By Sean Ellis
Idaho Farm Bureau Federation
POCATELLO – Idaho’s wine industry was both excited and somewhat skeptical of a recent study that claims Idahoans drink more wine per capita than residents of any other state.
“My first reaction was, ‘Wow, this is awesome,’” said Moya Shatz-Dolsby, executive director of the Idaho Wine Commission, which represents the state’s wineries and wine grape growers. “My second reaction was, ‘Is it really true?’”
According to a report by the National Institutes of Health, Idaho is the No. 1 state in the nation in wine consumption per capita.
“That’s cool,” Caldwell winemaker and wine grape grower Ron Bitner said of the ranking. “But do I believe it? I think it needs further investigation.”
Gregg Alger, who owns a vineyard and winery in Caldwell, said the publicity surrounding the report’s ranking of Idaho as the top wine-consuming state in the nation is great for the industry regardless of whether the ranking is accurate or not.
“It’s good publicity,” he said. “It keeps the conversation alive about the wine industry in Idaho.”
Alger had his event manager post a story about the ranking on Facebook and it quickly went viral.
“We’ve had an unbelievable amount of people respond to it,” he said.
Shatz-Dolsby said the ranking has created an enormous amount of buzz.
“The media traction we got with it is so cool,” she said. “I’m not going to argue with” the ranking.
The website VinePair, which broke down data from the NIH report to rank each state’s overall and per capita wine consumption, said Idaho’s ranking as the top wine consuming state was the first thing that stood out.
The ranking “doesn’t jive with commercially collected data but it cannot be dismissed, as the number of wineries in Idaho has been growing rapidly in recent years,” a VinePair article stated.
The number of wineries in Idaho has grown from 11 in 2002 to 52 now.
Since 1976, when there was one winery in Idaho, the industry has grown significantly.
Idaho produces about 225,000 16-bottle cases of wine each year and according to a study commissioned by the IWC, the industry has a $169 million impact on the state’s economy.
“The industry has grown tremendously and it’s doing well,” said Bitner.
It was fun to see Idaho ranked as the top wine consuming state in the nation but it would be even more exciting to be able to increase the market share for Idaho wine, said vineyard and winery owner Mike Williamson, an IWC commissioner.
The market share for Idaho wine – the amount of wine sold in Idaho that is produced in Idaho – hovers around 10 percent.
Increasing the market share of Idaho wine has been a major focus of the commission and finding out how to increase it even more is the next step, he said.
“Now that we know people are drinking wine in Idaho, that is the next question,” he said.
Or, as Shatz-Dolsby put it, “If our market share is 10 percent, that means there is still a lot of other wine being consumed in the state that is not Idaho wine.”
According to VinePair, the NIH considered alcoholic beverage sales by state from 1977-2015 and then updated their records with 2016 figures.
According to the NIH report, California consumes the most wine overall, which is no shocker since that state’s population of 39 million people is far greater than any other state.
But Idaho, which has a population of 1.7 million people, is far ahead of California when it comes to wine consumed on a per capita basis. According to the report, Idaho residents consume an average of 1.19 gallons per person each year, compared with 0.59 gallons for California.
The average wine consumption per year for all of the United States was 0.44 gallons, according to the NIH report.
How states that border Idaho ranked in the NIH report: Utah consumed an average of 0.19 gallons of wine per capita, Wyoming 0.32 gallons, Montana and Washington 0.52, Oregon 0.6 and Nevada 0.61.