CALDWELL, Idaho – Idaho’s wine industry has a growing audience. Problem is, they aren’t growing enough fruit in Idaho to satisfy winemakers or satiate customers.
At this point, just 1,300 acres of wine grapes are grown in the Gem State. That figure matches barely more than half the total acreage of vineyards draped across Red Mountain – the smallest American Viticultural Area in Washington.
However, there are three young and promising plantings of varying scale in the tree fruit Sunnyslope region, west of Caldwell. Each of these vineyards offers a view of the Snake River, but the players come from different backgrounds: Boise businessman Jay Hawkins, the row crop farming Weitz family and the Williamsons – respected grape growers with branches of orchardists in their family tree.
“It’s been a bit grim around here for quite a few years because nobody was talking about planting grapes until the Weitz family came along,” winemaker Greg Koenig told Great Northwest Wine. “We didn’t expect to outstrip the supply of grapes in Idaho, and then the price of grapes was so low that nobody wanted to grow grapes. It was a vicious cycle that’s been tough to break out of.”
Gregg Alger, who chairs the Idaho Wine Commission and owns Huston Vineyards in Caldwell, said, “Those are the three biggest planting changes that we’ve had in Idaho for a while. Things need to happen here.”
And these new vines give the industry perhaps its most important talking point as the commission’s annual meeting begins Wednesday in Boise.