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An Up and Coming Wine Region



If you love wine as Nancy and I do you will not be surprised that we have literally stumbled upon an up and coming AVA (American Viticultural Area) in the Lewis-Clark Valley located in the central Northwest of Idaho.


There are two main AVA's in Idaho. There is the Lewis-Clark Valley AVA, home to 16 wineries and then in the southwest there is the much larger Snake River Valley AVA, home to over 60 wineries (shared in its western part with Oregon).


The Lewis-Clark AVA is the first and only wine region to be nestled in the unique mountainous backbone of the Bitterroot Mountains. With steep river canyons and plateaus, it is home to the lowest elevation vineyards in the state at 950 feet. It's also unique in that it spans both Idaho and Washington. Nearly 72 percent of the land is located in Idaho, while the rest lies in Washington State. The area is home to wineries growing just 80 acres of grapes which consist of 14 red and 9 white varietals.


Recently in wine competitions judges are consistently ranking Lewis-Clark Valley wines among the best in northwest competitions and beyond. The reason I am bringing this to your attention is because this region has really not been discovered by the average wine connoisseur. This region is considered part of the "new frontier" of wine growing areas in the United States.


It's interesting that this region actually has a deep rooted history of growing grapes and producing wine. Wine grapes were introduced to the Clearwater Valley in 1872, thanks to the pioneering efforts of three gentleman, Louis Delsol, Robert Schleicher, and Jacob Schaefer. Of the three Schleicher was the most successful bringing home a number of awards for his hand-crafted wines.


To put things into perspective, when I first started going to the Napa Valley the wineries were more farm than winery. The hills were dotted with wineries that produced wines that were just starting to gain national recognition. The first real acknowledgement of wine in the Napa Valley belonged to Schramsberg Vineyards when then president Richard Nixon introduced this wineries sparkling wine "Blanc de Blanc" to the "Toast of Peace". This was a toast (with Schramsberg sparkling wine) that opened up the normalization of relations between China and the U.S.


Then in 1976 there was the famous "Paris Tasting" which pitted Napa cabernet and chardonnay against the most famous first growth red Bordeaux wines from the southwest of France and the world renowned chardonnay from the Burgundy region located in the east-central part of France. Napa with its Stag's Leap Cask 23 cabernet and the now famous 1973 Chateau Montelena chardonnay won the "Paris tasting" judged by a panel of all French judges. After that, California wines were about to explode.


Its interesting to note that there were really no decent restaurants in the Napa Valley until the early 80's. That is when restaurateur Claude Rouas founded Auberge du Soleil and began a trend of exceptional cuisine to compliment exceptional wine.


Trends have no respect for people. I see the Lewis-Clark Valley AVA with its unique topography becoming an iconic destination. One such example of this trend can be seen from the Clearwater Canyon Cellars perched on the edge of a large sweeping bench overlooking the Clearwater River on the way to Orofino Idaho. To match its spectacular views is the wine it produces. Last year this winery won the prestigious 2020 "Pacific Northwest Winery of the Year". Keep in mind that its competition included over 2,000 wineries from Washington, Oregon, and British Columbia.


Some quality restaurateurs are beginning to come to Lewiston Idaho producing hand-crafted dishes sourced from local farms. It is not out of the realm of possibility that within a very short time this region will be associated with some of the finest restaurants, vineyards and wineries in the world.


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