Idaho is an unlikely suspect when it comes to wine. Compared to its more prominent neighbors, Washington, Oregon, and California, Idaho may be a surprising addition to the list of high quality North West coast producers. This isn’t stopping the Gem State from making a name for itself as a growing figure in American wine.
Idaho’s isolation does it a favour however, producing huge tracts of land surrounded by clean air and fresh mountain water. In particular, the Snake River Valley, home to many of Idaho’s most prominent vineyards, has the perfect climate for grapes. Cold winters encourage the vines to conserve carbohydrates, and the desert air allows viticulturists to carefully control the amount of water their vines receive. The result is a number of fresh wineries that are producing some incredible award-winning wines. Out of all the great things happening here, these are my top 10 Idaho wineries.
3 Horse Ranch Vineyards
Located in the rolling hills to the north of Boise, Idaho’s capitol, 3 Horse Ranch holds a special place in my heart. Not only is the tasting room among the most scenic in the state (with a fun drive to boot), but they make some of the best off-dry whites that I’ve ever tasted. I’m not the only one who has been impressed with the quality of their wines. When my partner’s parents visited our state from Wisconsin, they were sure to pick up several bottles of this Northwestern wine.
A Snake River Valley classic, Koenig Vineyards specializes in varietal wines such as Viognier and Syrah. These grapes grow especially well in the dry climate, and the unique minerals found in the volcanic soil that Koenig grows on produce high quality grapes.
Although it’s much further south than other Idaho wineries, Crossings Winery thrives on the banks of the Snake River. Its water flows down from the fresh snowmelt in the Grand Tetons and is the lifeblood of many Idaho wineries. Not letting their distance get in the way, Crossings has made itself a huge wine event destination, catering to weddings, parties, and even golfers. I guess throwing your event at a vineyard is one way to make sure that you’ve always got enough wine. The people at Crossings Winery also make a weekly trip to Boise in the summer to show off their latest wines at the farmer’s market, and I have been fortunate enough to try several of their impressive wines there.
Frenchman’s Gulch Winery
Another outlier, Frenchman’s Gulch makes its home near the Central Idaho town of Sun Valley, a popular destination for celebrities and business giants alike. While other Idaho wineries are based in the foothills or out in the Snake River Plain, Frenchman’s Gulch sits in the incredibly scenic Smoky Mountains. With world-class skiing just a few minutes away, this is definitely a destination winery.
I have to admit that I’m a sucker for sparkling wine, so of course I was excited to hear about a new winery specializing in sparkling wine that popped up practically next door in Garden City. 3100 Cellars released their first wines last June, and they represent a trend of exciting new wineries coming to Idaho every year.
Sawtooth Estate Winery
Located to the southwest of Boise, Sawtooth Estate is a picture perfect winery. Driving there takes you quite a ways out of the city, past the suburbs and into endless farmland. The final mile or so sees you on a straight dirt road with the winery proper situated on top of a hill. It’s no wonder that so many locals choose to have wine-oriented weddings here.
The first of many wines that make up the Sunny Slope Wine Trail (Koenig and Sawtooth are also on this trail), Huston Vineyards is another Idaho winery that takes full advantage of the Snake River Valley’s ideal conditions. Huston specializes in red wine varieties that thrive in Idaho’s volcanic soil.
Coeur d’Alene Cellars
Every winery that we’ve mentioned so far has been located well below the 45th parallel, thriving off of the snowmelt from the Sawtooth Range and Grand Tetons. Coeur d’Alene Cellars bucks this trend by setting up shop near the very top of Idaho’s panhandle. With a climate more akin to eastern Washington than the Snake River Valley, Coeur d’Alene represents Washington-esque wines in Idaho.
Split Rail Winery
Located in Garden City and defying every wine convention ever made, Split Rail is the first and only winery that I’ve seen that sells its product by the can. Not wanting to stop there, they will also fill your growler with wine, a opposed to the usual beer or cider. Split Rail deserves a mention here for bucking trends in ways that only an Idahoan could.
It’s hard to make a list of wineries in Idaho without mentioning Ste. Chapelle. One of the first Idaho wineries to rebound after Prohibition and one of the first to realize the full potential of the Snake River Valley, Ste. Chapelle traces its roots all the way back to 1975. Ste. Chapelle also holds the honor of being the largest winery in Idaho, capable of producing 150,000 cases of wine a year. Idaho wine wouldn’t be what it is today without them.
Nick Cesare is a freelance writer.