I am often asked about planting grapes in the Eagle Foothills. Two of the most common are “Is my site good for wine grapes?” and “What variety should we plant?” Here are a few things to think about if you have acreage in the Eagle Foothills AVA.
There is a French word – “terroir” that means a sense of place reflected in the taste of a wine. From Google: “the complete natural environment in which a particular wine is produced, including factors such as the soil, topography, and climate.” The Eagle Foothills AVA has a unique soil profile, typically well drained coarse sand and quartz. The climate is consistent across the district, with cool nights and long sunny days. What variables then affect vineyard site selection? In a cool region like Idaho, topographical slope and aspect come into play. Sloping vineyards ward off damage from frost and freezing. A south/southwest facing slope maximizes sunshine, attaining ripeness here where vine growth starts much later than in many other areas.
There are several things to consider before deciding what vines to choose. Most important of these is what is your intent for the grapes. Do you wish to start your own brand? Is selling the grapes to a winery what you desire? If selling grapes is the goal, be sure to speak with local wineries to see which varietals they are interested in buying and at what quantity. Red grapes command higher prices than whites. If starting a brand, seek to establish your brand identity before deciding on varietals.
Secondly, while most all varieties seem to do well in the Eagle Foothills, earlier ripening varieties such as Syrah, Merlot and Malbec are good choices. Cabernet sauvignon is a good selection if your slope/aspect includes significant sun. Checking with grapevine nurseries is a practical suggestion – not all varieties may be available.
Next, educate yourself about viticulture. UC Davis, University of Washington and Walla Walla College are examples of where viticulture short courses are available. Lastly, hire a qualified vineyard manager, and if making wine a winemaking consultant. Eagle Wine Company will be offering custom winemaking services in 2021 from crush to bottling including consulting.
General Manager, Eagle Wine Company
Winemaker, 3 Horse Ranch Vineyards
Eagle Foothills AVA