Lewiston-Clarkston's New Wine District

October 22, 2019

Lewiston Clarkston Wine District

In 1864, wine grape growing started in the Lewiston and Clarkston area, but it wasn't until 2016 that the Lewis-Clark AVA (American Viticultural Area) was established.

Officially named the Lewiston-Clarkston Idaho-Washington Metropolitan area, the city of Lewiston and its little brother Clarkston are separated by the Snake River, the state line between Washington state and Idaho, and a big blue bridge. The area is also a rapidly growing wine region.

Lindsay Creek Vineyards

In 1872, the area wineries were winning gold awards in national wine competitions. Then came Prohibition, which crushed the wine industry across the country. Slowly beginning in the 1970’s it wasn’t until 15 years ago that the area saw a true revival for growing wine grapes. And the families of Art and Doug McIntosh were a big part of that. The McIntosh brothers are 4th generation farmers, with their kids making the 5th. The McIntosh roots go back to 1900, growing mainly wheat and oats. In 2007, they added wine grapes, and soon after opened Lindsay Creek Vineyards. However, wheat is still an important crop for the, and their company Harvest Ridge Organics proves their expertise.

The farm is located in one of the few areas in the world that can grow hard red spring wheat. Their Harvest Ridge Organic, non-GMO, wheat flour is stone-ground, high in protein, and used locally in restaurants for bread, cookies, and pizza. You can order their wheat and oats from their website or find it in local farmers' markets and co-ops. Their website also features several recipes. Check out the recipe for Chocolate Oatmeal Protein Cookies.

These cookies would pair well with the Lindsay Creek Cabernet Sauvignon, which has a nose of black cherry, and tastes of layered and well-balanced mocha, mineral, and blackberry. We also tasted the award-winning 2014 Merlot, which was named the Best of Class in the Merlot category at the 2017 San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition. This Merlot has a lovely nose of cherry and vanilla, with just a hint of mocha. The soft tannins and long finish would pair well with your favorite steak.

So how did wheat farmers become award-winning winemakers? What started as a hobby and love of wine, the brothers became so serious about winemaking that they both headed off to Washington State University for certificates in Enology (Art) and Viticulture (Doug). Their effort certainly shows up in their wine! The tasting experience we enjoyed was greatly enhanced by the stunning views from their tasting room!

Basalt Cellars

Our next stop was over the river to Clarkston. Basalt Cellars was founded in 2003 by partners Rick Wasem and Lynn DeVleming, who quickly began producing award-winning wines. Rick’s background as a pharmacist comes in handy as a winemaker. He also has a family history in farming, going back to his grandfather’s vineyard in 1910. Family history includes the story of Rick’s grandfather, who was a follower of the Christian Science religion, was precluded from making wine, so his grapes were used for juice. However, strangely enough, winemaking equipment was found in his barn. Today, Basalt Cellars sources their grapes from other vineyards in the Lewis-Clark Valley AVA, as well as their vineyard, which sits above the valley. The elevation minimizes frost, and the soil is made up of loess (wind-blown silt) over a bed of gravel left by the Lake Bonneville Floods and Missoula Floods. All this beneficial soil, weather, and location come together in the 2014 Cabernet Franc. This medium-bodied wine has taste notes of black fruit and sour cherry balanced wonderfully with a high level of both tannins and acidity. The zesty flavors of chili and licorice also come through, making this a well-layered and delicious wine.

Mark Wysling from Parejas Cellars

Parejas Cellars

Next up was Parejas Cellars Walking into the very distinctive tasting room of Parejas Cellars made me think of a cross between an old roadside diner and a grandmother’s living room. Winemaker Mark Wysling started making wine as a hobby in 1987. Mark’s hobby quickly grew into a career and a labor of love. Along with making excellent wines, he is a part-time instructor in the Vineyard and Winery Technology Program at Yakima Valley College. He sources his grapes from the Yakima Valley, with a focus on Spanish varietals such as Tempranillo, Garnacha, Monastrell, Albarino, and Garnacha Blanca. For some of his wine, he uses the unique process of storing and settling the wine in an amphora, which is a terracotta vase of ancient design.The porous nature of clay ages the wine in a process that provides an exchange of oxygen, which is very different than what happens in the more common stainless-steel tank. This also affects the mineral and pH levels in the wine. We were able to taste two versions of the Albarino – one aged in an amphora, the other in a more standard tank. There was a distinct difference! Albarino is a white wine grape found mainly in Portugal and Spain. Very little is grown in the United States, but it is definitely catching on. The Albarino has a delightful aroma of honeydew melons and citrus, which lead into fresh taste notes of grapefruit, nectarine, and earthy tinges of wet gravel. Not surprising, it won a bronze medal in the 2019 San Francisco  Chronicle competition. We also enjoyed Cinsault, a light red produced under the Wysling label. Reminiscent of Pinot Noir, this wine has wonderful aromas and flavors of red fruit and spices. Also, under the Wysling label, and equally enjoyable was the Souers des Vignes (Sisters of the Vine), which is a blend of 37% Grenache Blanc, 32% Marsanne, and 31% Roussanne. Mark calls this one a “white wine for red wine lovers” due to it’s elegant and lush flavors.

Karl and Coco Umiker

Clearwater Canyon Cellars

We left Parejas and made our way to Clearwater Canyon Cellars where we met with winemaker extraordinaire Coco Umiker. Coco and her husband Karl combine their vast science educations to understand and perfect the art and science of winemaking. Karl has an undergraduate degree in chemistry and a master's in Soils. Coco earned three undergraduate degrees in microbiology, molecular biology, and biochemistry, and then went on for a Ph.D. in Food Science. These two are a power couple who bring to life the science of winemaking! And the art comes from the feisty dynamo Coco. As an 11-year-old, she survived cancer and vicious schoolyard bullying, both of which forced her to take on challenges and truly understand her strength. Having come through all of that, she is comfortable with taking the risks that are required to be a gifted winemaker.

Clearwater Canyon Cellars wine barrel

Coco’s family has been in farming for over a century. Her grandfather had a wheat farm, part of which he sold, at a discount, to the city of Lewiston for a park. Today, Coco makes the wine and Karl manages the vineyard. The grapes come mainly (75%) from the Lewiston/Clarkston AVA, with 50% from their vineyards. We enjoyed tasting the results. The newly released 2018 Lolo is a mega-blend of Pinot Gris (37%) Chardonnay (18%) Muscat Ottonel (13%) Muscat Canelli (14%), Gewürztraminer (12%) Orange Muscat (6%). It is a dry wine, with just a touch of sweetness due to the Gewürztraminer. It is light and delicate – perfect for a summer day. We also enjoyed the Renaissance Red, which is a blend of Malbec (27%), Cabernet Franc (27%), Syrah (26%), Cabernet Sauvignon (13%), and Merlot (7%). The wine has a medium body and balanced acidity, with taste notes of chocolate and sandalwood. The Umiker’s are still celebrating the Double Gold this wine brought home from the 2019 Cascadia International Wine Competition.

Vine 46

Vine 46

We left the farm country and headed into town to find Vine 46 on Main Street in Lewiston. Best friends since 5th grade, Jeff Ebel and Mike Yates teamed up 6 years ago, bringing their skills as a builder (Jeff) and chemistry (Mike) to create Vine 46, which has already brought in several awards. Jeff is currently building a new winery and tasting room across the street from their current location. The expected opening is later in 2020. Meanwhile, – delicious wines are ready to be tasted!  The 2015 Sangiovese (100%) has a smooth balance with lingering tastes of red fruit and roasted tomato. Even though 2015 was a hot year, the Sangiovese won the Silver Medals in the 2017 Idaho Wine Competition & 2018 Northwest Wine Summit and the Bronze Medal in the 2018 Cascadia Wine Competition. This wine would be delicious with any rich meats or hearty tomato-based dishes such as lasagna or pizza.

Another of their award-winning wines is the 2015 Latitude. The honors include the Double gold/Best of Class in the 2018 Cascadia Wine Competition, and Silver Medals in the  2017 Idaho Wine Competition, and the 2018 Northwest Wine Summit. Its complexity comes for a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon (35%), Tempranillo  (23%), Malbec (23%), Syrah (12%), Sangiovese (4%), and Petit  Verdot (3%). With tastes of dark fruits and a bit of smoke, it is clear why this wine has won so many accolades.

Colter’s Creek Vineyard and Winery

This was a day that would take us from farmland to city center to the tiny town of Juliaetta, nestled in the nearby mountains. Colter’s Creek Vineyard and Winery is owned and managed by the husband and wife team of Melissa Sanborn and Mike Pearson. Melissa is the winemaker and has a degree in wine chemistry for WSU. Mike, with his engineering degree, manages the vineyards. The warm and cozy tasting room and restaurant in Juliaetta (they also have a tasting room in Moscow Idaho) is housed in a historic brick building.

About 50 percent of the grapes that go into their wines are from their vineyard, while the other half comes from area vineyards in Idaho and Washington. A total of 17 of their wines have won gold medals and high awards in various Northwest competitions.

 Artisan Burger

After a long day of wine tasting, we were mainly drawn to the menu for dinner. Between the two of us, we much enjoyed the Lamb Tacos with sautéed bell pepper, pickled red onion, queso fresco, sweet and sour jalapenos, served in corn tortillas. Also, delicious – the Artisan Burger, which is a 1/2 lb. house-ground beef chuck on a homemade brioche bun, tomato jam, fresh arugula, quick-pickled cucumber, roasted garlic aioli, and Havarti cheese. Along with the entrees, we started the meal with a delicious Beet Salad with honey vinaigrette dressing, arugula, and pecans.

Beet Salad with honey vinaigrette, parmesan, arugula and pecans

And for dessert, we enjoyed some house-made vanilla ice cream topped with (also house-made) chocolate Syrah sauce. Yum!

Given our food selections, we chose the 2016 Tempranillo, which includes just a splash of Graciano, also a Spanish grape grown primary in Rioja. The summer of 2016 had a long stretch of very high temperatures – which resulted in grapes that ripened quickly. It has flavors of cherry, dried fig, and just a touch of dill. It paired well with our dinners, and we think it would do equally as well with seafood.

Hells Gate

Hells Gate & Hells Canyon

If you want a break from all that eating and drinking – head out to Hells Gate State Park. There you will find hiking trails that range from easy to moderate to difficult. The park, just a short ride from Clarkston or Lewiston, is located on what was once the river bottom left over from the great ice age floods about 15,000 years ago. Even older are the basalt columns that date back 14 million years located at the south end of the park.  

Hells Canyon

A less strenuous way to view the incredible geology of the area is Beamers Hells Canyon Tour. We took a 2-hour tour, which started on the Clearwater River in Clarkston and took us to the confluence with the Snake River. Continuing the Snake passed basalt lava outcroppings that were so intricate they almost looked man-made. At the turn-around point, we pulled over to the bank to see petroglyphs, created by the long-ago ancestors of the Nez Perce people. Between the drawings of animals, humans, and abstract designs, it is fun to imagine what story from the past they are here to tell.

The area surrounding Lewiston and Clarkson is full of history – both geological and human. For the wine industry here, the last few decades will be marked as an essential turning point. As stated before, wine grapes were a major crop in the late 1800s. But thanks to Idaho getting a jump on Prohibition ten years before the establishment of the 18th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, the vines were replaced by fruit trees, and the fledgling wine industry disappeared. The re-emergence of wine production in the area began in 1972 when meteorologist Robert Wing planted a very small trial vineyard on the Lewiston side of the river. The trial was successful, and the wine began to flow. On May 20, 2016, due in large part to the hard work and determination of Coco Umiker, the Lewis-Clark Valley AVA was established by the Federal Government. When you taste the wine from this area – you will be thankful for their efforts and be ready for a return visit.

Editorial disclosure: lodging and food were generously provided.