Ten years ago, if asked to point out Juliaetta, Idaho on a map, I would have answered with a blank stare. Moreover, if asked to name five Idaho wines, I would have fallen short. Little did I know I would eventually live in Juliaetta (which is about 12 miles east of Lewiston), producing at least five of those Idaho wines that I had previously failed to identify.
In fact, when my husband Mike and I first started researching potential regions for starting a vineyard, we were residing in Moscow, and starting a vineyard in Idaho was furthest from our minds.
It wasn’t until we came upon an abandoned vineyard in Juliaetta in the winter of 2007 that we changed our minds. Astonishingly, the sprawling seven acres of unruly, 20 something-year-old vines were still alive after several years of neglect. By a mere stroke of luck, we had found our vineyard.
Let’s be honest, Idaho isn’t yet well-known for its wines. Rivers, maybe; potatoes, definitely. But wine? With only 30-plus wineries currently in operation, it’s understandable that the Gem State isn’t recognized as easily as say, California. Shortly after we established our winery we immediately became involved with the small but blooming Idaho wine industry, an industry with a prominent past in our country.
German and French growers attracted to the volcanic soils, hot summer days and river canyon slopes first planted grapevines in north-central Idaho as early as 1872, the first in the Northwest. Though this once prosperous wine community did not survive Prohibition, the ingredients that made it so desirable to early pioneers have remained. We came quickly to realize we were part of something extraordinary.
Did we know what we were doing? Not really. Were we somewhat in over our heads? Probably. We knew there were stellar wines coming out of Idaho, from as close as our neighboring north-central Idaho wineries. After our first harvest, however, we knew we were in the right place. The grapes were good, as were the resulting wines. More importantly, they were unique and proved that grapes grown in Idaho were different than those from France, California, and even Oregon and Washington.
The two grape-growing areas of Idaho, the Treasure Valley and the Lewis-Clark Valley, differ from both one another and other wine grape regions of the world in soil type, temperature, elevation and aspect, which collectively determine what type and how well a grape will grow. The result is a wine distinctly characteristic to its source.
It is not just the soil, the grapes and the wines that distinguish Idaho’s wine industry from others. Idaho’s wine community is relatively young, and its wineries comparatively small. We are not simply eager to establish our own individual businesses, we seek to generate a wine culture characterized as Idaho’s own. In the past five years, growers and wine producers, along with support from the Idaho Wine Commission, have successfully established an American Viticulture Area (AVA) within the state.
Moreover, they have turned the industry into a major contributor to the state’s economy, created hundreds of jobs and donated to countless charitable organizations. The industry will only continue to grow as more and more consumers recognize Idaho as a source for quality wine.
Now four and a half years later, I wonder where we would be had we not stumbled across our now thriving vineyard. To be anywhere else is unimaginable, as it is exciting to be on the forefront of such a promising Idaho industry. And if at the end of the day one more person can locate Juliaetta on the map, I feel confident that we are in the right place.
This column was written by Melissa Sanborn, owner of Colter’s Creek Winery located at 20154 Colter Creek Lane in Juliaetta, Idaho. She may be reached at (208) 874-3933, or visit www.colterscreek.com.