Coco Umiker and Clearwater Canyon Syrah

Coco Umiker

[As noted in an earlier post, we received a case of wine from the Idaho Wine Commission, and have been slowly, but surely, tasting our way through it. We haven’t liked everything, although they’re hoping they’ll get a few good reviews out of the venture.]

Coco Umiker, winemaker at Clearwater Canyon Cellars in western Idaho, works with her husband Karl.

“He’s the grape grower and I’m the assistant grape grower,” she said. “I’m the winemaker and he’s the assistant winemaker. We’re partners in crime in everything here, but one of us has to have the final say.”

Umiker said that one of her primary goals is to let people know about Idaho wine.

“That’s probably our first challenge,” she said. “To educate people.”

Her winery, in the Lewis Clark Valley AVA, is only 30 miles from one of Washington State’s prime wine growing areas and has a climate that’s very good for grapes, with mild winters, plenty of water, and long, dry summers.

“When you look at it, we have all the important things that it takes to grow great grapes,” Umiker said. “We’re empowered with that and we also have this amazing history.”

According to Umiker, 150 years ago, there was quite a bit of wine grape growing in the valley, thanks to the immigrants who settled there and brought their wine growing traditions with them. Unfortunately, in the early 20th Century, Prohibition came along and killed the industry there.

Because this is not as well-known a wine country, Umiker said that it can be both liberating and restricting at the same time.

“It allows us to jump out there and try some things,” she said, such as adding syrah to a red blend. “At the same time, to be taken seriously, you have to do some traditional things.”

We tried their 2014 Estate Syrah, which was really nice. Michael noted the deep red color, with fruit and oak on the nose, and tannins that were nice and smooth. We drank it with our favorite black olive and sausage pizza. The only problem we had with the wine was that it was really tight when we first opened it. Michael thought it was a bit young and would have cellared it for a year or two.

But that is exactly why Umiker said she chooses to release her wines when they’re still a little young. She pointed out that there are some people who prefer a brighter, younger wine. Others prefer a smoother, more aged wine, and are perfectly happy to hold onto a bottle for a year or more.

“If you release it sooner, then people can make that decision for themselves,” she said.

Please tell us what you think.