So, you have an idea. You like wine. Maybe you even have a background in science or chemistry. Or maybe you’ve fermented a batch or two and just have a knack for it. Now you’re thinking about going into the wine biz. But how to begin? Well, you’ve come to the right place. When it comes to starting a winery in Idaho, we wrote the book.No, really. We literally wrote a book about it.
It’s called A Practical Guide to Starting a Vineyard in Idaho. Inside you’ll find everything you need to know about getting started—from planning your site to defining your brand and business plan and becoming a successful grower.
That’s just one of the many resources available to you. There are many more here. But wait! Before you start clicking away, there’s one very important thing you must do. “Call us first,” says Moya Dolsby, Executive Director of the Idaho Grape Growers and Wine Producers Commission.
What’s your why?
It's easy to understand people's enthusiasm to break new ground.
As Moya observes in the intro of A Practical Guide, there’s been a 58 percent increase in the number of wineries in our state and the approval of two new viticultural growing areas. Currently, the state has 60 wineries, more than 70 vineyards, 1,300 acres devoted to wine-grape growing, and three American Viticultural Areas (AVAs).
“Yet it feels like we are just beginning to tap into our potential,” she writes. “So, we’re making sure new and old growers have all the resources they need to get us there."
Moya is one of those resources, one with multiple purposes—including (in no particular order) wine guru, industry insider, sounding board, devil's advocate, part-time therapist, confidante and your biggest cheerleader.
"It's fun to see them do well," she says, adding, "Just like your children, you want them to have success."
Moya wants to know all of Idaho’s aspiring winemakers right from the start. And it’s not just a social call. Just like a parent, she's firm but fair. “I really want to know who you are. Who are you?” she asks thoughtfully before adding. “Why do you want a vineyard here? Or why do you want to have a winery? What’s your why?”
She estimates “we get a call, probably once a week, every other week, about starting a vineyard or winery. A lot of people think, ‘Oh, this is glamorous.’ I try to scare them a little bit. I want them to know what they’re getting into."
Know your hows
Once you have your why, you need your how. With more than 13 years in the wine industry, Moya knows the right questions to ask. Questions that you may have yet to consider, such as…
- How are you going to pay for it?
- How are you going to harvest it?
- How are you going to sell your wine?
- How are you going to survive during the three to five years until you get your money back?
And perhaps most importantly, how are you going to get out of it? What’s your endgame? Do you want to pass it on to the next generation? Do you want to sell it and live large in retirement?
“There’s no right or wrong answer,” she explains. “It’s all about personal choice. But if you’re willing to sell, that’s good for me to know. Because then I can push someone to you. There are so many people wanting to come in and buy wineries and vineyards here.”
When it comes to the hows, “I encourage people to find a winery that they really like and try to emulate that,” she explains. Are you more of a Split Rail or 3 Horse Ranch? More Ste. Chapelle or Potter Wines? Some have tasting rooms. Others sell direct through their wine club.
“Everyone’s different,” Moya says, “You can always change from that,” she continues. “But at least you have a guide, right?”
Speaking of guides, that’s her specialty.
“I think you need to go and talk to some growers and some wineries to like really understand what you're getting into,” she explains. “So, if they’re an engineer, I try to think, ‘Oh, who was another engineer grower or winery I can push them to?’ Or if they’re an artist, I want to make sure I’m connecting them to the artsy person.”
Wherever you fall on the spectrum between artist and engineer, Moya will insist you meet someone in an entirely different profession. “I always tell people to hire an attorney,” she states. “Don’t assume you know how to start a winery.”
No, it won't be cheap, but “it’s such a better use of your time,” she explains. “Because attorneys know how to do this, and they do it right.”
Don’t forget the what
As important as the why and the how is the what—as in, what are the qualities that all successful winemakers share. Yes, there are the usual characteristics: passion, hard work, dedication. But there are some other less-traditional ones that may surprise you.
“You have to be a little crazy and a little adventurous,” Moya divulges, “Because this is a lot of money.” She continues, “So you have to be brave. Farming is bravery. Because it could freeze, and you could lose everything.”
Which means you need to have what Moya calls a “growth mindset,” which just means be open-minded. Don’t be afraid to change course, either out of curiosity or necessity. “You have to be willing to adapt and try new things,” she explains. “Because often the way you think it’s going to be, it’s not. And you might find another way that’s 10 times more successful.”
Know your story
One thing all Idaho winemakers have in common is the thing that sets them apart: their own unique personal story of their wines and how they came to be. These stories are the culmination of all their whys, hows and whats. They are extremely powerful. And endlessly fascinating. “Tell your story,” Moya asserts. “People want to know how you started your winery.”
And who knows? In the future, it may just be the thing that helps another aspiring winemaker find their way. And their why.
The story of Idaho wine is a tale as old as time.
While the first grapes were planted in the late 1800s, our story really begins millions of years ago when geological activity laid the groundwork for the rich, fertile soil we grow in today.
And then there’s the climate. From a purely geographical standpoint, Idaho offers ideal growing conditions. Vinifera, or wine grapes, actually thrive in our distinctly four-season climate.
But most importantly, it’s our culture.
“People definitely care about you here,” Moya explains. “If you have a problem, you can call your neighbor, which is what you want when you need a piece of equipment, or something broke down. That collaborative spirit is very helpful."
Watch our newest video, "Why Idaho? A labor of Love." to see why some of Idaho's most successful winemakers chose to grow in Idaho.
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