Made in the Northwest: Clearwater Canyon Cellars

LEWISTON, Idaho – “This is a really special place,” declared Coco Umiker, the winemaker and co-owner of Clearwater Canyon Cellars. “My family has actually owned this farm for 104 years now.”

Coco and her husband, viticulturist and co-owner Karl Umiker, started the winery on the Lewiston farm in 2004.

“Sometimes it seems surreal. It’s definitely a long road that we’ve had,” recalled Karl.

The two young scientists decided to go all in on the winery, despite having barely any money to get it off the vine.

“We lived in a trailer for $250 a month and had four barrels of wine and student loans and all of it,” explained Coco. “And we were making wine in a garage.”

But they pressed on, because they knew the Lewis Clark Valley, with its climate and soils, could produce great wines again, just as it had before prohibition.

“This was the center of the Northwest for winemaking and grape growing,” said Karl.

“It’s a really fun place to make wine,” added Coco. “And that’s why Karl and I stayed.”

Not only did the Umikers stay, they were instrumental in creating the Lewis Clark Valley American Viticultural Area, putting area wineries on the map.

“We put together a grant and we got a grant and that helped fund the establishment of the Lewis Clark Valley AVA,” said Coco.

Clearwater Canyon continues to make a name for itself, and the Lewis Clark Valley, by turning out award winning wine after award winning wine. But its biggest honor came earlier this year, when it was named Pacific Northwest Winery of the year by Wine Pass Northwest.

“Unbelievable,” exclaimed Karl. “It was something that we never expected.”

“It was huge,” added Coco. “I mean, I can’t even explain to you how important that was to us just personally.”

But the Umikers don’t want their little winery to get bigger. They’d rather work on making their wines as close to perfect as possible.

During harvest, Coco spends hours walking the vineyards, tasting grapes and waiting for them to be just right.

“I eat so many grapes this time of year that like I hardly even get hungry at lunch,” she laughed. “I’m just like a hummingbird, living on sugar water.”

So when you open a bottle of Clearwater Canyon Cellars, the Umikers hope you can taste their commitment to great wine.

“We live and breathe vineyard and winemaking all day long, 24/7, and it doesn’t even feel like work,” said Coco. “It’s just a part of us.”

And after years of struggling just to get by, Coco says they’re finally able to experiment and have some fun with their winemaking, as evidenced in their just released 2018 varietals.

“They’re so creative and fun. And I feel like we’re finally having fun. So I feel like the best is yet to come.”

And for the Pacific Northwest Winery of the Year, that’s really saying something.