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Wine Industry Champion Moya Dolsby: Bringing Idaho Wines and Cider into the Light

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Idaho Wine Commission: Spreading the word that Idaho grows more than just potatoes

By Laura Ness 

 

For Moya Dolsby, executive director of the Idaho Wine Commission (IWC) since 2008, the challenge of promoting Idaho wines was an opportunity she could not resist. Having worked for the Washington Wine Commission for four years as its local and national events manager, she knew the challenge of marketing a relatively unknown wine region.

But this was different. When Dolsby started with the IWC, she had one overriding goal: “I wanted to let everyone know that Idaho is not just about potatoes. We’re also about wine.”  

Introducing Idaho

Married with two sons and four dogs, Dolsby grew up in Monroe, Wash., near Woodinville (one of the primary areas of today’s Washington wine industry). While attending the University of Washington, the Alpha Gamma Delta sorority sister earned a degree in communications, simultaneously spending three years working as an administrative assistant in the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Seattle. Her career took a different turn when she joined the Washington Wine Commission in 2004. “I fell in love with the wine industry and the rest is history,” she says. 

Today, as the face of the Idaho wine and cider industry, her job is to represent IWC members and spread the news. She says Idaho is very approachable and laid-back, and the winegrowers and makers are incredibly knowledgeable and accommodating.

“Everyone will feel welcome here and walk away with great experiences and memories,” she says. “It’s a story I share with everyone — from reporters to government agencies to businesses to people I meet on the street.”

Idaho’s 64-plus wineries may be a relatively new development, but the state’s first grapes were planted in Lewiston in the 1860s, beginning an industry that boomed until 1919, when Prohibition brought things to a halt. The industry was resurrected in the 1970s, when white varietals were planted in the Sunnyslope Wine Trail area of what is now the Snake River AVA. 

Similar climates

The Idaho Grape Growers and Wine Producers Commission was founded in 1984 and is today run by a board appointed by the governor. The IWC’s main role is to promote and support both the wine and cider industries in Idaho. “Our responsibilities include marketing support, industry advocacy, education and research, as well as enhancing the tourism experience here,” Dolsby says. 

More than 1,300 acres of vineyards are planted in Idaho, and more than 95% of the state’s 64 wineries have tasting rooms; 37 of them grow their own estate grapes. 

“Idaho’s diversity of microclimates and soil conditions make it possible for winegrowers and makers to grow a much wider range of wines, meaning visitors will find several excellent varietals in all of our wine regions,” Dolsby says. “We’re not a state where you’ll find one dominant variety in any given region. Riesling, Chardonnay, Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Merlot, Syrah, Sangiovese and Tempranillo all excel here. And because we have such a diversity of growing conditions, you’ll also find a lot more experimentation and blending, making for truly distinct and unique wines.” Her favorite, by the way, is Viognier. 

Dolsby points out that one of the largest and perhaps the most well-known of the state’s AVAs, the Snake River Valley, is located inland along the 43° latitude line, the same latitude as the Rhone Valley in France and the Rioja Wine Region in Spain. Idaho’s winegrowing regions are also fairly parallel to those of Washington and Oregon.

“We’re producing quality wines that match — and exceed — those in other wine-focused hot spots in the United States,” she asserts. “I’m proud to say that Idaho wines are receiving national recognition from top wine publications and winning awards against better known wine regions in the West.” 

Land grab

One of the biggest challenges facing the Idaho wine industry is land preservation. “Balancing the need for maintaining agricultural land, while also building enough housing for our growing population. Much of the rich, scenic land that is desirable for growing grapes is also desirable to developers.” It’s a problem exacerbated by climate change and the need to accommodate population shifts. 

Perhaps the biggest obstacle for Idaho, though, is the fact that only two of its wineries distribute nationally, so travelers aren’t likely to see Idaho wines outside of the state. 

But, says Dolsby, ever the optimist, “More and more visitors are learning about our wines. They may initially decide to visit Idaho for other reasons, such as hiking, whitewater rafting or skiing, but then they find out about our wineries and it’s like icing on a cake. They go back home, tell their friends and family and inspire more people to visit.”

So, while wine in Idaho may be small potatoes for now, that will not be the status quo much longer — that is, if Dolsby has anything to say about it. “As Idaho continues to grow in recognition, locally and globally as a wine destination, we’ll be here to help nurture it every step of the way.”

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Laura Ness [Duncan Garrett Photography]
Laura Ness [Duncan Garrett Photography]

Laura Ness

Laura Ness is an avid wine journalist, storyteller and wine columnist (Edible:Monterey, Los Gatos Magazine San Jose Mercury News, The Livermore Independent), and a long time contributor to Wine Industry Network. Known as “HerVineNess,” she judges wine competitions throughout California and has a corkscrew in every purse. However, she wishes that all wineries would adopt screwcaps!

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