Idaho: The next great frontier of pacific northwest wine
SEATTLE — You love wine, you love good people and you love incredible scenery with great food options. Visit Idaho. You heard me, go to Idaho. At what may seem to fly in the face of stereotyping the state for its famous potatoes, you need to check out its blossoming wine culture.
What we’re starting to see, reminds me of the early Walla Walla scene in Washington, where you had a few key wineries popping up and then it slowly built on top of that.
It’s a rather amazing time to be a wine lover. At no time in history have we ever had more quality wines available to us from all over the world.
When it comes to Northwest wines, Washington State and Oregon have squarely put themselves on the wine map, however, Idaho is right behind them.
If you think about it, it makes sense that a neighboring state which shares some AVAs with Washington should be in the spotlight. In fact, Idaho consumes more wine per capita than any other state.
Two main regions:
Idaho is essentially split up into two wine regions with a vast distance between them. And that is the greater Coeur d’Alene area up in the north and the greater Boise area in the south.
The first vineyards planted anywhere in the Northwest were in the Clear Water Valley of Northern Idaho in the 1860s.
So it has a longer history than Washington or Oregon in that regard and once you start diving into Idaho wines, you’ll soon discover their complexity and value.
Something to bear in mind when thinking of Idaho as a wine producing region is that most of its vineyards are closer to Boise than they are to Northern Idaho. There’s no quick access between northern and southern Idaho, so there are still many wineries that still pull fruit from Washington State, a much closer drive.
The city of Coeur d’Alene has so many attractions going for it that it is clearly one of the top vacation and getaway spots in the entire state. With its massive lake for all kinds of water sports and nearby snow activities in the winter, there’s really never a bad time to go.
Additionally, the town of Lewiston has really geared up to embrace the wine culture by not only being home to some great wineries but also with its share of vineyards in the Lewis-Clark AVA that it shares with Washington. It has an up and coming food scene, easy access to the Clear Water and Snake Rivers and is the gateway to Hells Canyon.
A few notable wineries stand out are:
Clearwater Canyon Cellars: www.clearwatercanyoncellars.com
The husband and wife team of Karl and Coco Umiker own this winery and are churning out some of the most award winning wines of the area. They mostly use fruit from their AVA, however, do pull some fruit from Washington State’s Columbia Valley for certain wines.
A couple of their notable selections are:
16 Century Farm Cabernet Franc – This delicious wine comes from the Lewis-Clark AVA and does contain 5% Cabernet Sauvignon and 2% Merlot to help round-out the palate a bit more. The up-front fruit is quickly augmented by the robust tannin structure and undertones of tanned leather, raspberries, vanilla, and cedar.
2016 Merlot: A classic, right-bank style Merlot that exhibits the complexity we love in a well-made wine. The Lewis-Clark AVA fruit used presents beautiful flavors of mocha, black cherries, marionberry and some stellar minerality.
Lindsay Creek Winery: www.lcvineyards.com
Started by fourth generation wheat farmers, Lindsay Creek Winery has become quite the destination for those seeking tasty vino and entertainment. Their large facility regularly has live music and events – making it a fun stop for many locals. Their current line-up of wines on their website are all sourced from Washington State.
Two wines to try:
2014 Cabernet Sauvignon: Black currants, dried cherries, fig, cedar and a hint of herbaceousness abound. Nice mouthfeel from start to its lingering finish make it a very easy drinking Cab.
2015 Tempranillo: Using grapes from Elephant Mountain in the Yakima Valley, this full-bodied Tempranillo begs to be paired with pizza, meatballs or a charcuterie platter. Notes of strawberries, tobacco, vanilla, and plums are augmented by firm tannins and good acidity.
Colter’s Creek Winery: www.colterscreek.com
This winery and vineyard was purchased and resurrected by Mike Pearson and Melissa Sanborn and is just a quick 20-minute drive from Lewiston. With vineyards along the Clearwater and Potlatch rivers, this winery produces all of its wine with its own fruit.
They do not buy bulk wine and slap a label on it. Both Mike and Melissa are passionate about producing local wines that are reflective of the terroir of the vineyards.
2015 Arrow Rim Red: A Grenache, Mourvedre, Syrah blend with notes of earth, spice, black plum, peppercorn, cherry, and tobacco. A well-balanced blend that does an admirable job of giving some nice fruit-forward action along with a smooth mouthfeel and back-end transition on the palate.
2017 Juliaetta Blanco: This white blends Chardonnay with some viognier that gives you a more rounded mouthfeel. You’ll find flavors of grapefruit, star fruit and hints of kiwi and blood orange. A very dry white that goes extremely well all year long with a variety of seafood and cheese plates.
Vine 46: www.vine46.com
Yet another Lewiston winery that sources fruit from the Columbia Valley. There are numerous reason to do so. For starters, Northern Idaho simply doesn’t have enough volume of fruit grown to go around. Secondly, is logistics. As I pointed out earlier in this article, it’s logistically easier to source grapes from Columbia Valley from Lewiston. There is also a lot more fruit available, currently, in Washington.
Two wines to try:
2016 Syrah: Notes of spiced leather glove, jerky, bramble, and plums. It has lush gamines to it that is indicative of a Syrah from Washington. Good tannin structure, acidity, and a lingering finish make this a go-to syrah for anything from a pot-roast to elk backstrap.
2015 Petit Verdot: One of the often forgotten varietals of Bordeaux, this grape has done very well as a single varietal bottling in Washington State for years. It’s inky with dark fruit like blackberries, marionberries, and plums. Lace on hints of leather, spice and dark chocolate and you have the underpinnings for a very tasty wine.
Pend d’Oreille Winery: www.powine.com
Located about 90 minutes north of Coeur d’Alene, in Sandpoint, is the Pend d’Oreille Winery. They started in 1995 by Steve and Julie Meyer and was later purchased by Jim Bopp and Kylie Presta. They produce an entire range of red and white wines which range from bone dry to a sweet riesling.
Two wines to try:
2015 Pinot Gris: A food-friendly, dry white wine with gorgeous overtones of grapefruit, lychee, meyer lemon and river rock. Good mouthfeel across the entire palate with a lingering note of citrus that refreshes your palate with each sip.
2014 Cabernet Sauvignon: Notes of toffee, baking spices, cherry compote and dark chocolate combine with a solid tannin structure to allow this wine to be a dead-ringer for steak, burgers, or lamb chops.
What you’ll experience in Northern Idaho is great people, pouring incredibly tasty wines. A region that is garnering more acclaim while attracting great food. All wrapped in an environment that is beautiful and that offers a nearly endless bounty of fun outdoor adventures.
As much as it’s been amazing to watch the Washington and Oregon wines garner world attention, you can certainly expect to see more of that attention spreading into Idaho as well.