Idaho has just been discovered as a wine center, but already the brand new American wine-growing area of Lewis-Clark Valley (AVA) has been highly regarded by the wine press. It is an emerging destination for winemaking and combines the best of all worlds. Dedicated winemakers have sought out this region for its unique terrain and climate which allows for a slow maturing season, adequate water and many sunny days.
Several wineries have been distinguished for their excellence, including Northwest wine press‘2020 Pacific Northwest Winery of the Year, Clearwater Canyon Cellars and Idaho’s Winery of the Year, Colter’s Creek. Lewis-Clark Valley sits on the Washington-Idaho border, at the base of Idaho’s agricultural palaces (land) and the Washington High Desert. Here, they cultivate Bordeaux and Rhône grape varieties.
Lewiston, Idaho, and Clarkston, Wash. Face each other across the Snake River and a jet boat up to Hell’s Canyon is a must see when visiting. These industrial towns are pretty straightforward and the lodging is your typical chain of hotels like Hampton Inn and Best Western, but there are quaint lodges like Boggan’s Oasis and Clearwater River Casino & Lodge.
An interesting detour when visiting the Lewis-Clark Valley is about 45 minutes from the city of Moscow, Idaho. Pronounced “Moss-coe,” this historic little town is known as the site of the University of Idaho and a farmer’s market that can draw over 100,000 visitors on weekends. Fine cuisine, great wines and culture abound in this sophisticated hamlet. I was a guest to the area just before the pandemic and can’t wait to rediscover the hospitality and rich dimensions of the state of Idaho.
1. Colter’s Creek Winery
Idaho’s 2019 Vineyard of the Year produces wine only from AVA fruit from Lewis-Clark Valley and Snake River Valley, which means it remains hyper-local in Idaho. The good thing is, you can try Colter’s Creek both at its hip tasting room in Moscow and its tasting room and restaurant in the town of Juliaetta, Idaho. It also has vineyards and a cellar where a tour and tasting can be arranged.
In 2007, at the start of Idaho wine recognition, Colter’s Creek owners Mike Pearson and Melissa Sanborn combined their chemistry and engineering backgrounds with a love of wine and the land and found a abandoned vineyard in Juliaetta, nestled between the Potlatch and Clearwater rivers. They named the winery after a first settler named John Colter and today produce a variety of wines that truly embrace the gamble of taste and style.
A Chardonnay and a Chardonnay-Viognier are on the program, as well as a variety of Rieslings, a perfect pairing wine that is experiencing a renaissance in popularity. Red and white blends are good for daily consumption, or try Spanish varietals like Tempranillo and Rocinante blend, Italian grapes like Sangiovese, and French favorites Syrah and Grenache, Syrah, Mourvèdre blend in Arrow Rim Red. Juliaetta’s restaurant allows visitors to try wines paired with dishes representative of the region.
Colter’s Creek prides itself on sustainability in vineyard, water and waste management as well as in the tasting room environments themselves.
2. Clearwater Canyon Caves
Coco Umiker is the bubbling Winemaker of Clearwater Canyon and her enthusiasm is infectious. Holder of a doctorate in wine microbiology, she creates, with a vineyard manager and a pedologist, wines with little interference and long-term.
As of 2016, the Clearwater Canyon Tasting Room has been located on the Idaho Century Family Farm in the Lewiston Orchards. The room has a warm and cozy feel and is a far cry from the four barrels it made in a 2004-2007 storage room.
The energy deployed here is worth the detour and the wines are solid and well made, even creative. Certainly a priority stop to be made in the valley for the pleasure, the frivolity and the history of this solid cellar.
3. Basalt caves
One of the Lewis-Clark Valley’s early leaders since 2003, and renowned since the winery’s 2004 Merlot, won a double gold medal in the Tri-Cities Wine Competition. It sits on the Washington state side of the Lewis-Clark Valley and sources its grapes from vineyards in the state’s top growing areas. One of the region’s early pioneers, Basalt Cellars entered into long-term contracts with well-known wineries like Bacchus, Weinbau and Willard to ensure quality wines as the winery became known.
Basalt sees itself as a maker of ultra-premium wines and those that it believes will age well. This means that the grape sources and the winemaking must be extraordinary, with only the best techniques and entirely French barrels for an aging of 18 to 30 months.
The French grape varieties focus on basalt and grapes of Bordeaux origin like Cabernet Franc, Merlot and Malbec are excellent, as are Bordeaux blends. Sauvignon blanc sells quickly as does Viognier. From the Rhône region, try the Syrah and several GSM (Grenache, Syrah and Mourvèdre) which have many fans. A cool tasting room with very knowledgeable representatives makes a basalt tour of the Lewis-Clark Valley desirable.
4. Vine 46
The Idaho Winery of the Year in 2021 says a lot about this unpretentious producer. In a Lewiston storefront, meet the winemakers / owners of Vine 46 and taste a range of interesting and affordable wines that express grapes that grow well in the region.
Carmenere, tempranillo, and GMT (blend of Grenache, Mourvèdre, and Tempranillo) are something new to most wine drinkers and offer spicy red fruit flavors – a perfect addition to your summer grilling. On the white side, sauvignon blanc, pinot gris and rosé ensure that there is something for everyone. I have found the reds to age well and look for a lot of good things in the future of Vine 46. The charming Lewiston area around Vine 46 is an added bonus.
5. Lindsay Creek Wineries
Lindsay Creek is a large, fun and vibrant winery that makes tasting not only delicious but entertaining. Live music, event spaces, and plenty of activities mean a visit here is never boring. And the wines are fantastic.
Fourth-generation grain farmers and brothers Art and Doug Mcintosh have not forgotten their roots. In fact, you can see grain fields surrounding the cellar and small batches of grains like oats and wheat are sold in the retail store, which is another big reason for bakers and home cooks to visit. . The brothers and their wives love to travel to wine regions, and in 2007 decided to try and maximize the pale, lush soils left by the Missoula floods centuries ago in wine grape crops, starting with what they call “only 150 sticks”.
The return to the school of oenology and viticulture has borne fruit for the brothers and their Bordeaux and Rhône grape varieties. Cabernet sauvignon, merlot and malbec make up the majority of the reds with a rosé and a riesling. All of the wines are incredibly affordable ($ 16 riesling!), So whip up Lindsay Creek at the end of a fun tasting day and listen to music while watching the sun descend over the palouse.
6. Jovinea cellars
The couple behind Jovinea, Michael and Lisa Grigg, moved to Lewis-Clark Valley with the intention of building a winery and, of course, making wine. It will be 8 years before they go out and now source fruit from reputable vineyards in Idaho and Washington State while planting their estate’s vineyard near the production facility they are they built in Lenore, Idaho.
Hoping that it won’t take another 8 years of starts and stops, triumphs and adversity, to bring the vineyard online, Jovinea opened a tasting room in downtown Lewiston, which has grown into a small center of so-called urban vineyards. In Lewiston, having lunch at a small restaurant and tasting wines from the handful of local wineries with tasting rooms in town is a perfect way to spend a day in the area. Jovinea makes some pretty rare varieties so this is a good place to try your first Touriga Nacional, Tinta Cao, Montepulciano, Dolcetto and Roussanne, grapes native to Italy and Portugal.
7. Vineyards of the Rivaura estate
The family behind Rivaura has a long history of farming along the banks of the Clearwater River in the Lewis-Clark Valley, and the last generation dove into winemaking under the name Rivaura, which means ‘river’.
Ron Hewett, Sr., along with his sons Ron, Jr. and Reece Hewett, planted grape varieties from the Rhône and Bordeaux and now produce Viognier, Syrah, Grenache, Cabernet Sauvignon and Ultra Premium Merlot. The latest generation of Hewett’s, Lance and Vince Hewett, returned to the family business after a stint in the workforce.
The Rivaura tasting room is located on the vineyards near Juliaetta, Idaho, with stunning views of rolling vineyards.
After getting to know Lewis-Clark Valley, head south to the urban vineyards of Boise and the Snake River Valley AVA around the Caldwell area.