Washington, Oregon… Idaho? Pacific Northwest wine has long been dominated by two states, but they may soon be joined by a third. Known more for spuds than Syrah, Idaho is making a bid to join the conversation on quality wine. Idaho Wine: From Bud to Taste Bud is a newly released documentary that chronicles the history and current state of Idaho winemaking.
Idaho Wine has all the things we have come to expect from a modern documentary: catchy music, some animated graphics (although too many Galileo quotes for my taste), and varied camerawork (including time-lapse sequences and a few haunting shots of frozen vineyards).
It also does what a documentary about a relatively unknown wine region should do. It gives an overview of the enological history (which dates to the mid-1800s), details the terroir and common varietals (Syrah, Pinot, Mourvedre, et al.), and marries it all with vignettes about the grape growers and winemakers themselves. Especially interesting are the stories of journeyman Idahoans like Dick Symms and Jim Mertz of Symms Fruit Ranch and Bill Stowe of Indian Creek Winery. The younger generation of winemakers is well represented too. I was intrigued by Martin Fujishin’s experimental style at Fujishin Family Cellars, as well as the duo at Clearwater Canyon Cellars who live on $24,000 a year and have never been happier.
While watching Idaho Wine, I couldn’t help but think of American Wine Story, another recent documentary, which I reviewed several months ago. Both films have a uniquely American essence and aesthetic. They both call to mind images of early America, wild and ripe for those willing to take risks. If American Wine Story reminds us that a pioneering spirit is the heart of American winemaking, then Idaho Wine shows that that spirit is still being tested on new frontiers.
If there is a central theme to Idaho Wine, it is that of community. The winemakers, the growers, and the consumers: they are a proud, tight-knit group — by necessity. Without a nationally established reputation for quality wine, word-of-mouth and community-organized events like outdoor tastings and farmers’ markets are the primary drivers of success. I get the sense that the winemaking environment in Idaho is that of a collaborative community in which everyone is cheering for each other, sharing knowledge, and contributing to a momentum that they hope will elevate Idaho wine to national significance.
Although Idaho appears to have the infrastructure for becoming a wine destination — including distinct microclimates, several established wine districts with tours, and AVAs with branding-friendly names like Snake River Valley and Lewis-Clark Valley — I am still not exactly sure what makes Idaho wine (i.e., the wine itself) unique. Is the Lewis-Clark Valley turning out killer Pinot? Will the Snake River Valley make us rethink Mourvedre’s status as a blending varietal? The only way to find out is to taste.
At just over an hour, Idaho Wine asks only a small investment of your time. But the ROI is pretty good. You’ll get a solid (but by no means exhaustive) overview of this emerging wine state. You’ll also come to realize, as I have, that there are stories like this everywhere, in every state. Personally, I can’t wait to hear them!
Idaho Wine: From Bud to Taste Bud premiered at the Sun Valley Film Festival, March 4-8, 2015. Screenings outside of Idaho are not yet available, but the trailer can be viewed here, and DVDs are available here.