NAMPA, Idaho — During February, while spring is fighting to break out of winter’s grasp, the Idaho wine community gathers to share news, ideas, tips, sips and salutations.
This year, the Idaho Wine Commission moved its annual meeting to the Nampa Civic Center. The day before, its virtual meeting touched on mental health among agricultural workers, climate change and weather, advocacy opportunities and legislative challenges for the industry.
The most visible topic was the unveiling of the Idaho Wine Commission’s new branding mission, which includes a new logo featuring a bold exclamation mark that precedes the words “Idaho Wine.”
Day 2 in Garden City groups growers and winemakers for a sampling of young wines from the 2022 harvest — a vintage tasting led by Trent Ball of Yakima Community College in Grandview, Wash. Nine Rieslings and Syrahs were picked apart, compared and contrasted based on taste, canopy management, harvest chemistry and color. The group then discussed irrigation practices, oxygen and tannin management and pesticide label updates.
Meanwhile, the sales side of the industry learned of social media practices. April Reddout, a direct-to-consumer and hospitality consultant from Kennewick, Wash., shared ideas on generating sales and improving guest experiences.
Marketing educator Chris Puppione, a sales executive for the Coravin Wine Preservation System and proprietor of Puppione Family Wines in Sonoma, led the tasting room teams through exercises designed to gauge the level of service provided through- out the state. His seminar indicated that tasting room teams in Idaho could borrow a few ideas from their California counterparts.
“In Idaho, you still get a majority of in-person, return visitors and club members to your tasting rooms,” Puppione said, “so you have to react differently than in my region — where wine clubs ship out more than 90% of their allotments and we only physically see our club members once or twice, ever!”
Puppione spent a few days as a secret shopper in Idaho wineries and shared some insight while complimenting Telaya Wine Co. and Cinder Wines in Garden City for providing the extra touches.
“Over the last five years, the hospitality side of the Gem State wine business has improved dramatically,” he said.
Winemaker/educator Tim Donahue of Horse Thief Wine Solutions in Walla Walla led a comparative tasting of four Malbecs — two from Idaho and one each from France and Argentina. The consensus around the room was that Idaho makes some outstanding wines that can stand up with benchmarked examples from around the world, even though they may not be constructed the same way at a chemical level.
Idaho wine industry honors Batt, Jeffers
Next, the Idaho Wine Commission formally recognized two men for their contributions to the industry — longtime legislative educator Roger Batt and vineyard manager Dale Jeffers.
Batt received the Industry Impact Award. His recent accomplishments include helping to resolve water issues in Idaho and reworking the legislative funding mechanism for the commission that allowed the Idaho Hop Commission to gain state tax revenue from “strong beer” sales without extracting from the wine commission’s operating budget.
Jeffers, an employee of Winemakers LLC, accepted the Lifetime Achievement Award in recognition for the 20 years of work behind the scenes that has enabled Idaho winemakers to earn acclaim with grapes made from Skyline and Sawtooth vineyards. However, Jeffers has been willing to help other growers and winemakers on projects that don’t involve Winemakers LLC grapes.
Jay Hawkins continues to invest in Idaho vines
Perhaps the biggest obstacle the Idaho wine industry faces is the lack of new vineyards in the Snake River American Viticultural Area. However, attendees of this year’s annual meeting received details on the four sizable plantings scheduled for 2023.
- Sunset Valley Vineyards on the Oregon side of the Snake River is establishing 40 acres of red varieties.
- Lanae Ridge Vineyard, owned and farmed by retired Micron executive Jay Hawkins, is replanting 15 acres below Bitner Vineyards this year, with 15 more in 2024.
- Winemakers LLC is planting 13 acres of red varieties at Skyline, which leaves just 8 acres before the state wine industry’s breadbasket will be planted out.
- Scoria Vineyards, owned and farmed by the Weitz family, is filling out its parcel near a volcano vent south of Lake Lowell with 8 more acres.
Moya Dolsby, executive director of the Idaho Wine Commission, said “these 76 new acres of grape vines will help build the industry and prepare us for continued growth.”
Combined, they represent a 6% increase in the state’s total acreage of wine grapes.
Also this spring, Great Northwest Wine will recruit experts from outside the Treasure Valley to judge the 14th annual Idaho Wine & Cider Competition just ahead of Memorial Day weekend.
The following week marks the start of Idaho Wine & Cider Month and brings with it the industry’s signature consumer event — Savor Idaho in Boise. Many of the state’s 70 wineries will pour and represent more than 1,300 acres of vines planted.
Ticket sales began March 1 and cost $75 per “wave.” It’s true, Savor Idaho has become so popular since its launch by Dolsby in 2009 that it will run for the second straight year from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m., then 3-6 p.m. at the Idaho Botanical Gardens.
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