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Unbeknownst to many, Idaho grows more than just potatoes. With over 50 wineries and 1,600+ acres of vineyards, the gem state’s wine industry is booming; and while the product these (quite under-appreciated) winemakers are putting out is very different from neighboring Pacific Northwest wine regions, it’s arguably just as good.
Idaho’s vineyard elevations range from 600 – 3,000 feet, making them much higher than most others in the Northwest. This elevation, coupled with volcanic soils and and desert growing conditions (long, hot days and cool summer nights), combine to produce quality wine grapes with naturally high acidities and concentrated fruit flavors. However, in my opinion, what really sets Idaho wine apart is the tight-knit community behind it. The growers, the winemakers and the consumers band together to support and elevate the Idaho wine industry, and there’s a lot of collaboration and passion behind the product.
Although wine districts are scattered across the state, most of Idaho’s wineries and grape acreage are concentrated in the Snake River Valley (located in Idaho’s Southwest corner). This area is home to Idaho’s most popular wine district: the Sunnyslope Wine Trail. Containing 14 wineries and vineyards, the Sunnyslope wine trail is a short drive from Boise (about 35 minutes), and definitely worth a visit.
Sip your way through Sunnyslope with the below Idaho Wine guide:
Ste. Chapelle Winery
19348 Lowell Rd.
Ste. Chapelle is Idaho’s oldest, largest, and most corporate winery. They produce around 160,000 cases annually, which is almost double every other Idaho winery combined. The French-inspired tasting room is perched atop the aptly named Winery Hill, and boasts beautiful views of the surrounding valley.
Featuring the best views and largest tasting room of any winery in the area, Ste. Chapelle is very much a destination winery. You can bring or buy food, and enjoy a glass of wine and meal on their large outdoor deck. Most of their wines are good, but it’s really the atmosphere and experience that makes the visit.
There’s a $5 tasting fee for a flight of 5 wines, and you get to keep the glass. Every bottle of wine is $25 or below, making their prices surprisingly inexpensive ($20 for a bottle of chardonnay, and $16 for a bottle of sparkling brut? That’s shocking to anyone who’s used to California or Oregon vineyard prices).
Koenig Winery and Distillery:
20928 Grape Lane
Koenig produces some of my absolute favorite Idaho wine. While their tasting room is much smaller than other nearby wineries, their wine is exceptional. The small tasting room features a window into their distillery, and a small deck boasting beautiful views of the surrounding vineyard and valley.
There is no tasting fee, and you can choose which of their wines you would like to taste (up to 5). They also set out crackers and cheese for guests to enjoy while they taste. Their distillery produces artisan vodka, brandy and whiskey which can be purchased by the bottle in the tasting room. Unfortunately (but understandably) they no long offer spirit tastings.
If you’re visiting be sure to try the Cabernet / Syrah blend (which is my favorite), as well as the Cabernet, the Syrah, and the Huckleberry Vodka.
16645 Plum Rd.
Just down the street from Koenig is one of my favorite Idaho wineries: Bitner Vineyards. Owned and operated by husband and wife team, Ron and Mary Bitner, Bitner Vineyards is Idaho’s second oldest winery. Ron and Mary bought the property in 1979, at which time Bill Broich (the first winemaker for Ste. Chapelle Winery) happened to be building his own house down the street. Bill was the one who suggested Ron Bitner turn his sagebrush-covered property into a vineyard, due to the land’s great condition for growing chardonnay.
Following Bill’s advice, Bitner vineyards was planted in 1981, and has since grown to produce enough grapes for 3,000 cases of wine a year. While most of the grapes are sold to other wineries (like Koenig), Bitner produces 1,200 cases of estate grown wine annually.
Their wines are exceptional, and I especially love their Chardonnay and Cabernet. There’s a $5 tasting fee, which is waived with the purchase of a bottle. If you visit during the summer, there’s picnic tables set up on the back patio, where guests can bring lunch and enjoy the vineyard views.
16473 Chicken Dinner Rd.
Huston is all around an exceptional winery. Their wine is excellent, and their customer service outstanding. The vineyard is owned and operated by Mary and Gregg Alger, who you will often see working in the tasting room, or talking with guests. They love to educate visitors during tastings, and their passion for what they do is evident.
Their wines range in price from the $16 table wine (Chicken Dinner White & Chicken Dinner Red), to the $55 Reserve Petit Syrah (my personal favorite).
HAT Ranch Winery / Vale Wine Co.:
15343 Plum Rd.
HAT Ranch is a relatively new winery (opened in 2011), that produces a number of red and white wines, made from local gapes. Hat Ranch focuses on lesser-known varieties of grapes, and offers a good variety of wines for visitors to choose from.
In addition to the lesser-known varietals, Hat Ranch bought Vale Wine Company in 2014 and continues to produce wine under the Vale Wine brand, which includes more common varieties of wine.