A tour through Idaho and Washington’s finest
By Abigail Thorpe
You don’t have to travel far for a summer wine tour—Idaho and Washington continue to make a name for themselves in the world of wine, and there’s no better time to visit then when it’s warm and the days are long.
Wineries in the Columbia Valley AVA—which includes well-known growing regions of Walla Walla, Horse Heaven Hills, Yakima Valley, Wahluke Slope and Rattlesnake Hills—have tripled over the last decade and now cover more than 11 million acres. Extending into Idaho is one of the newest AVAs in Washington and Idaho—the Lewis-Clark Valley—which spans the border between Washington and Idaho, with the Snake and Clearwater Rivers running through. Known as the “banana belt,” this region was once a large wine growing region in the late 1800s and early 1900s, until prohibition shut down production. Now the wineries are back and, dare we say ... better than ever?
Warm temperatures, well-draining, nutrient-rich soil and cooler nights in the higher elevations make for wines that are lush, fruit forward and top quality. Take a weekend drive through the warm, lush valleys of Washington and Idaho and sample Cabernet Sauvignons, Merlots, Petit Verdots, Chardonnays, Rieslings, Syrahs and more to your heart’s content.
Clearwater Canyon Cellars was named the 2020 Pacific Northwest Winery of the Year by Wine Press Northwest. Coco and Karl Umiker own and run the vineyards throughout Idaho and Washington, and you can stop in their tasting room and winery on their Idaho Century Farm in the Lewiston Orchards, where Coco first rented land from her grandfather when she was 21 to start a vineyard. From the first vintage of four barrels to a now wide variety of whites and reds you can find throughout Idaho and Washington, Clearwater Canyon is a must visit in the Lewis-Clark Valley.
While you’re in Lewiston, make a stop at Vine 46. A boutique winery focused on delivering interesting and exceptional wines, their mission is simple: “Vine 46 delivers an intriguing wine that invokes conversation and creates opportunities for people to share in the appreciation of a good wine.” Created by a small group of diverse individuals, the winery offers an intriguing collection of reds, and a small sampling of whites.
Northwest of Lewiston lies Colter’s Creek Winery. Head just past into Juliaetta, Idaho, for a visit to their tasting room and restaurant. The tasting room serves a variety of reds and whites made from their Arrow Junction Vineyard, as well as a selection of grapes from vineyards in the Sunny Slope region of Idaho and Clarkston, Washington. The winery prides itself on growing quality wines with the least environmental impact possible, and sources fresh local ingredients for its restaurant.
Head back toward the Walla Walla region of Washington to Gramercy Cellars, a renowned winery started by Manhattan-based master sommelier Greg Harrington, who tasted Washington wines, fell in love, and started his vineyard in Walla Walla, the name and label a carryover from his New York roots and Manhattan’s Gramercy Park.
Specializing in Rhone and Bordeaux blends and producing old-world style with a new-world kick, the winery utilizes minimalist winemaking techniques, and keeps it small—only producing 8,000 cases each year. Try their Columbia Valley Cabernet Sauvignon. Tastings are available Tuesday through Friday by appointment, and Saturdays.
Next up head to Seven Hills Winery. Founder Casey McClellan planted the first grapes with his father in 1982, making it one of the first vineyards in the now famous wine region of Walla Walla. They operate the only existing historic wine-making facility in Downtown Walla Walla, which offers tastings in the old woodworking mill and a rare education into the wine-making process and the growing history of the region. While you’re there, make sure to try the 2014 Seven Hills Merlot—it’s still made from the original vines planted in 1982.
Down the road, Rob Griffin and wife Deborah Barnard started Barnard Griffin in 1983 with a truckload of borrowed fruit and a rented cellar. Now their production facility in Richland boasts some of Washington’s premier wines sourced from their vineyards throughout the state. The estate features a Wine Bar & Eatery in addition to the production facility, and Deborah houses her fused-glass db Studio & Gallery there as well, with classes available to visitors. Sip on a glass of their Cabernet while you wander the estate, and if you plan in advance, schedule a fused-glass class to go along with the wine and food. You’ll feel miles away from everyday life.
Just beyond Walla Walla, located in the Red Mountain region of Columbia Valley, Kiona Winery’s panoramic views from the tasting room overlooking the vineyard almost rival the wines—almost. Started in 1975 by Jim Holmes and John Williams before Red Mountain became known as a premier grape growing region, the vineyard is in its third generation and still family owned and operated. Their mission? “Grow grapes that capture the essence of our place, and release wines of utmost character and purpose that reward the drinker every time a cork is pulled.” Diurnal temperature shifts and well-draining soil make for complex, deep reds like their Estate grown Cabernet Sauvignon and Red Bordeaux Blend Reserve.
What wine adventure will you partake in this summer?