Idaho Sen. Mike Crapo and Washington Sen. Maria Cantwell say a federal agency has been delaying for nearly a year its approval of a new American Viticulture Area taking in the wine-grape growing and production area in the Lewis-Clark Valley, including parts of four north-central Idaho counties and three counties in eastern Washington. With this year’s cut-off for bottling the wine approaching, Crapo, a Republican, and Cantwell, a Democrat, have written a letter to the agency strongly urging approval of the new AVA area by April 20, to avoid a “major setback for economic development in the region.”
Past designations of new viticulture areas have taken seven months to process, the two senators said, but the Lewis-Clark Valley’s petition has been sitting at the Treasury Department’s Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau for 358 days.
The counties affected are parts of Nez Perce, Clearwater, Latah and Lewis County in Idaho and Asotin, Garfield and Whitman County in Washington.
The Lewis-Clark Valley Wine Alliance, a group of wine grape growers, wineries, and economic development and tourism organizations, has worked since 2009 with community stakeholders and federal agency to get the designation for the area, the two senators said. An AVA designation recognizes a wine-grape growing and production area that is distinguished for its unique geography and climate.
Moya Dolsby, executive director of the Idaho Wine Commission, said, "The proposed Lewis-Clark Valley AVA has a distinct terroir encompassing over 300,000 acres in which 81 acres are made up of vineyards. The potential economic impact of the AVA could provide a great boost to the local economy, in addition to shining a light on the high quality wines coming from this region.”
Washington State Wine Commission President Steve Warner said, “The Lewis-Clark Valley AVA will be Washington State’s 14th AVA and is important to the continued strong growth of the Washington State wine industry,” which he said contributes more than five billion dollars in economic impact to the state and supports more than 25,000 jobs.
The agency issued a proposed rule on the designation on April 13, 2015, and opened it up for public comment through June 15, 2015. It then opened a second comment period on a proposal to consider a modification regarding realignment of the neighboring Columbia Valley AVA. That second comment period closed Nov. 27, 2015; comments during both periods were overwhelmingly supportive, the two senators said.