Vineyard & Winery Management

January - February 2012

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VINEYARD NORTHWEST WATCH GARY WERNER Hidden Gem Idaho's wine industry is a diamond in the rough I Gary Werner is a Seattle-based wine industry journalist and communications consultant, and the former communications director for the Washington Wine Commission. n "The Muppet Movie," released in 1979, comedian Steve Mar- tin had a cameo role as a wait- er serving wine to Kermit the Frog and Miss Piggy. The scene demanded a visual oxymoron: something pretty ugly and there- fore seriously funny. So Martin dis- played a mock bottle of sparkling Idaho wine, and laughter no doubt erupted in theaters across the country. Of course, the name of any state other than California would have been suitable fodder for that gag more than 30 years ago. But even today, people react with incredulity when they learn that Idaho has a commercial wine industry. Popu- lar perceptions of the Gem State rarely extend beyond those famous potatoes, Boise State University's successful football team, and the Sun Valley ski resort. Yet some fun- damental factors and recent devel- opments reveal that Idaho wine is SHORT COURSE Idaho's wine industry spans more than 30 years, yet has no real pro- file. Environmental and economic conditions support high-quality, good-value wines. Limited scale and lack of experi- ence have hindered the industry's development. Training programs and winemak- ing talent from more established regions are raising the bar. 32 VINEYARD & WINERY MANAGEMENT JAN - FEB 2012 Sunny Slope, in the southwest corner of the state, is a prime spot for Idaho vine- yards. Photo: Idaho Wine Commission WWW.VWM-ONLINE.COM less of a joke and more of a dia- mond in the rough. SOLID GROUND At first glance, Idaho's terrain doesn't seem suitable for vinifera grape cultivation. This is a Rocky Mountain state with a mean eleva- tion of 5,000 feet. Summers are relatively short and winters are very cold. But the Snake River Valley in the southwest corner of Idaho is home to a large agricultural indus- try. The farms of Canyon County surround the city of Caldwell, about 30 miles west of Boise, and one district southwest of town has been prime orchard land for a century. "It's called the Sunny Slope," said Greg Koenig of Koenig Win- ery, "and it forms a bowl above the river. The grade runs to the south or southwest, so it captures the full impact of the sun's rays and escapes the spring and fall frosts." He added, "The orchards here rep- resent decades of trial and error to locate the best sites. So this is also the core of our winegrowing region." By that, Koenig means the Snake River Valley AVA, Idaho's first and still only official appellation. It was established in 2007 through the efforts of growers and wineries in this prized little pocket of what is a vast area (8,200 square miles)

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