Idaho wine industry prepares for 10th annual judging

By on August 3, 2019
The Snake River Valley is the heart of the Idaho wine industry, and Lizard Butte near Marsing is a Sunnyslope Wine District landmark. (Photo courtesy of Idaho Wine Commission)

The 10th annual Idaho Wine Competition is scheduled for Tuesday, Aug. 20 in Caldwell’s Sunnyslope Wine District on the campus of Koenig Vineyards.

This marks a decade during which the judging has been orchestrated by Great Northwest Wine in a collaboration with the Idaho Wine Commission on behalf of the state’s wine industry. Last year’s competition represented 39 of the 52 wineries in the Gem State.

A year ago, the judging panel, led by Sheri Sauter Morano, a Master of Wine from Durham, N.C., selected the Lost West Winery 2017 Riesling as the top wine of the competition. It was fourth time in the past six years that the German white grape captured the top honor in Idaho.

“I am surprised more people have not started to pay attention to this area – if nothing else for the sheer enthusiasm I see here and the visible commitment to developing the industry and building relationships between producer and consumer,” Sauter Morano said. 

Panel pulls from Seattle, Walla Walla, New Orleans

Tim McNally, a broadcaster and writer based in New Orleans, enjoys a light moment during the fifth annual Cascadia Wine Competition in Hood River, Ore. (Photo by Richard Duval Images)

This year’s judging panel features Tim Donahue, CEO, director of winemaking, The Institute of Enology and Viticulture, Walla Walla (Wash.) Community College; Kathryn House, enologist/owner, House of Wine, Boise; Erin James, editor-in-chief, Sip Northwest, Seattle; Tim McNally, host, The New Orleans Dine, Wine and Spirits Show, WGSO 990 AM, New Orleans; Katelyn Peil, sommelier/wine director, Purple Café, Woodinville, Wash., and Ken Robertson, columnist, Wine Press Northwest magazine, Kennewick, Wash.

McNally, who also serves as the wine and spirits editor for New Orleans magazine, is a longtime judge at the San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition and co-founder of the New Orleans International Wine Awards. The day after the Idaho Wine Competition, he and other judges will be led on a tour of the region by the Idaho Wine Commission.

“I look forward to the judging experience but also to the personal introduction getting to know the Idaho wine industry,” he said.

The judging will be moderated by Richard Larsen, retired enologist/research winemaker, Washington State University, Richland, and Eric Degerman of Great Northwest Wine.

Idaho Wine Competition returns to Koenig Vineyards

In addition to raising awareness of Idaho’s wine industry and using out-of-town judges to determine the region’s top wines, this competition also serves as a scholarship fundraiser for the Idaho Wine Commission.

When it comes to production and distribution, Idaho is led by Ste. Chapelle, the state’s oldest and largest winery at approximately 120,000 cases annually. The Caldwell winery is overseen by Precept Wine, a Seattle-based company that is the Pacific Northwest’s largest privately wine producer.

While the competition is open to any wine produced in the Gem State, a wine crafted using fruit beyond the borders of Idaho or a contiguous American Viticultural Area is not eligible for best-of-show honors. For example, Telaya Wine Co. in Garden City received the award for Best Red Wine with its 2016 Turas, a Syrah-based blend from Skyline Vineyard in the Snake River Valley, but its gold medal for 2016 Cabernet Sauvignon off acclaimed Quintessence Vineyards on Washington’s Red Mountain was not part of the sweepstakes.

Last year’s tasting of red wines helped showcased the 2016 vintage, a classic growing season. Judges will be interested to learn the effects of hailstorm and winter damage in Idaho vineyards with regards to the smaller 2017 vintage.

And although Koenig Vineyards is under new ownership after founding winemaker Greg Koenig recently sold to James and Sydney Nederend of nearby SCORIA Vineyards, the Nederends will continue to play host to the industry potluck that traditionally follows the awards announcements. Judges from across the country have found the get-together to be illuminating and charming.

“I think one of the things that speaks volumes for a region is when there is genuine interest in hearing about the success of one’s neighbors,” Sauter Morano said. “It was clear that this area subscribes to the theory of a rising tide raises all boats.”

About Great Northwest Wine

Articles authored by Great Northwest Wine are co-authored by Eric Degerman and Andy Perdue. In most cases, these are wine reviews that are judged blind by the Great Northwest Wine tasting panel.

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