Idaho winemakers, grape growers, and, most importantly, wine lovers will gather June 10 at the Idaho Botanical Garden to celebrate the 10th anniversary of Savor Idaho, the outdoor annual wine-tasting festival showcasing approximately 30 Idaho wineries. The festival is a major fundraiser for the Idaho Wine Commission, the nonprofit trade organization whose mission is to promote the flourishing wine industry.
And flourishing it is—finally—154 years after the first grapes were planted near Lewiston. Did you know the first Pacific Northwest wineries were founded in Idaho, not Washington? But along came Prohibition (1920-1933), which, for all practical purposes, wiped out Idaho’s wine industry. Fast-forward to the mid-1980s, and a group of forward-thinking Idahoans decided to get serious about winemaking. It’s taken 35 years, but Idaho is on the verge of breaking out as one of the hottest winemaking states in the country.
Today, there are 52 licensed wineries in Idaho—infinitesimal compared to its Washington and Oregon neighbors, but not insignificant to Idaho. A 2013 economic impact study revealed the Idaho wine industry had a $169.3 million impact on the economy and created 1,250 jobs. Idaho has three recognized AVAs (unique American Viticultural Areas defined by the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau of the United States Department of the Treasury): Snake River, Eagle Foothills and the most recent, Lewis-Clark Valley.
Savor Idaho’s 10th anniversary event will be the largest in its history, with an expected attendance of 1,000 guests, set on the idyllic grounds of the Idaho Botanical Garden. Live music will feature singer-songwriter Doug Cameron—think soft rock sounds similar to national artist Jack Johnson. Wander tent to tent to sip samples from Idaho’s best wineries and nibble bites from a dozen or so restaurants and caterers. New this year will be food trucks in addition to the free food samples from restaurants. “People said they wanted the opportunity to purchase a full meal,” said Moya Shatz Dolsby, executive director of the Idaho Wine Commission.
For wine lovers who can’t visit all the wineries in the state, Savor Idaho is an opportunity to taste and learn what strides Idaho is making on the wine scene. It offers the opportunity to interact directly with the winemakers and ask questions such as: Which grapes grow well in the various Idaho wine regions? How do they decide which grapes to blend, or why are some varietals not blended and stand on their own?
Kay Dillon, a sales and marketing manager based in downtown Boise and frequent festival goer, thinks people who enjoy wine festivals should put Savor Idaho on their “bucket list.” But she warns to secure tickets early. “I’ve attended four of the last six years,” Dillon said. “Last year, it sold out before I remembered to get my ticket.”
With 30 wineries participating—many bringing a plethora of wines to sample—how does one navigate the day without being overwhelmed? Dillon offered advice: “Approach it like Disney World. You can’t cover it all in one day, so begin knowing you will probably have to come back again next year.”
Mike Williamson from Williamson Orchards & Vineyards will bring his award-winning Harvest Moon, a red blend of Syrah, Mourvèdre and petite sirah. His winery will also be one of five wineries featured in a pre-festival dinner (see sidebar).
“The event showcases the best in food and wine craftsmanship,” Williamson said. “Wine is all about pairings—discovering those wonderful flavors of locally produced food enhanced by local wines.”
Last year, Snake River Winery, in the southwestern Snake River AVA region, brought a light-bodied red wine made from zweigelt, a grape originating in Austria. Clearwater Canyon Cellars, from the northern AVA Lewis-Clark, featured carménère, a French Bordeaux varietal that winemaker Coco Umiker turned into a lusty red wine with dark berry flavors and a distinct peppery bite.
The festival partners with Boise Co-op to sell limited quantities of the sampled wines. Co-op employees and volunteers fill orders in the Garden store. It’s an opportunity to purchase limited release bottles generally not available outside of the wineries.
The event is important to all the players: the winemakers, grape growers, the wine commission, and even the consumer. “We’re not trying to make a lot of money,” Dolsby said. “But the funds raised go back into the marketing and operations of the Idaho Wine Commission, so we can continue the momentum of Idaho wines. When consumers ask for Idaho wines, whether at the store or in restaurants, that makes me happy. That’s our goal.”
For wineries, the event puts them in direct contact with wine lovers. “One of our markers for success is gaining wine club members. Not everyone can come see us in the wine country, so this event gives us the opportunity to bring our wine to the people,” Williamson said.
“With live music floating through the air, sample award-winning wines and nibble yummy restaurant bites while strolling through Idaho’s Botanical Garden in early bloom. What more could you want on a beautiful summer day?” Dillon said.
A Sneak Peek
New to the festival this year is a five-course dinner paired with wine at the Botanical Garden on June 9, the evening before the festival.
The idea is to give 50 wine enthusiasts a chance to dine outdoors as the wineries are setting up for the festival the next day. Juniper, the stylish 8th Street restaurant, will prepare the courses paired with wines from five featured wineries. The featured wines will be from Colter’s Creek Winery; Koenig Vineyards; Potter Wines; Telaya Wine Company; and Williamson Orchards & Vineyards. Check the savoridaho.org website for more information, including how to purchase tickets.
A Sunset Cruise!
Boise’s Savor Idaho isn’t the only fundraising wine festival produced by the Idaho Wine Commission. A sunset cruise on Lake Coeur d’Alene will take place on Aug. 11, 2018, and will be the third annual Savor Idaho North celebration. Once on board the large lake cruiser, guests will sip and savor exclusive Idaho wines from more than a dozen wineries while noshing on light appetizers. The boat boards at 6 p.m. sharp and the cruise is from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m., with live music from Doug Cameron. Tickets go on sale June 1, and are $50. Visit savoridaho.org for more information.