Wines & Vines Home
   
 
Welcome Guest
LOGIN |  CREATE ACCOUNT
 
ADVERTISEMENT
 
 
 
08.29.2012  
 

Idaho Wine Industry Readies for Growth

After two years of unusual growing seasons, harvest looks promising and the state's second AVA is on the horizon

 
by Peter Mitham
 
 
bitner vineyards idaho
 
Ron Bitner expects that harvest for Chardonnay will begin mid-September at Bitner Vineyards in Caldwell, Idaho.
Caldwell, Idaho—Like many grapegrowers across the Northwest, Ron Bitner is grateful for a normal growing season after two years of difficult weather and late harvests. Gazing out on his 15 acres of vineyard above the Snake River, Bitner says the grapes appear to be about a week or 10 days ahead of schedule.

“We’ve had a pretty warm summer, and even the reds everything’s gone through veraison, and we’ve color-thinned already,” he told Wines & Vines this week.

He expects to begin harvesting Chardonnay at Bitner Vineyards mid-September and move through the property’s six other varieties, finishing with Petit Verdot in late October. Based on the weather to date, Bitner expects a long finish to the season, giving the grapes ample time on the vine.

Interest in Idaho

The near-perfect conditions, complete with low disease and insect pressure, are one reason why (during a regular season) Idaho has been attracting increasing interest from growers. There are now approximately 1,600 acres of vines planted in the state, and a three-year mapping project led by Greg Jones of Southern Oregon University concluded this spring that upwards of 74,100 acres in the Snake River Valley American Viticultural Area (AVA) are suitable for winegrape production.

It’s still a fraction of the 5.1 million acres—or 8,000 square miles—encompassed by the AVA, which includes areas of southwestern Idaho and eastern Oregon, but Bitner considers the planted acreage a significant increase since he planted his vines in 1981.

“People are wanting to put more vineyards in here in Idaho,” Bitner said. “We don’t have a lot of acreage here yet, but I think in the past 10 years we’ve really laid the groundwork for people to come in and take a look.”

The challenge—and the impetus for the mapping project—is the size of the Snake River Valley AVA, which gives prospective growers a lot of choice in terms of location but little guidance in terms of the most viable areas.

“There’s places where you can grow grapes, but you’d better understand the temperatures, and you’d better understand the varieties,” Bitner said.

He believes many people risk planting vines in the wrong places, something he considers himself lucky not to have done 30 years ago, when the industry was in its infancy.

An influential neighbor
It was the winemaker at neighboring Ste. Chapelle Winery who alerted Bitner to the opportunities of his site, which he originally purchased for sentimental rather than viticultural reasons.

“I bought it for the view and because my cousins grew up in this valley, but as it turned out I wouldn’t trade this spot for anywhere in the country,” Bitner said.

When Ste. Chapelle relocated to Caldwell from Emmett in 1979 and began planting vines, its winemaker told Bitner he should be taking advantage of his location.

“I was complaining about the steep hillside and all the weeds,” he said, adding that Ste. Chapelle’s winemaker told him, “‘Bitner, you have a world-class site for Chardonnay.’”

The steep slopes allow for good air drainage, and hot summer days are followed by cool nights that the ripening fruit loves.

Bitner says his purchase of the site was serendipitous, but the mapping study combined with variety trials at the USDA research station at Parma, a half-hour drive north, are giving growers the information they need to thrive.

Numbers climbing
Idaho now boasts 45 wineries, up from 11 in 2002, and the industry contributes more than $73 million annually to the state’s economy.

Moya Shatz Dolsby, who worked with wineries in Washington state prior to becoming executive director of the Idaho Wine Commission in 2008, said grapes are in short supply as the industry grows.

“The current wineries are getting bigger,” she said. “We definitely don’t have the grapes to support it.”

Precept Wine Brands’ purchase of Ste. Chapelle earlier this year is a case in point (see “Precept Wine Buys Ste. Chapelle.”)

Between Sawtooth Winery and Ste. Chapelle, Precept Wine is the biggest wine producer in Idaho at 145,000 cases. But in order to support its growth, the company intends to “significantly increase production” by channeling more fruit from its vineyards and contract growers to its Idaho wineries in the years ahead, according to Heidi Witherspoon, the winery’s communications director.

Lewis Clark Valley
Plans for a second AVA in the state as early as next year also promise to boost plantings and wine production, Dolsby said. Proponents submitted a petition for the Lewis Clark Valley AVA in June 2011. The proposed AVA surrounds the cities of Lewiston and Clarkston and is home to about 20 vineyards and five wineries. It also neighbors Washington state, and federal regulators returned the petition for revision this spring with a request that petitioners address an overlap with the Columbia Valley AVA.

In the meantime, the industry is focusing on implementing a 10-year strategic plan, drafted in 2009 with the help of Steve Burns, former executive director of the Washington Wine Commission, and updated annually. The plan’s goals include undertaking an economic impact study, developing a marketing and promotions strategy and focussing on growing local support for Idaho wineries.

“Before you can conquer the world, you really have to have the people in your own backyard convinced,” Dolsby said.

Plans for the inaugural Sunnyslope Food and Wine Festival to be held Sept. 14-16 will offer people a taste of what the state’s wineries have to offer.

Bitner said the event has sold 1,000 tickets to date, and he expects the event to ultimately draw more than 1,500 people to Idaho wine country. It builds on the following Idaho wineries have garnered at Savor Idaho, which takes place each June in Boise.

“Savor Idaho’s been in Boise, because that’s where the population is, but people like to get out and have a glass of wine in the vineyard and listen to the music,” he said.

SHARE »
Close
 
Currently no comments posted for this article.
 
CURRENT NEWS INDEX »


 
Wines & Vines Home
 
866.453.9701 | 415.453.9700 | Fax: 415.453.2517
65 Mitchell Blvd., Ste. A San Rafael, CA 94903
info@winesandvines.com
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
Wine Industry Metrics
 
Off-Premise Sales » Month   12 Months  
June 2015 $602 million
5%
$8,101 million
6%
June 2014 $571 million $7,676 million
     
Direct-to-Consumer Shipments » Month   12 Months  
June 2015 $92 million
6%
$1,901 million
14%
June 2014 $87 million $1,669 million
     
Winery Job Index » Month   12 Months  
June 2015 366
22%
261
19%
June 2014 300 220
     
 
MORE » Released on 07.15.2015

 

Direct To Consumer
Wine Shipping Report
2015
 
Download full report »
 
 

Practical Winery & Vineyard Library
 
Search the PWV archive »
 
 

CALENDAR
  • August 7
     
    International Cold Climate Wine Competition
     
  • August 8
     
    Wind to Wine Festival
     
  • August 15
     
    ZAP Simply Summer Celebration
     
  • August 16
     
    Family Winemakers Trade Tasting
     
  • MORE »
 

READER COMMENTS
 
Article: The Spiciest Wines You Have Ever Tasted »
 
There are some wines from New Mexico are infused with pepper flavors. Also, The Wine...
Reader: Guest
 
Article: Does Red Blotch Affect Wine? »
 
I have a grapevine in my polytunnel in east London which is showing signs of...
Reader: Guest
 
Article: Central Coast Wine Harvest Begins »
 
Here at Flying Goat Cellars in Lompoc we harvested last week the Bien Nacido Pinot...
Reader: Guest
 
Article: The Spiciest Wines You Have Ever Tasted »
 
I'm curious as to how 'guest' defines wine and their rational for claiming this is...
Reader: Rob McDonald
 
Article: The Spiciest Wines You Have Ever Tasted »
 
This is not wine. This is aromatized drink. Like vermouth.
Reader: Guest
 
 


2015 Directory/Buyer's Guide
The Wines & Vines Directory and Buyer's Guide
 
 
EXPANDED ONLINE SEARCH INCLUDED WITH PURCHASE
 
ORDER NOW »
 
LEARN MORE »
 
 
Wines & Vines Magazine
 
 
   LEARN MORE »
 
   SUBSCRIBE »
 
Digital Edition Now Available!
Wines & Vines Digital Edition Now Available
 
LEARN MORE »
 
ORDER NOW »
 
 
The Wines & Vines Online Marketing System
 
The Industry Standard winery marketing application
 
FREE LIVE DEMO »
 
VIEW VIDEO »
 
 
 
 
Latest Job Listings
 Independent Sales Reps
 Los Angeles, CA
Sales and Marketing
 Harvest Help 2015
 Chelan, WA
Cellar, Lab and Production
 Managing Director
 San Francisco, CA
General Administration and
 Facilities Tech Ii *mu...
 Geyserville, CA
General Administration and
 Lab Tech/Qa
 Geyserville, CA
Cellar, Lab and Production
 Shipping And Sales Ass...
 St. Helena, CA
Sales and Marketing
 Harvest/Cellar Staff
 Richland, WA
Cellar, Lab and Production
 Cellar Worker Ii
 Yountville, CA
Cellar, Lab and Production
 Sales Consultant/Marti...
 Hartford, CT
Sales and Marketing
 Part-Time Wine Educato...
 Healdsburg, CA
DTC, Tasting Room and Retai
 
More Job Listings >>
Follow Us On:
 
 





Home  |  About Us  |  Editors  |  Subscribe  |  Print Edition  |  Digital Edition

Advertise  |  Site Map  |  Contact Us  |  Privacy Policy
 
 
Copyright © 2001-2015 by Wine Communications Group, Inc. All Rights Reserved.
No material may be reproduced without written permission of the Publisher.
Wines&Vines does not assume any responsibility for any unsolicited manuscripts or materials.