The 45th parallel north--that magical latitude shared by the most prestigious wine regions in the world, including Bordeaux country in France and the city of Piedmont in Italy--runs right through Idaho. (Maybe you’ve been to the little kiosk outside of New Meadows that marks its precise location.) While the overall climate is impacted by its proximity to the Pacific Ocean, variations in sea level, and atmospheric conditions, the Snake River Valley receives a markedly similar amount of sunlight per day and per season as these longstanding fixtures in the wine industry.
In other words, Idaho is a great place to make wine, and the state is host to an increasingly renowned wine country. But there’s a lot more to producing fruits suitable for the bottle than sitting halfway between the equator and a North or South pole, and the capacity for a vine to grow is hardly an indicator of an award-winning vintage. Broadly speaking, a complex system and network of soil, water, and temperature interacts to render fruits worthy of being bottled, and location is just the start
Thanks to massive waves of volcanism over the course of millions of years, Southwestern Idaho’s soil is comprised of a lot of volcanic components. Supplemented by silty loam blown across the valley in the wake of the Bonneville Flood deposits, also known as Loess, the Idaho vineyards Telaya sources fruit from grow on moderately nutrient-rich, free draining soil. This means that vines aren’t overwhelmed by excessive mineral elements, and water doesn’t drown out vineyards’ root systems.
Desert scenery isn’t the stereotypical backdrop for a beautifully cultivated wine region, but the body of water from which the Snake River Valley appellation got its name provides vineyards with irrigation. Controlling the interaction between the vines’ fruits, root system, and water source is key to fruit development. Due to this access to water, vineyards don’t face dehydration, and water stress can be employed to encourage the vine’s energy into the fruit.
Climate and Temperature
In order for a plant system to produce wine-appropriate fruits, a vineyard needs to experience a growing season like Idaho’s--long enough for the entire plant, from its vegetative system to its individual fruits, to grow. This all needs to happen before temperatures drop below freezing on a regular basis. However, if a vineyard experiences below freezing temperatures for less than a few hours, the effects can be tempered. That’s why the vineyards you’ll see in the Sunnyslope Wine District, where we source our Idaho fruits, are generally located on a gentle slope. This allows for cold air, like water, to drain and pool.
Notably, Southwest Idaho’s wine country benefits from a high diurnal range, or the difference between daily high and low temperatures. This range allows sugars to accumulate in the heat of the day but keeps acids from dropping out when it cools back down at night. Our fruits are thusly able to maintain a balance of sweetness and acidity, so winemakers have more opportunities to craft taste from there.
On Idaho Vineyards’ Horizon
As Idaho’s wine industry develops, the question arises: does Idaho have its own terroir? The short answer--we’re on our way. We have a relatively young industry, so we don’t have have historical data to demonstrate what Idaho’s terroir tastes like. What we know for sure is that our state’s rural regions offer qualities requisite for successful vineyards, and Idaho winemakers are serious about building out from that foundation. And as we approach the Snake River Valley AVA’s ten-year anniversary, Telaya is proud to contribute towards the establishment of a recognizably Idaho terroir.
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