Map courtesy of the Idaho Wine Commission

Rewind back to 1872 when the first vineyards in the Pacific Northwest were planted in the Lewis-Clark Valley. Lewiston, Idaho, rapidly became the grape and wine capital of this region until Prohibition turned out the lights for the next 80-plus years. A stone’s throw away across the Snake River, grapes played such a prominent role in the economy of Clarkston, Wash., that it was originally named Vineland.

Some might think it’s too cold to grow grapes in northern Idaho. Apart from the Lewis-Clark Valley, they might be right. The valley is located where the Clearwater River joins the Snake River, and it is the lowest elevation point in the state. This elevation combined with being surrounded by rivers generates a banana belt effect that makes the summers warmer and winters milder than the rest of Idaho. The deep river valley draws cold air off the vineyards, which are either terraced on steep hillsides and canyons, or on plateaus. This allows for a growing season long enough to allow the grapes to ripen and reduces the risk of damage from frost. As a result, the growing season and temperatures resemble the Yakima and Walla Walla valleys of Washington.

In 2009, Melissa Sanborn, owner/winemaker at Colter’s Creek, along with Coco Umiker, owner/winemaker at Clearwater Canyon, championed the effort to have the region recognized as an AVA. Clearwater planted their vineyard in 2003, and in 2007, Colter’s Creek began revitalizing a vineyard initially planted in the 1980s. Their primary motivation was to allow wineries in the region to promote being a producer of estate grown wines. Sanborn explained, “Our goal [along with Clearwater Canyon] from the beginning was to be an estate winery and you cannot label your bottles as an estate wine if you are not in an AVA.” Umiker added, “[The AVA] was a game-changer. If you are not in a designated area you’re just somewhere in Idaho.”

Fast forward to 2016. After multiple bureaucratic delays, the Lewis-Clark Valley was officially recognized as an AVA spanning across Idaho and Washington. This put the region on wine-lovers’ radar and provided credibility that the valley was a unique wine-growing region. When the AVA was approved, there were five small wineries with 80 acres of grapes planted. In six short years the AVA has grown to nine wineries plus one satellite tasting room.

The wines and wineries have been receiving increased recognition and more visitors. Umiker reminisces, “It used to be people were passing through the area on their way to somewhere else and now visitors are intentionally seeking out our wineries and coming here to taste the wines. We’re always going to be the little guys, but that doesn’t mean we can’t be awesome!”

There is an additional benefit of being the “little guy” not located near a major population center. Unlike a growing number of wine destinations in the Pacific Northwest, appointments are typically not necessary during tasting room hours, tasting rooms are not overly crowded, there’s a good chance your experience will be hosted by one of the winemakers, and tasting fees are modest and easily refundable.

While it may take time for this AVA to fully blossom, if the wineries currently producing wines from locally grown fruit are any indicator, there is enough reason to visit now and over time to see how the AVA realizes its full potential. For visitors to Walla Walla, with only a scenic 100-mile drive separating Lewiston/Clarkston and Walla Walla, planning a day trip or an overnighter will not disappoint.

Lewis-Clark AVA Tasting Experiences 


Basalt Cellars

Of the wineries in the AVA, Basalt was the first to open and is the only one located in Clarkston, Wash. Producing a selection of white and red wines from their estate vineyards since 2004, Basalt aims to make wines that will appeal to a diversity of palates. Owner/winemaker Rick Wasem has adopted a philosophy to hold back wines until they are ready to drink. From sweet Riesling to robust Cabs and soft blends, there is something for everyone. You’ll experience a warm and hospitable visit at their intimate tasting room and outdoor patio.

Tasting fee: $10, refunded with bottle purchase

Hours: Monday-Saturday, 12-5:30 p.m. or by appointment

Inset Photo by Richard Duval

Clearwater Canyon Cellars

Clearwater’s tasting room is located at their estate vineyard and winery on the family’s 100-plus year-old farm in Lewiston. The location is a relaxing setting enveloped in an end-to-end grape-to-bottle experience. Clearwater produces multiple estate grown wines including Merlot, Rosé of Syrah, and a unique Chardonnay blended with a hint of other unusual varietals.

Tasting fee: $10, refunded with bottle purchase

Hours: Tuesday-Saturday, 12-5 p.m. or by appointment

Vineyard Photo by Mike Beiser / Tasting Room photo by Kim Fetrow

Colter’s Creek

Colter’s Creek grows 17 varieties of grapes and produces wines exclusively from their estate vineyards. With tasting rooms in Juliaetta and Moscow, Idaho, expect to enjoy a laid-back experience. The Juliaetta location is also a restaurant serving delicious food from a seasonal and eclectic menu designed by chef Sarah Smith. It is a perfect destination for a lunchtime wine experience. Customize your tasting, explore flights, or buy a glass or bottle to enjoy with your meal.

Tasting fee: $10 for five tastes, refunded with $50 purchase

Juliaetta Location Hours: Thursday, 3-9 p.m.; Friday-Saturday, 12-9 p.m.; Sunday, 12-5 p.m. 


Jovinea

Jovinea established their winery in 2018 and opened a cozy tasting room in 2019 in downtown Lewiston, Idaho. They currently produce about 500 cases of wine in small lots which include a Merlot and a “Trilloma” white blend (Viognier, Riesling, Muscat Blanc) sourced from local vineyards. If available, visitors can also sample obscure Italian and Portuguese varietals. Tastings are hosted by winemakers Lisa and Mike Griggs who aim to provide “a very personalized experience that delivers joy and a sense of adventure.” Special wine and food pairing events are offered the second Sunday of each month.

Tasting fee: $10, refunded with bottle purchase

Hours: Friday-Saturday, 11 a.m.-6 p.m. or by appointment

 

Photo by Brad Stinson

Lindsay Creek

Located in a beautiful spot on the outskirts of Lewiston, Lindsay Creek offers customizable tasting flights. A menu of appetizers can be purchased to enjoy while you sip your wines and take in the view from the spacious patio or tasting room. Consider visiting in the evening and taking in the sunset or a weekend concert. Tours of the winery and vineyard can be scheduled in advance. Traveling in a camper or RV? Lindsay Creek participates in the Harvest Hosts program.

Tasting fee: $14, with $5 discount off any bottle purchased

Hours: Friday-Saturday, 1-9 p.m. or by appointment 


Parejas Cellars

In 2018, Parejas expanded beyond their winery in Washington’s Yakima Valley and opened a satellite tasting room in downtown Clarkston, Wash. They primarily specialize in Spanish and Southern Rhone varietal wines using grapes sourced from the Columbia Valley. In addition, they offer a Rosé of Cabernet Sauvignon and a Bordeaux blend produced from local grapes. The tasting room evokes a lounge ambience and features local talent performing original music on Thursday through Saturday evenings. Visitors are welcome to bring in food for tastings or music.

Tasting fee: $10, refunded with bottle purchase

Hours: Thursday, 4-10 p.m.; Friday, 3-10 p.m.; Saturday, 2-10 p.m. 


Rivaura

A 25-minute drive from Lewiston, Idaho, Rivaura is perched on a hillside offering dramatic views of the Clearwater River canyon and their vineyards. All wines are from 10 varietals of estate grown grapes. Visitors are welcome to purchase from the small-bites menu or picnic on the deck or lawn and soak in the beautiful views. During spring and summer, enjoy live music on most Saturdays. Home-brewed beers are also available on tap.

Tasting fee: $10 for 4 tastes, refunded with a two-bottle purchase

Hours: Wednesday-Thursday, 12-6 p.m.; Friday-Saturday, 12-7 p.m.; Sunday, 12-5 p.m. or by appointment


Vine46

Located in downtown Lewiston, Idaho, this 800-case boutique winery opened in 2016. Vine46 currently sources most of their grapes from Rosebud Vineyard in the Wahluke Slope AVA of Washington but plan to offer wines from Lewis-Clark AVA. Their tastings include a selection of single varietals and blends from multiple vintages. Their motto of “Drink well, drink often” reflects the casual and friendly atmosphere. They aim to deliver a tasting experience that “tantalizes your taste buds.”

Tasting fee: $10, refunded with bottle purchase

Hours: Tuesday-Saturday, 10 a.m.-6 p.m. or by appointment

For more trip planning information, visit Lewis-Clark Valley Wine Alliance.