Through a seamless blending of words and images, Idaho Wine Country (Caxton Press) provides a brilliant, witty, feast that will open the world's eyes to the Gem State's emerging winemaking industry.
The book--edited by Judy Steele and designed by Chris Latter--is the work of Boise writer Alan Minskoff and former New York Times photographer Paul Hosefros of Caldwell. They offer up portraits of more than 50 Idaho winemakers and grape growers, banishing any doubts about the dedication of Idaho vintners.
Beginning in December 2008, Hosefros and Minskoff crisscrossed Idaho for 15 months--in an aging Saab they christened "Bottle One"--searching for something many thought didn't exist. Their quest, which took them as far north as Sandpoint and as far south as Marsing, yielded this extraordinary, historic book.
"We wanted to tell the story of people engaged in all aspects of the winemaking process," Minskoff said. "We wanted to show them tending and crafting the wines, in the fields and bottling rooms. We discovered that Idaho has a wine country that is much more sophisticated than many people think. We didn't meet a single winemaker who wasn't attempting to make the best wine he or she possibly could."
Caxton Press publisher Scott Gipson immediately took an interest in the project when he was approached.
"The wine industry in Idaho has been building a great deal of momentum over the past few years," Gipson explained. "When you visit wineries and tasting rooms and talk to winemakers in our communities, you can feel the excitement and can't help but get the sense that they are on the cusp of something special. The timing of this book couldn't have been more perfect."
On April 9, 2007, a defining moment occurred for the Idaho wine industry. It was on that day that the state earned its first American Viticulture Area (AVA) designation. The Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau administrates about 200 AVAs throughout the country.
"When the Snake River Valley received its AVA designation," Minskoff said, "it was like receiving the Good Housekeeping Seal of Approval. The designation puts Idaho wine makers on the map."
Hosefros--who photographed seven U.S. presidents, numerous prime ministers and Nelson Mandela while working for the Times, --considers the honor a gauntlet.
"The AVA designation is a two-edged sword," Hosefros said. "It's an official recognition, but it also sets the bar higher. Idaho wine makers are now going to have to stretch to meet new expectations. The next five years will tell the tale."
David Kirkpatrick, beer and wine columnist for Boise Weekly, believes local wines can compete.
"Alan and Paul's book should definitely have a positive impact," Kirkpatrick said. "The writing and photographs are truly impressive. I haven't seen another book on Idaho wine that comes even close."
The book was written and photographed during all four seasons so that Hosefros and Minskoff could document the complete winemaking cycle.
"Oddly enough winter was the most illusive," he said. "Winter is the calm before the storm. It anticipates the coming growth and harvest. But this is not merely a book of landscapes. This is a book about people."
Both Minskoff and Hosefros strived to present the reader with intimate glimpses of those involved in this romantic but sometimes highly technical agricultural endeavor.
"I've learned more about the appreciation of wine in the last 15 months than I ever thought possible," Minskoff said. "If you spend that much time tasting grapes ... your palate can't help but improve."
"Early on we realized we were on to something good with this project," Hosefros said. "Alan and I quickly learned to accommodate each other's idiosyncrasies. Writers are strange animals, and I'm sure they think photographers are even stranger. But we had a single purpose: to tell these stories the best way possible."
Minskoff and Hosefros traveled hundreds of miles on back roads in search of hidden vineyards and out-of-the-way tasting rooms. They often got lost.
"Some of the smaller wineries had no signage," Minskoff said. "We'd drive right past a few times before someone would actually come out to the road and wave to us."
Idaho Wine Country is not only an introduction to what's out there and where, nor does it serve as simply a map and guide.
It's the story of the search for something mystical and intoxicating. It's an oenophile adventure that leaves the reader with the heady aftertaste of discovery.
"There is a great diversity of grapes and wineries to discover," Minskoff said. "I hope our book will bring recognition to Idaho winemakers and be part of the solution. We approached the creation of this book like a bottle of wine. We took the time to make it right."