Idaho is just being discovered as a center of wine growing, but already the fairly new Lewis-Clark Valley American Viticultural Area (AVA) has been highly praised by the wine press. This 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 weather that allows a slow ripening season, adequate water, and many sunny days.
Several wineries have been singled out for 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 border between Washington and Idaho at the base of Idaho’s agricultural palouses (land) and Washington’s high desert. Here they grow Bordeaux and Rhone varietals.
Lewiston, Idaho, and Clarkston, Washington, face each other across the Snake River and a jet boat up Hell’s Canyon is a must when visiting. These industrial towns are fairly straightforward and lodging is your typical chain hotels like Hampton Inn and Best Western, but there are quaint river lodges like Boggan’s Oasis and the Clearwater River Casino & Lodge.
A worthy side trip when visiting the Lewis-Clark Valley is about 45 minutes away to the town of Moscow, Idaho. Pronounced “Moss-coe,” this historical small town is known as the site of the University of Idaho and a farmer’s market that can attract over 100,000 visitors on weekends. Elevated dining, great wines and culture abound in this sophisticated hamlet. I was a guest of the region right before the pandemic and cannot wait to get back to the hospitality and rich dimensions of the State of Idaho.
1. Colter’s Creek Winery
Idaho’s 2019 Winery of the Year makes wine from only Lewis-Clark Valley and Snake River Valley AVAs fruit, which means it stays hyper-local in Idaho. The good thing is that you can try Colter’s Creek both at its hip tasting room in Moscow and at its tasting room and restaurant in the town of Juliaetta, Idaho. It also has vineyards and a winery where a tour and tasting may be arranged.
In 2007, early in the recognition of Idaho wines, Colter’s Creek owners Mike Pearson and Melissa Sanborn combined their chemistry and engineering backgrounds with a love of wine and the earth and found an abandoned vineyard in Juliaetta nestled between the Potlatch and Clearwater rivers. They named the winery after an early settler named John Colter and today produce a variety of wines that truly encompass the gambit of taste and style.
Both a chardonnay and chardonnay-viognier are in the lineup along with a variety of rieslings, a perfect food-pairing wine experiencing a renaissance in popularity. Red and white blends are good for everyday drinking, or try Spanish grape varieties like tempranillo and the rocinante blend, Italian grapes like Sangiovese, and French favorites syrah and the grenache, syrah, Mourvedre blend in Arrow Rim Red. The restaurant in Juliaetta allows visitors to try wines paired with foods reflective 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 Cellars
Coco Umiker is the ebullient winemaker at Clearwater Canyon and her enthusiasm is infectious. With a doctorate degree in wine microbiology, she and a vineyard manager and soil scientist create wines with little interference that are long on flavor.
Since 2016, Clearwater Canyon’s tasting room has been on the family’s Idaho Century Farm in the Lewiston orchards. The room features a cozy and comfortable ambiance and is a far cry from the four barrels it crafted in a storage room from 2004-2007.
The energy exhibited here is worth a visit and the wines are solid and well made, even creative. Definitely a priority stop to make in the valley for the fun, frivolity, and history of this solid winery.
3. Basalt Cellars
One of the original leaders in the Lewis-Clark Valley since 2003, and renowned since the winery’s 2004 merlot won double gold medals in the Tri-Cities Wine Competition. It sits on the Washington state side of the Lewis-Clark Valley and sources grapes from vineyards in the best growing regions of the state. An early pioneer in the region, Basalt Cellars secured long-term contracts with well-known vineyards like Bacchus, Weinbau, and Willard to assure quality wines as the winery became known.
Basalt considers itself a maker of ultra-premium wines and ones it feels will age well. This means the grape sources and winemaking have to be extraordinary, with only the finest techniques and all-French barrels for 18-30 months aging.
French varieties take center focus at Basalt and Bordeaux-origin grapes like cabernet Franc, merlot, and malbec are excellent as are the Bordeaux blends. Sauvignon blanc sells out quickly as does the viognier. From the Rhone region, try syrah and several GSMs (grenache, syrah, and mourvedre) which have deep fan followings. A cool tasting room with very knowledgeable representatives makes a Basalt visit desirable in the Lewis-Clark Valley.
4. Vine 46
The Idaho Winery of the Year in 2021 says a lot about this unassuming producer. In a storefront in Lewiston, hang with the winemaker/owners of Vine 46 and enjoy an array of interesting and affordable wines that express grapes that grow well in the region.
Carmenere, tempranillo and GMT (grenache, mourvedre and tempranillo blend) are something new for most wine drinkers and deliver spicy red fruit flavors — a perfect complement to your summer grilling. On the white side, sauvignon blanc, pinot gris, and rosé assure there is something for everyone. I have found that reds age well and look for a lot of great things in the future from Vine 46. The charming area of Lewiston around Vine 46 is an added bonus.
5. Lindsay Creek Vineyards
Lindsay Creek is an expansive, fun and happening winery that makes tasting not only delicious but entertaining. Live music, event areas and plenty to do means a visit here is never boring. And the wines are fantastic.
Fourth generation grain farmers and brothers Art and Doug Mcintosh haven’t forgotten their roots. In fact, you can see grain fields surrounding the winery and small lot grains like oats and wheat are sold in the retail shop, which is another huge reason for home bakers and cooks to visit. The brothers and their wives love traveling to wine regions and in 2007, decided to try maximizing the lush palouse soils left from centuries-ago Missoula floods into wine grape crops, starting with what they call “a mere 150 sticks.”
Heading back to school for winemaking and viticulture has paid off for the brothers and their Bordeaux and Rhone varieties. Cabernet sauvignon, merlot and malbec make up the majority of reds along with a rosé and riesling. All of the wines are incredibly affordable ($16 riesling!) so make Lindsay Creek at the end of a fun day of tasting and listen to some music while watching the sun lower 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 would be 8 years until they got into operation and now source fruit from esteemed vineyards in both Idaho and Washington while planting their estate vineyard near the production facility they built in Lenore, Idaho.
Hoping it doesn’t take another 8 years of starts and stops, triumphs and adversity, to get the vineyard online, Jovinea has opened a tasting room in downtown Lewiston, which has become a small center of so-called urban wineries. In Lewiston, lunching in a small restaurant and sampling 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 fairly rare varieties so a good place to try your first Touriga Nacional, Tinta Cao, Montepulciano, Dolcetto, and Roussanne, grapes originating in Italy and Portugal is here.
7. Rivaura Estate Vineyards
The family behind Rivaura has a long history of farming along the banks of the Clearwater River in Lewis-Clark Valley and the latest generation has embarked on winemaking under the name Rivaura, meaning “river.”
Ron Hewett, Sr., along with sons Ron, Jr., and Reece Hewett, planted Rhone and Bordeaux varietals and now make ultra premium viognier, syrah, grenache, cabernet sauvignon, and merlot. The latest generation of Hewetts, Lance and Vince Hewett, returned to the family business after a time in the working world.
Rivaura’s tasting room is located on the vineyards near Juliaetta, Idaho, with sweeping views of rolling vineyards.