Karl and Coco Umiker stand in their Lewiston, Idaho, vineyard holding bottles of Clearwater Canyon Cellars 2013 Selway Red Wine, which won a double gold at the 2016 San Francisco International Wine Competition. (Photo by Eric Degerman/Great Northwest Wine)

Idaho couples bring wine back to Lewis-Clark Valley

Idaho’s history of commercial wine production began in 1875 along the Clearwater River near Lewiston. Thanks to the skilled vintners at Clearwater Canyon Cellars and Colter’s Creek Winery, the region is back on the wine map.

Prohibition cast a pall over Idaho earlier and far longer than anywhere else in the Northwest as the entire state went dry Jan. 1, 1916 — four years before the 18th Amendment took effect. A century later, on April 20, 2016, Clearwater Canyon and Colter’s Creek toasted the success of their petition to the federal government, which established the Lewis-Clark Valley American Viticultural Area.

Being able to use an AVA on a label helps wineries market their wines by giving the consumer a better sense of where those grapes were grown. It also will allow Karl and Coco Umiker at Clearwater Canyon in Lewiston and Mike Pearson and Melissa Sanborn of Colter’s Creek in Juliaetta to better explain to visitors why this agriculturally rich region could have enjoyed a thriving wine industry older than anywhere else in the Pacific Northwest.

At about 1,200 feet above sea level, the Lewis-Clark Valley is the lowest-elevation growing region in Idaho and a “banana belt” because its winter temperatures tend to be warmer than the Columbia Valley. In terms of growing degree days, it compares with the Walla Walla Valley.

“It’s interesting that most people tend to think that it’s cooler here,” Pearson says, pointing to successful blocks of cabernet sauvignon, grenache and zinfandel as examples.

In each case, it’s the wife from Washington State University who makes the wine with the husband growing the grapes, and estate fruit contributes more to their programs each year.

At Clearwater Canyon, the Umikers are committed to producing wines with fruit off their century farm in the Lewiston Orchards and other vineyards in the Lewis-Clark Valley.

Colter’s Creek is in Juliaetta, 15 minutes northwest of Lewiston, along the banks of the Potlatch River. The original 13 acres were planted in the 1970s but neglected until Sanborn and Pearson spotted those vines beyond a “for sale” sign during a leisurely drive in 2007. They received encouragement from the Umikers, friends from their days in WSU, and launched Colter’s Creek a year later.

The environmental approach Pearson takes with his vineyards, which now stand at 35 acres, is intense. And yet, he still finds time to head up the kitchen for Colter’s Creek tasting room in tiny Juliaetta.

“It’s just a fun, uplifting place to go on a Friday or Saturday night that didn’t exist in this valley community, and people come from Moscow-Pullman, Lewiston-Clarkston to this quaint little town,” Pearson says.

Clearwater Canyon Cellars 2014 Renaissance Red, Lewis-Clark Valley, $23: Cabernet franc leads this proprietary blend from a vintage that marked the 10th anniversary of the Umikers’ brand. The nose of black currant, cola, nutmeg and herbal notes leads to flavors of cassis and raspberry along with a touch of oregano. Strawberry seed tannins and juicy acidity make ideal with lean meats and tomato-based dishes. (14.7% alc.)

Clearwater Canyon Cellars 2013 Selway Red Wine, Lewis-Clark Valley, $38: A Merlot-based mix named for a tributary of the Clearwater River, it draws in some syrah, which has helped it bring home a number of gold medals this year. Aromas of dark plum, cherry cola, Milk Duds and horehound are mirrored on the tongue. The plummy midpalate from the Syrah is met by suave tannins, red currant acidity and a chocolaty finish that’s backed by allspice and vanilla. Enjoy with a hearty stew. (14.7% alc.)

Colter’s Creek Winery 2013 Arrow Rim Red, Idaho, $30: Rhône-style blends of grenache, syrah and mourvèdre (GSM) are rising in popularity in the Northwest, and this ranks among the best. Its theme of blackberry, plums, pomegranate and black pepper swirls among smooth tannins. (14.6% alc.)

Colter’s Creek Winery 2014 Koos Koos Kia Red, Lewis-Clark Valley, $24: This classic blend of Bordeaux varieties carries aromas of sweet cherries, Hostess Berry pie, sweet cherries and ginger spice, backed by a delicious structure of black currant and blueberry. Well-managed tannins allow for a finish of cherry juice and warm toffee. (14% alc.)

Talk to us

More in Life

Lemon Mascarpone Layer Cake, photographed Wednesday, Aug. 26, 2020. (Hillary Levin/St. Louis Post-Dispatch/TNS)
These 4 recipes will prevent the heartbreak of blah desserts

Each of them is decadent and well worth the calories, and they’ll all become your new favorites.

Snohomish Historical Preservation Commission member Fred Cruger with his dog, Duffy, in Arlington along one of the history walk sections at Centennial Trail. The event will be up through September. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)
Discover local history as you walk the Centennial Trail

Take a smartphone quiz as you stroll the trail. If you answer every question correctly, you’ll win a prize.

Rosemary Fish Fillets with Lemon Garlic Pasta. (Linda Gassenheimer/TNS)
Lemon, garlic sauce, rosemary make flavorful fish dish

This recipe calls for mahi-mahi, but any type of firm white fish will work — snapper, tilapia or cod.

A course of traffic-cone slaloms is one way to help teens improve their driving skills. (Jennifer Bardsley)
Her teen is putting pedal to the metal for accident avoidance

She signed the new driver up for an advanced collision avoidance class taught by Defensive Driving School.

Seattle filmmaker ‘would have been honored’ by being at Emmys

Lynn Shelton, who died in May, was nominated for directing and producing Hulu’s “Little Fires Everywhere.”

Berlin’s Brandenburg Gate, now a symbol of peace and reunification. (Rick Steves’ Europe)
Rick Steves: Today’s Berlin is freedom’s victory dance

Checkpoint Charlie is now a capitalist sideshow. You’ll be sold fake bits of the wall, WWII gas masks and DDR medals.

We need to make suicide prevention a public health priority

The pandemic has impacted our mental well-being. Be on the lookout for suicidal behavior.

2020 Jeep Renegade adds more features for lower trim levels

All models have a new telematics unit, and a 9-speaker Kenwood premium audio system is available.

Blue leadwort is a low-growing perennial that acts as a colorful groundcover for the garden. (Getty Images)
A few perennial gems to help brighten up the fall garden

He can’t help but find new treasures to plant each time he visits the nursery. Here are four he added recently.

Most Read