It may be difficult to notice in the shadow of its Pacific Northwest peers, but the Idaho wine industry is quietly growing both in acreage and acclaim, according to a new report.
While still dwarfed by its neighbors in Washington and Oregon – the second- and third-biggest wine producing states in the U.S. – the Idaho Wine Commission said a recent economic impact study shows Idaho is steadily gaining a reputation as a producer of award-winning wines and as a destination for wine tourism.
According to the report, the total fiscal impact of the Idaho wine industry was $209.6 million in business revenues in 2017. Those revenues included those from industry operations, downstream distribution and sales, and associated tourism activities. In Washington, wine has become a multibillion-dollar industry.
Local wine producer Melissa Sanborn said part of the reason Idaho’s growth is slower than its neighbors’ is because it just hasn’t been in the game as long.
“I think if you look back at all the different industries around here – Washington’s industry, Oregon’s industry – they just take time, none of them have happened overnight,” said Sanborn, owner of Juliaetta-based Colter’s Creek Winery. “Idaho is in the same boat, it’s just taking time – and it’s a slower growth just because I think there’s a saturation of wines in the market, so Idaho has just had to find a niche.”
According to the study, Idaho acreage devoted to grape growing jumped from 656 to more than 1,300 in the last 20 years and in that same time, in-state wineries surged from 10 to about 60. For comparison, Washington recently opened its 1,000th winery and added more than 7,000 acres of grapevines in the last four years alone. Similarly, Washington produced about 13.2 million cases of bottled wine in 2017 compared to a little more than 225,000 in Idaho – virtually all of which was sold in the state.
Sanborn said Idaho is not renowned for a particular wine or style but the state is increasingly known for producing wines that rival their peers in quality at a substantially lower price point.
“It’s more economical than most of what you can get in Washington and Oregon for smaller, boutique wineries,” Sanborn said. “If you go to Woodinville or Walla Walla (Washington), you’re going to be paying $40-plus a bottle and in Idaho you can get a good bottle of wine for $20.”
The affordability of Idaho wines may also be hindering its growth. Because the state has been associated with a cheaper price point for so long, the study found vintners have difficulty conveying higher value to their finer products. The report also indicates limited land for grape production has stalled growth – though that could change in the future. Other analyses have shown there is significant land available in Idaho for vineyard development.
A separate study commissioned by the Idaho Wine Grape and Wine Producer Commission in 2011, estimated about 334,300 acres in the Snake River Valley alone was considered prime grape growing real estate.
One area that could see expansion in the state is wine-related tourism. The report found an estimated 744,00 people visited Idaho wineries in 2017, either as part of a wine-specific vacation or as part of a larger itinerary. In 2017, this added more than $135 million to the state economy, the report said.
Sanborn said even if visitors are in the state to hunt, fish or hike, it will still have a positive effect on the state’s viticultural reputation.
“The wine industry is really coupled with tourism and Idaho has a really great outdoor tourism industry,” Sanborn said. “I think as that continues to grow, people will discover the wines as well.”