Idaho Wine Tasting


Article by Lynette Standley

Photography by Lynette Standley

From Boise, afternoon or day-long road trips to award-winning Idaho wineries are easy

There are 62 wineries in Idaho and counting. It’s been exciting to watch this industry grow, and many local wine aficionados will recall the big news in 2007 when Idaho received its first American Viticulture Area (AVA) designation.

“There were many pioneers working on the Snake River Valley AVA before I started Cinder in 2006, but I was happy when we received that designation,” said Melanie Krause, winemaker and founder. “Having this AVA legitimizes the wine and helps tell the story of our wines here. It’s more specific than just being from a state.”

“We’re proud to be part of Idaho’s quality wine community,” said Carrie Sullivan, co-owner of Telaya.

According to the Idaho Wine Commission, the wine-producing industry – viticulture – is one of the state’s fastest growing industries. Idaho now has three AVAs: The Snake River AVA was the state’s first, approved in 2007; the Eagle Foothills AVA followed in 2015 and, near Lewiston in central Idaho, the Lewis-Clark AVA in 2016.

Among the first grapes planted and tested in the hills formerly covered with sagebrush was Riesling. With success and determination, other varieties were planted and flourished in the various microclimates found in southern Idaho: Viognier, Syrah, Chardonnay, Petite Verdot, Malbec, Tempranillo and Cabernet Sauvignon among them. And following that 43rd parallel around the globe you find similar varieties in the wine regions of southern France, central Italy, and northern Spain. 

Melanie works directly with several growers to produce the fruit she plans to use in future vintages.

“I’ve worked with some of my growers for 14 years, and they are producing world-class grapes. We enjoy the challenge of growing new varieties or tweaking our methods. The process starts in the field and ends in the bottle, with many important steps in between,” she said.

A couple of themes that emerge as we explore quality wines and the masters behind them: there’s strong determination and often a family partnership that make these inland northwest wines award-winning labors of love.

An Afternoon Wine Tasting in Boise – the Urban Experience

It’s easy to enjoy Idaho wines right in the heart of the Treasure Valley. Making your way down Chinden in Garden City, stops include Parterre, Cinder, Split Rail, Coiled and Telaya. Explore; there are more! Continue downtown and you could also pop in to Coiled’s wine bar. 

“Thinking back to when we decided to start a winery, I never would have visualized this place on the river,” said Telaya (tuh LIE yeh) co-owner Carrie Sullivan. “While things were closed in the spring, we expanded the patio and conference room. It’s heartwarming to see people enjoying our wines, and as we move beyond Covid, we’re excited to have more people enjoy this facility.”

The wineries are taking appropriate precautions for safe visits and ensure space for social distancing. And typical of our congenial state, they also make efforts to be dog- and family-friendly. I recall a past visit to Cinder’s tasting room and seeing happy dogs lying on the cool concrete floor, which was also artistically covered with chalk-art rainbows and stick figures.

MAPS: The Snake River Valley became Idaho's first appellation, authorized by the US Department of the Treasury's Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB) in 2007. The climatic influence of the Snake River creates a favorable growing environment for vinifera grapes, as do other great rivers in premium wine-growing areas worldwide.

In November 2015, a second Idaho AVA was authorized: the Eagle Foothills AVA. Although it lies completely within Snake River Valley AVA boundaries, Idaho's second AVA's climate and soils are distinct from those of the larger AVA.

The Lewis-Clark Valley AVA includes parts of seven counties in Idaho and Washington and is centered around a 40-mile-long strip of canyons, low plateaus and bench lands formed by the Snake and Clearwater Rivers with the cities of Lewiston, Idaho, and Clarkston, Washington, nearby.

Easy Day Trips for Wine Tasting and Vineyard Tours

Heading south, the Sunny Slope Wine Trail is the most well-known and longest standing vineyard area in the valley, with numerous options for tastings and tours. About an hour south of Boise, it follows the Snake River near Marsing. 

Hat Ranch, Fujishin (few JISH in), Koenig and Huston to name a few. Sawtooth and neighbor Ste. Chapelle (celebrating 45 years) have beautiful tasting rooms with shared parking for events. Ste. Chapelle continues its long tradition of outdoor concerts on its grassy, shaded hillside. 

Visitors are welcome to bring a picnic or snacks to most of these venues, or plan a stop at The Orchard House café on Highway 55. 

While these are considered part of Caldwell or Marsing, there are more wineries in Nampa and Kuna.

Traveling north and west from Boise, wine enthusiasts have options from Eagle to Parma and beyond. Three Horse Ranch is a hidden gem in the north foothills out Eagle Road. Or head west to I-84 and you’ll find Parma Ridge with nice wines and a restaurant serving delectable entrees to pair with wines. Chef and winemaker Storm Hodge is particular about both. Also in nearby Wilder is Kerry Hill, with more award-winning wines and a beautiful patio. These and others offer views of the rolling hills, vineyards and grain fields in this agricultural mecca.

For more information and to learn more about Idaho's wine growing regions, visit the Idaho Wine Commission.

Tip: Check websites or call ahead, particularly with the fluid COVID-19 situation. Many require appointments now or have restrictions on food and pets.

Watch our CityLifestyle.com platform here and the “Food and Wine” issue of our October Boise Lifestyle magazine where I share an extended weekend road-trip idea!

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