Hello Wine World. Harvest Idaho, One Bite at at Time

Guest Blogger Mary Hurja of Grow Local USA.

The Snake River American Viticultural Area (AVA) is one of the new kids on the block in the world of U.S. wine scene and is a bit of a mystery to the majority of American wine consumers. This is because the wineries of the area do not seem to have the size, capacity, or capabilities to produce enough fine wine for the demand outside of Idaho.

Being from California, I understand this misconception in regard to Idaho wines, far too well. I was spoiled by choice wines from appellations like Napa Valley. I had never been to Idaho — or cared to go. California’s wine industry marketing further confirmed my limited beliefs and sympathy for Idaho’s wine region. Let’s face it, in California they think the only things that grow in Idaho is potatoes. My father used to say to me, “If you want to know about China, go to China.” Well here I am — in Idaho.

Meeting the Pioneers

In observing Idaho winemakers, there can be found an organic common denominator in wine philosophy that mirrors the “Old World” style winemaking process of Europe that would not typically be found in U.S. The commonalities begin with the mentality of true farmers and the fact that small wineries cannot afford the large, fancy equipment that would cut down on production costs. Another commonly shared philosophy and procedure is hands on in the vineyard and hands off in the natural winemaking process and the loyalty to the land, which these ideals preserve. However, it does not define the winemaker’s style, personality, approach or qualities that give individual wines their uniqueness. Finally, the common denominator is largely due to the micro-climate conditions.  But perhaps, more importantly, there is a common strength and “gladiator-pioneer” mentality among local winemakers that set apart from the average Joe out to make money without any spiritual appreciation for the old style of wine making.

Hands On vs. Hands Off

The winemakers hands-on attentiveness to the land includes long hours side by side with the workers in the field, commitment to handling the fruit with kid gloves, harvesting only when the timing is absolutely perfect and picking quality fruit by hand. Then, only after the fruit is stamped with approval by the winemaker, does it go into the press. These passionate winemakers are willing to absorb the cost putting quality over quantity.

The winemakers are more hands-off when it comes to the typical manipulating procedures typical in other regions. Winemakers in Idaho let the expression of the varietal and terroir speak, careful not to manipulate the beauty of the natural characteristics in the individual varietal personality. Both French and American oak barrels are used with a profound respect for the experience of each varietal wine and for Mother Nature’s months of hard work.


Idaho winemakers share a passion for growing the purest fruit nature offers. Among the state’s wineries there is a refreshingly humble community with Passion, Patience, and Huge Cahoonas (PPHC). For a winemaker to come to Idaho he must have PPHC. That’s what it takes to survive in this micro-climate region in an already saturated world market. The good news is that with large risks come large rewards. This region sets itself apart from the pack and has the potential to be very successful against the toughest competition in the U.S. Why? The Snake River Valley AVA’s climate and growing conditions are perfect for up-and-coming varietals that are making their way to the U.S. dinner table. Wines like Malbec, Tempranillo, and blends that typically come from Europe, South America and other regions outside of the U.S. are now being grown locally. Idaho folks don’t openly brag about their increasing share in future wine markets, but on quiet nights you can hear the “Old World vs. New World” whispers around the campfires.

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