We stereotype places as much as we do people. Los Angeles means movie stars and traffic jams. Texas is cowboys, Florida is oranges, Arizona is the Grand Canyon, Idaho is grapes.
No, wait. Idaho is potatoes.
That’s one of the problems with stereotyping—that kind of mental shorthand may tell a part of the story, but it never tells the whole story. And a lot of wine-minded people are looking forward to the day when potatoes will be in Idaho’s rearview mirror and the state will be known for its wine. Grapevines were planted in Lewiston, Idaho, in 1864—before Washington and Oregon had vineyards. In 1872, grapes were introduced into Idaho’s Clearwater Valley. A Frenchman, of course, Robert Scheleicher, won awards for his wines at expositions in Omaha, Buffalo, St. Louis and Portland.
But after Prohibition, it wasn’t until 1970 that anyone tried to grow wine grapes in Idaho again, this time in the Snake River Valley. In 2007, the Snake River AVA—that’s American Viticultural Area, akin to a European appellation—was established. (The designation means someone besides Idahoans are taking the state’s wine very seriously.) An application for another AVA—for Lewiston, where it all started—is in process.
An AVA recognizes that a particular micro-climate is unique. Snake River’s short, cool growing season means that riesling, gewurtztraminer and chardonnay widely grow, but there are warmer microclimates that may encourage more variety in the future. Meanwhile, Idahoan legislators are seeing dollar signs behind the baby wine industry—vineyards and wineries bring ready-to-spend tourists. In 2008, Idaho’s wine industry had a $73 million dollar impact and created nearly 625 jobs.