WINE PRESS NORTHWEST NAMES CLEARWATER CANYON CELLARS IDAHO WINERY OF THE YEAR!
In economic development, when one of us wins, we all win.
That’s true of Clearwater Canyon Cellars’ recent recognition as Idaho Winery of the Year from Wine Press Northwest.
“It was a big deal for us and it was a big deal for the LC Valley,” said Coco Umiker, who owns Clearwater Canyon Cellars with her husband Karl. “It was an acknowledgement of our winemaking and of the wine grapes grown here.
Coco said 75-85 percent of Clearwater Canyon Cellars wine is produced with grapes from their vineyard and others nearby.
Recognition as Idaho Winery of the Year is just one more way Clearwater Canyon Cellars is drawing attention to our area. The company has also played a starring role in the resurgence of the valley’s wine industry and upcoming establishment of the Lewis-Clark American Viticulture Area, a designation that will help promote our region as a producer of high-quality wines and as a wine tourism destination.
Clearwater Canyon Cellars is a labor of love, a quintessential example of what it takes to build a small business from the ground up.
“I think our story proves with a lot of knowledge, know-how and true grit, you can do it,” said Coco.
Work was done by hand until this past year when the Umikers found enough wiggle room in their budget to invest in winemaking technologies like a mechanical press, flail mower and electric pruner.
The company started in 2004, when the Umikers produced their first four barrels while finishing school. Coco studied microbiology and biochemistry in undergrad at the University of Idaho and earned a Ph.D. in food science at Washington State University. Karl’s undergrad studies in chemistry at the University of Arkansas led to a Master’s in soil science from the University of Idaho.
All that hard work and education paid off. The Umikers have continually earned kudos for exquisite wines. The latest recognition as Idaho Winery of the Year is just “icing on the cake,” said Coco.
Clearwater Canyon Cellars was the only winery in the Pacific Northwest to have two wines place in the top 25 with Great Wines Northwest in 2014 – the 2012 Phinny Hill Vineyard Carmenère and the 2012 Merlot. The organization names the year’s top 100 out of over 5,000 wines tasted blind.
“That’s unbelievable,” said Coco. “It gets glossed over sometimes.”
The Carmenère also made the Seattle Times top 50 list in 2014.
And, the Carmenère won platinum and the Merlot won double platinum in 2014 from Wine Press Northwest in judging among gold medal winners from other competitions.
The Umikers sell out of the 3,000 cases produced annually, but despite this success, Coco says “making it” as a small business owner today isn’t easy.
She said having the ability to rent affordable space at the Port of Lewiston’s business incubator building has helped sustain their business. Clearwater Canyon began renting Suite A in 2007 and extended to Suite B in 2013. They are also utilizing storage space at Inland 465, the Port’s warehouse.
“Port employees and commissioners have served as great mentors. They have helped us troubleshoot space issues and equipment needs,” Coco said. “When we didn’t have a forklift, they let us use theirs. It’s the little things.”
In 2016 Clearwater Canyon Cellars plans to break ground on a new winery that will be located adjacent to their vineyard on Gun Club Road.