College of Agricultural & Life Sciences
Agricultural Sciences Bldg.
Phone: (208) 885-6681
Fax: (208) 885-6654
College of Agricultural and Life Sciences
University of Idaho
875 Perimeter Drive MS 2331
Moscow, ID 83844-2331
Agricultural & Life Sciences
University of Idaho
322 E. Front Street
Boise, ID 83702
phone: (208) 334-2999
toll free: (866) 264-7384
fax: (208) 364-4035
Agricultural & Life Sciences
University of Idaho
1031 N. Academic Way, Suite 242
Coeur d'Alene, ID 83814-2277
phone: (208) 667-2588
toll free: (888) 208-2268
fax: (208) 664-1272
A Toast to Idaho Wine
Angie Shaltry ’99, Boise, fermented her first fruit while a sophomore in Patricia Hartzell’s Microbiology 250 class at the University of Idaho. “During lab, we all had to ferment a fruit. I chose plum juice. It tasted horrid!” Shaltry recalls. “I don’t know if any of us made a palatable wine. It was embarrassing because both instructor Hartzell and Tim Steffens, who ran the lab, were wine connoisseurs. I’ve come a long way!”
After earning her microbiology degree and interning with award-winning wineries in California, Shaltry established Périple, Meridian’s second winery, in 2007. The French name means odyssey, apt for her journey from UI student to winemaker/winery owner. Shaltry, who specializes in pinot noirs and syrahs, now sells her wine “all over the country.”
Idaho vintners are winning an impressive number of medals, too. Shaltry’s 2010 Hullabaloo Rhone blend won a gold medal the Great Northwest Wine Competition, and Wine Spectator has scored her Washington Syrah at 90 on a scale of 100 in blind tastings. Pinot Report scored the California pinot noirs at 90 and 91.
The 2013 Great Northwest Wine Competition in Hood River, Ore., resulted in gold medals for Clearwater Canyon Cellars, Hat Ranch, Ste. Chapelle and Williamson Vineyard. Silvers went to 26 labels from 10 Idaho wineries, and 22 bronzes went to another 10.
“These wines are a well-kept secret. We want to get them the exposure they deserve,” says Jim Toomey, director of UI’s Agribusiness Incubator in Caldwell. “Idaho has fabulous wines available at about half the price as California equivalents. Idaho wineries get only 4 percent of Idaho’s wine market. We can do much better than that.”
The Idaho Wine Commission and tourism businesses are increasingly marketing Idaho wines, which may help explain a recent spate of glowing press reviews. June’s Redbook Magazine declared Idaho No. 2 among “America’s Top 10 Wine Destinations,” beat only by Finger Lakes, N.Y. And at GreatNorthwestWine.com, Andy Perdue and Eric Degerman recently wrote, “Idaho’s wine industry is finally coming of age. It’s no coincidence that a growing number of Treasure Valley restaurants are embracing Idaho wines. The proof is on their wine lists.”
The tourism potential is also gaining attention. “Now we get a lot more drop-ins interested in our wineries, many of them from Utah,” says Theresa Hardin, director of Caldwell’s Chamber of Commerce, whose website touts local wines—as does a billboard along Interstate 84.
“We’re lucky to be a hop and a skip from Boise’s airport,” says Ron Bitner, a former UI Extension educator in Canyon County who now owns, with his wife, Mary, the award-winning Bitner Vineyards’ winery, B&B and 15-acre vineyard. “It’s not like California, where you have to drive hours to get to wine country. Idaho’s such an attractive destination anyway. Wineries are making for very attractive extra stops along the way.”
University supportUI doesn’t trumpet its support for Idaho’s wineries, but its fingerprints are everywhere.
The university’s godfather of wine-grape varietal tests is Esmaeil “Essie” Fallahi, director and professor of the Pomology and Viticulture Program at the Parma Research and Extension Center. Fallahi, who grew up on his grandfather’s 1,000-acre fruit and nut ranch in Iran, almost single-handedly launched Idaho’s research on growing wine grapes.
Skeptics considered Idaho winters too cold for wine grapes. And one in eight or 10 winters may be. But Fallahi, who says Parma reminds him of Iran, knew about microclimates and their potential in agriculture. From 1990 to 2004, he ran trials on nutrition and wine quality at Symms Fruit Ranch near Caldwell.
He also founded the university’s viticulture program, running trials for 52 red and white wine grape varieties at the Parma R&E Center. The results paved the way for today’s 1,700 acres of wine grapes grown in the state.
Many others from UI have also helped. Beyond the alums who own or run wineries, 16 UI architecture students of professor Wendy McClure this spring worked with Nez Perce County planners to consider whether new codes are needed for wineries re-emerging in Lewiston and Juliaetta. Wineries thrived there in the 1800s until Prohibition shut them down.
UI students also drafted site plans for three wineries. “It was wonderful working with them,” says Coco Gardner Umiker ’04, Lewiston, who co-owns Clearwater Canyon Cellars with her husband, Karl ’00. “The students’ insights and questions helped us think through possibilities we hadn’t considered.” The Umikers are also hoping that a petition succeeds to create Idaho’s second AVA—533 square miles slicing across northern Idaho and Washington. If granted, the zone will be called Lewis-Clark Valley AVA.
In addition, the UI-WSU Food Science Department includes a half-dozen faculty members who help with production research and assessment of tastes and aromas in wine grapes.
The Caldwell and Parma research and extension centers have provided support for wine businesses for several decades. At Caldwell, three temperature-controlled metal bays make launching a winery more economical for vintners on start-up budgets. Vale Winery owner John Danielson ’04 shares two wine bays with the owners of Hat Ranch and Cellar 616 wineries. The three vintners in 2012 produced 17,500 bottles (1,500 cases) of wine.
“We share space and equipment,” Danielson says. “But we use different grapes, yeast and different sugar levels that result in different tastes.”
Danielson especially credits UI for its “pioneering work, continuing today, with wine grape research. It is critical to keep helping grape growers try to understand what we can plant, what will survive our winters and what our best practices should be.”
At Parma, two USDA Agricultural Research scientists now examine today’s wine issues (http://extension.uidaho.edu/parma/usda-ars-at-parma-research-and-extension-center/).
“We still have a lot of challenges,” Fallahi says, “but we are very competitive. We have lots of room to grow.”
As GreatNorthwestWine.com’s Degerman, who is based in Richland, Wash., notes, “A number of international wine experts are taking stock of what’s happening in the Snake River Valley—both in the wineries and the vineyards. That’s important, and it shows that more attention is headed to Idaho wines.”