Idaho isn’t just for potato lovers. Wine lovers take note; the Idaho wine region is the next must sip wine country to visit. From sipping in the city to toasting in the middle of a vineyard, the variety of wines and wineries provide a unique and smooth finish for wine lovers.
This guide to Idaho’s wine region is designed to help you plan your Idaho wine experience – map out wineries not to miss, resources that can help along the way, which wine trails to visit and much more. This guide focuses on two of the three AVA’s in Idaho – the Snake River Valley and Eagle Foothills. The Lewis and Clark AVA is in northern Idaho near the borders of Oregon and Washington and is not outlined here.
Guide to the Idaho Wine Region
A Little History on the Idaho Wine Region
According to the Idaho Wine Commission, the first grape-bearing vines in Idaho were planted in the 1860’s. Two Frenchmen, Louis Desol and Robert Schleicher and one German, Jacob Schaefer were winning awards around the country before Prohibition killed the State’s industry in 1916 and brought production to an absolute halt. Prohibition was repealed in 1933 but it wasn’t until 1976 the industry returned to Idaho with the opening of its first winery, Ste. Chapelle Winery.
Today, Idaho is home to 55 wineries with 28 of those wineries within 35 miles from Boise. The state’s capital – Boise – is centrally located within the Snake River Valley AVA (officially recognized wine regions).
It’s a huge misconception that good wine cannot be grown and produced in Idaho. While the wine industry in Idaho is still new, it’s growing…a lot. And, for good reason.
Wine Varietals in Idaho
The elevations within the Snake River Valley AVA ranges from 1,500 – 3,000 feet, which has been compared to the high mountain desert of the famed Rioja region in Spain. In comparison to wine regions in the United States, the Snake River Valley is home to to some of the highest elevation vineyards in the United States. This raised elevation results in intense summer growing seasons with 16 hours of sunlight; temperatures reach well over the 90s with nighttime temps dropping to the 50s.
Melanie Krause, the winemaker at Cinder Wines explaining the complexity of the Snake River Valley AVA.
The combination of the intense sun, and cool, dry nights serve to balance the acid and sugars in the grapes. Think fruit-forward wine (due to the heat) that’s balanced and structured (thanks to the coolness).
Idaho does not have a signature varietal…yet. Currently there are 35 different types of wine varietals grown in Idaho with the leading varietals being Riesling, Chardonnay, Pinot Gris, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Syrah.
Having spoken with at least 12 Idaho winemakers it appears having ONE designated varietal is something we can’t expect anytime soon. Each alluded to the fact that the Idaho wine industry is still in its infancy and everyone is still working to determine which varietals will survive and thrive. Albeit, they have already determined several that are thriving.
Idaho Wine Trails
Perhaps the most well-known Idaho wine trail is the Sunny Slope Wine Trail, however, it’s not the only one. Ok, actually it is the only “officially marketed” wine trail in the Snake River Valley and Eagle Foothills AVA’s but there are other “wine districts” you should check out.
Sunny Slope Wine Trail
The Sunny Slope Wine Trail winds through vineyards, orchards and acres of mint. The views along the route are simply stunning and well worth the drive. With 15 wineries on the Sunny Slope Wine Trail you’re sure to find some excellent spots for sipping. Don’t expect to be able to hit all 15 in one day, the rule of thumb is 3-5 a day with lunch in-between.
To Get There
From Boise, take I-84 to exit 33-A to start at Huston Vineyards, which is a must visit. I suggest you try (and buy) the 2014 Malbec and 2014 Private Reserve Chardonnay. Both wines were stunning! And, make sure to ask for them to tell you the story about how the road (and their wine) is named Chicken Dinner Rd. For a sneak peak you can get the details from Mary Huston, co-owner of Huston Vineyards right now.
Suggested Route on Sunny Slope Wine Trail
From Huston Vineyards I suggest you visit HAT Ranch Winery, Koenig Vineyards and Bitner Vineyards. This is a great map to help you route your Idaho wine experience on the Sunny Slope Wine Trail.
Where to Eat on the Sunny Slope Wine Trail
Options are slim for wining and dining on the Sunny Slope Wine Trail. Either plan ahead and pack a picnic lunch or stop at The Orchard House, near HAT Ranch Winery. It’s open seven days a week serving unique seasonal and local fare for breakfast, lunch and dinner serving. One of the best options on the menu – all the wines from the Snake River Valley AVA.
Idaho’s Urban Wine Trail, aka Garden City
Ok, this isn’t the official name. In fact, as of this posting the only official name for this “urban wine district” is Garden City, which is actually a suburb outside of Boise. Garden City is home to 10 urban wineries, breweries and a great (adult) Cider company.
If you’re just in Boise for a short time this is a great way to get a taste of several wines produced in Idaho. Albeit, you’re going to miss the vineyard views. What’s great about Garden City is you can literally park your car and walk to a handful of sipping spots.
I suggest starting at Telaya Wine and Coiled Wines, the two share a building that’s home to both tasting rooms. Then head over to Cinder Wines, Spilt Rail Winery and Syringa (you will have to drive to these but once there all three are walking distance to one another). If you need a palate cleanser walk over to Bella Brewing or drive up to Meriwether Cider Company for some Hard Cider and popcorn.
This is a great map to help you route your Idaho wine experience in Garden City.
Where to Eat in Garden City:
There are currently not a lot of choices near the urban wineries. I suggest grabbing a bite in downtown Boise (see below for suggestions) and then heading into Garden City. However, if you do the suggested route outlined above, you can walk over to The Riverside Hotel from Telay Wines to eat at one of its restaurants – The Sand Bar Patio Grill and Bar, The Sapphire Room, or the Riverside Grill.
Or, you can grab a sandwich at Cobby’s, which is walking distance from Cinder Wines, Spilt Rail Winery and Syringa. If you end at Meriwether Cider you’re not too far from Cutter’s Grand BBQ, Barrelhouse Pub & Grill, and El Gallo Giro, but you will have to drive there.
Insider Tip on Idaho Wineries to Visit
One of my favorite Idaho Wineries is 3Horseranch Vineyards, which is not within either of the above wine districts. It’s currently the only winery in the Eagle Foothills AVA and is about a 45-minute drive from downtown Boise…the wines are worth the trip. If you go try the 2014 Pinot Grigo, Dry Rose, 2014 Estate Syrah, Vivaciouse, 2014 Sangiovese. The total production of wines at 3Horseranch is 14-15,000 cases; they sell out quickly so buy as many as you can…they’re awesome! Pack a picnic lunch or order some delicious appetizers from the tasting room’s cafe and stay for a few hours. You might just catch some live music on the weekends.
The problem with getting Idaho wines is that you actually have to be in Idaho to buy them, nearly 90 percent of Idaho wines stay within the state border. Now, you can always order Idaho wines directly from the wineries. Make sure to check your state’s wine shipping laws.
Sip Idaho Wine While Dining Local
I was surprised by how many farm to table restaurants were in Boise…especially those that had the majority of their wine list coming from local wineries. If you’re only in Boise for a short time but really want to experience the different wines make sure to visit Juniper on 8th. The wine list was 95 percent Idaho wines. I looooved that…and the food was off the charts delicious.
Things to Know when Visiting Idaho Wineries
- Tasting fees vary but expect $5 – $10.
- Not all wineries are open for tastings seven days a week. While wine tasting on the weekend will ensure they’re open, you can always try to call ahead to make a reservation if you’re only available during the week.
- Not all wineries in Idaho produce 100 percent Idaho wine. Make sure to ask during the tasting. Seventy-five percent of fruit in the wine needs to be from Idaho to be considered “Idaho wine”. You can also tell by looking at the front label as they will state Idaho, Snake River Valley AVA, Eagle Foothills AVA or Lewis-Clark Valley AVA. Producers are required to denote where the grapes come from, so every bottle will be marked.
Where to Stay in Idaho Wine Country
When it comes to accommodations near the Sunny Slope Wine Trail, right now there are only two B&Bs and each has limited space. The B&B at Bitner Vineyards offer two rooms while HAT Ranch Winery has one room available. Your best bet is to stay in Boise and drive into the area for wine tasting. Albeit, the views at Bitner Vineyards would make for an amazing morning view.
When it comes to exploring Garden City, downtown Boise is a short drive, offers a selection of great hotels (I suggest Hotel 43!) near several restaurants. However, you will be extremely close and comfortable to Garden City’s urban wine scene if you stay at The Riverside Hotel.
Additional Resources for Planning your Idaho Wine Experience
- Want to do a guided wine tour in Idaho? There are currently two wine tour companies – Idaho Winery Tours, Idaho Wine Tours, and Winery Seekers. You may also consider tapping an Uber driver for the day.
- Maps of the different Idaho wine regions
- Map of the wineries in the Snake River Valley AVA and Eagle Foothills
- Visit Idaho, Things to do in Idaho
- Idaho Wine Country Calendar of Events
- Idaho wineries, wines and wine country
- Hotels in Boise
Have you visited the Idaho wine regions?
What are your favorite Idaho wineries?
Disclaimer: I toured the Idaho wine region as a guest of the Idaho Wine Commission. All thoughts and recommendations are my own.