise visitors. If hotels aren't doing so already, they should institute “wine hours” at 5 p.m., just before groups head out for dinner? Such wine tasting attractions can be coordinated with the hotel eateries and bars; pair appetizers with selected Idaho wines.
IDAHO WINE DOCUMENTARY
I’ve been waiting for a new wine movie on the level of “Sideways” or “Bottle Shock.” But what’s this, an Idaho wine documentary called “Idaho Wine from Bud to Taste Bud”? Watch the trailer at https://vimeo.com/ondemand/34085 and let me know what you think. It played this year at the Sun Valley Film Festival.
Taste208, which bills itself as “a premier tasting event focused on the spring release of the best local beer, wine, spirits, and food in Idaho and the West” is on tap for 6 p.m. next Friday, April 11, at Hyde Park in Boise’s North End. Tickets range from $15 for those not interested in imbibing to $40 for those wanting to sample the sauce.
Wineries scheduled include: Split Rail, Indian Creek, Williamson, Snake River, Pend d’Oreille Winery, Crossings Vineyards and Prosser Wine Region (Yakima). This is a great example of culinary tourism – a happening around food, wine and spirits. We hope you get out and support Taste208 so there can be more events like this.