Research Manager Emily Carroll discusses her recent trip home to Idaho, and what trade experts have to say about the budding local wine industry there
When you think of wine originating from the US, you typically think of a Californian Cab or an Oregon Pinot. Rarely do smaller wine-producing states, like Idaho, come to mind. Idaho is typically known for its breath-taking, mountainous views as well as leading the US potato production. What many don’t necessarily know is that Idaho is also home to a rapidly developing wine scene, and one that doesn’t just include potato wine.
According to a recent economic impact study conducted by the Idaho Wine Commission, the Idaho wine industry contributes $209.6 million in state economic impact. At present, there are 60 wineries in Idaho, which is a 20% increase since 2013. Idaho’s population growth has also contributed significantly to wine growth, with the total wine sold in Idaho having near doubled between 2011 and 2017 (Idaho Wine Commission). As an Idaho native now living in London, I recently had the opportunity to meet and speak with several Idaho wine industry professionals about the growth in both production and consumption.
The first thing that became clear regarding Idaho wine consumers is the consensus amongst trade members that they are fiercely loyal to locally produced products, demonstrated by the fact that on any given Saturday or Sunday you can find most Idahoans attending community farmers markets. The increased interest in Idaho wines has been primarily driven by industry professionals, who actively promote local wines. Take Idaho Wine Month, for example. For 30 days every June, locally produced wines are celebrated through a variety of events – ranging from educational experiences and blind tastings to a vinyasa yoga flow at a local winery. Those in the local industry also predict that as knowledge and curiosity grows, so will consumers’ willingness to trade up in terms of price for local wine.
Idaho trade members are also witnessing shifting consumer habits, highlighting the positive opportunities that lie ahead for wine, while noting the possible threats. Within the US market, Wine Intelligence consumer research with regular wine drinkers nationally shows that consumers’ varietal repertoires becoming more fragmented, with consumers gravitating towards more niche varietals, according to our Global Trends in Wine 2020 and US Landscapes 2020 reports. Trade members agree that Idaho wine drinkers align with this national trend, showing open-minded attitudes, supported by retailers and on-premise operators who are actively encouraging experimentation. Alternative packaging is also becoming increasingly important as Idaho wine consumers’ concern for the environment grows. This is especially true for Millennials, who are not only more environmentally conscious, but also experience-driven. A Sommelier that I spoke with said that wine in cans is growing, in part due to the large community that enjoys spending time outdoors hiking or floating down rivers during the summer.
Like many other places, however, it appears that the Idaho wine industry is competing against the craft beer and cocktail movement, supported by the thriving craft beer movement in Idaho which currently has 69 operating breweries (Idaho Brewers United). In addition, bars are increasingly focused on serving quality and unique experiences through craft cocktails. There is also the issue of moderation, as suggested by a Wine Educator, who predicts that the wine category may suffer due to the increased hesitation from consumers to drink alcohol frequently. On a nationwide level, we know that just under half of regular wine drinkers in the US are now reducing their wine consumption, by either drinking wine less often, not drinking it at some occasions or opting for non-alcohol beverages, as detailed in our US Landscapes 2020 report.
What certainly became evident during my trip to Idaho was how dedicated the community of wine industry professionals were in their aim to support one another and to grow Idaho’s wine reputation through consumer education and experiences. Though often overshadowed by its major wine-producing neighbors, Washington and Oregon, Idaho’s wine scene seems to have boundless potential and is definitely a state to keep on your radar.