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Don’t call it a winery, call it a project. Veer Wine Project to be precise. That is the adventurous approach taken by winemaker and founder Will Wetmore, who began making wine under that label in 2016. The ascent of his wines, like that of the Idaho Wine Region as a whole, has been rapid. In 2021 Veer Wine Project was named the Idaho Winery to Watch by Wine Press Northwest magazine.
But how did he get here?
Will earned a Bachelor's in Biology at the University of Redlands (2010) and is a graduate of Washington State University's Enology Certificate Program (2018). He has spent 6 years as Assistant Winemaker with Hat Ranch Winery and Vale Wine Company under Winemaker Tim Harless. Will also had the privilege of working the 2019 vintage in New Zealand with Greystone Winery and Winemaker Dom Maxwell.
Veer Wine Project is a name and a mission statement. It reminds Will to always try something different—to veer—whether that be in winemaking, location, labeling, or branding. The brand values that are most important to Veer Wine Project are Venture, Revel, and Share.
Veer Wine Project’s affordable, high-quality releases include Riesling, Dry Sparkling Moscato, Gewürztraminer, GSM, Carménère, Barbera, and Sangiovese. There are creative blends, like Le Compere, which combines unlikely partners Barbera, Malbec, and Carménère. Try Ren, an amber wine made from Riesling, Rosé of Grenache, and Mourvèdre that celebrates the birth of Will’s son.
Venture to Will’s tasting room in Caldwell on Saturday or Sunday; only $10 for non-club members. Revel in wines that employ techniques like whole cluster fermentation, wild yeast fermentation, extended aging on the lees, prolonged maceration, and co-fermentation. Discover for yourself why Veer Wine Project is not just a winery to watch but one to share with others.
Purchase wine and follow Veer Wine Project here:
Founded in 1982 by the late, great Bill Stowe—“the Grandfather of Idaho Wines”—and his wife Mui, Indian Creek Winery began the renaissance of the Idaho wine region after it had been shuttered by Prohibition. With years of hands-on research, dabbling in UC Davis Viticulture & Enology classes, callused hands, extreme weather events, and many wine-inspired late nights, their pioneering dream of planting a vineyard and making wine in Idaho came true. And the honors and awards soon followed. In 1990 the San Diego Wine Competition named the 1988 Stowe Vineyard Pinot Noir “Best Red” out of 1,000 entries. More gold medals followed and Indian Creek started widening their portfolio and planting more varietals.
Bill and Mui’s daughter, Tammy Stowe McClure, and her husband, Mike McClure, have carried on the dream of growing uniquely-Idaho Estate vines in an organic and sustainable manner and crafting acid-driven, food-friendly wines from the heart of Idaho’s Snake River Valley AVA. Tammy is the Winery Manager and, putting her B.A. in Fine Art from the University of Idaho to use, designs Indian Creek’s wine labels. In fact, she was awarded first place at the Denver International Wine Label Competition. After intensively studying under Bill the process of grape-growing, harvesting, and winemaking, Mike took over as Winemaker in 2006 and the honors followed, consistently taking home gold medals from several wine competitions and being honored “Idaho Winery of the Year” in Wine Press Northwest’s Spring 2008 Edition. Mike believes that, while the art of winemaking is enjoyable and a craft, the wine is actually made in the vineyard. The difference in oak, aging, fermentation vessels, etc. isn’t as important as the daily vineyard decisions on the final wine.
Their 20-acre estate vineyard—Stowe Vineyard—is on their unique caliche soils. It sits at an elevation of 2,700 feet in a climate of four seasons, with an average of 12" rainfall each year. The large diurnal ranges between warmer daytime temperatures, that help foster sugar development, and cool nights, to help preserve the acidity, make for fresh, well-balanced wines.
Indian Creek Winery’s releases include Cabernet Sauvignon, Dry Rosé, Viognier, and White Pinot Noir, along with small-lot wines: Sauvignon Blanc, Moscato, Malbec, and their Ruby Dahlia Port. Visit their (Mui’s!) Shangri-la gardens and eclectic winery in Kuna, located only 30 minutes from Boise. If you can’t get there in person, then join their tight-knit wine club; they offer shipping online to 41 states.
Learn more about Indian Creek Winery, purchase their wine, and follow them here:
Attempting to write a profile—a summary—of Clearwater Canyon Cellars is a bit overwhelming. Perhaps the most honored and decorated winery in Idaho, telling their story properly might best be done in book form. Ultimately, however, it begins with the people.
Coco and Karl Umiker established Clearwater Canyon Cellars in 2004, with three other couples, on the farm acquired by Coco’s great-grandparents, George and Irene Nichols, in 1916. They planted their first vines, with the help of Coco‘s grandfather, Ralph, on what is now Umiker Vineyard in 2003 and their first harvest in 2005 (Merlot) was the first to be grown and produced in Lewis-Clark Valley from vitis vinifera grapes since Prohibition.
After surviving ovarian cancer at age 11, Coco has gone on to earn degrees in Microbiology and Molecular Biology & Chemistry from the University of Idaho and a doctorate in food science within the Enology and Viticulture Program at Washington State University. While technically a wine microbiologist specializing in wine spoilage microorganisms (e.g., brettanomyces) she likes to think of herself as an artist who uses the natural environment and a deep understanding of wine science to craft grapes into liquid art. Naturally, Coco is the winemaker.
Karl grew up racing mountain bikes in Northwest Arkansas. He earned a BS in Chemistry from the University of Arkansas and an MS in Soil Science from the University of Idaho, the latter of which he serves as a member of the dean’s advisory board for the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences. The “Vine Whisperer,” Karl is committed as vineyard manager to continually learning and exploring how different viticultural practices influence wine quality and character.
Coco and Karl met as members of the University of Idaho cycling team and had a lot of success in triathlons. They were married in 2004. As is often the case with those taking the risk of starting a winery, Coco and Karl were nearly broke after they bought the barrels for their first vintage the year of their wedding. They both worked full-time jobs apart from their winery and eventually bought out the other three couples, with whom they still maintain a friendship, in 2010. The awards and critical acclaim soon followed and Coco and Karl quit their other jobs to devote themselves to Clearwater Canyon Cellars full time.
In 2007 Coco and Karl were among an instrumental group of people who embarked on a project to petition to have Lewis-Clark Valley established as an AVA by the Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau. The petition was granted and the AVA was established in 2016.
Visitors to their website can scroll through the impressive list of accolades they have received. Wine Press Northwest has awarded them Platinums more than 20 times, which has resulted in Coco being called “Queen of the Platinum” as the publication’s most decorated woman winemaker ever.
In 2015 Clearwater Canyon Cellars was named Idaho Winery of the Year by Wine Press Northwest and in 2020 was named Pacific Northwest Winery of the Year by the same publication. The latter award is only allowed once in the lifetime of a winery and encompasses more than 2,000 wineries in Idaho, Oregon, Washington, and British Columbia. They are the first Idaho winery ever to win this award.
It is hard to overstate the success that Coco and Karl have had but it is not by accident. Two gifted, driven, hard-working people, with the help of family, colleagues, and friends made it happen. We strongly encourage you to make a point to visit Coco, Karl, and their team (Sara Wilson, Mike Haberman, and Karen Schmidt) in Lewiston. In the meantime, learn more about Clearwater Canyon Cellars, follow them, and purchase their wine here:
Founded in 2009 by Martin Fujishin and Teresa Moye, Fujishin Family Cellars rose from humble beginnings to being named a Top 10 Hottest Wine Brand by Wine Business Monthly in 2017 and Idaho Winery of the Year by Wine Press Northwest Magazine in 2018. But they didn’t rise to the top of the Idaho wine scene on their own. As Martin is quick to point out, it takes a family to run a successful winery. Whether related by blood or not, the team at Fujishin consider themselves a family. As Teresa says:
“Wine tasting isn’t just about the how the wines taste. It’s about having an experience that can affect our perception of the wine and the winery. Every person behind the bar is the winery and every word spoken is a part of that experience. We strive to make that experience just as good as our wines.”
From Martin, the winemaker, to Teresa, the GM, to Ruben Rodriguez and Drake Kuykendall (Directors of Hospitality Services), to Jere Coffey (Weekend Lead), and to the tasting room team, Fujishin Family Cellars seeks to create an exceptional wine experience for each guest.
And what wines will you taste?
Having spent most of his life in agriculture and the wine trade, Martin loves crafting wines from the Snake River Valley AVA, including their 2,600 foot elevation Windseeker Estate Vineyard. The high desert climate and large diurnal shift contribute to producing wines with bold flavors and aromatics out of grapes like Gewürztraminer, Riesling, Petite Sirah, and Tempranillo as well as other traditional varietals. Martin says that “The Snake River Valley AVA has nearly limitless potential. Each unique site gives us insight into the varieties and growing practices that will define our region with every new vintage.”
The more you get to know Fujishin Family Cellars the more convinced you are that it is the rare example of people and place in near-perfect harmony. We highly encourage you to visit them in Caldwell, Idaho to see (and taste) for yourself. In the meantime, learn more about Fujishin Family Cellars, purchase their wine, and follow them here:
In 2009, the year Fujishin Family Cellars was founded, Teresa Moye and Martin Fujishin went to an auction so that Martin could sell off the last of his farm equipment. At the auction Teresa came upon a man with a crate full of puppies. He was giving them away. Teresa asked if she could take out a little black one to pet and the man obliged. She then went to Martin to show him the puppy. They agreed that it was not the right time for them to have a dog; they were trying to get Fujishin Cellars established and they were beginning their lives together. Teresa went back to find the man to return the puppy but he was gone. It turns out this was a common practice that farmers and rural families used to get rid of unwanted puppies.
Martin shook his head, amused at the whole situation, and said, “Well, I guess you have a dog now!” A few days later, they were having dinner at Martin’s parents’ house and Martin told them the story. Martin’s father laughed when Teresa mentioned that they now had a free dog, to which he replied, “There is no such thing as a Free Dog!”
Teresa and Martin named their free dog Tess. She was joined shortly thereafter by another puppy, TJ, and then cats Diesel and Harley. They have become loving, steadfast, and integral parts of their lives ever since. They are family.
In 2012 Teresa and Martin launched their second label, Lost West Winery. After several years of discussing it, they decided it needed a rebrand. They realized that their furry family members deserved to be the inspiration behind the new label and Free Dog Wines was born. The Free Dog brand is all about having new adventures and enjoying life, regardless of tradition!
If you visit them in Caldwell for a tasting, purchase wines from their website, or join their wine club you’ll enjoy varietals like Rosé, Riesling, Albariño, Merlot, Bourbon Barrel Chardonnay, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Old Shed Red (a Syrah-based blend). The label of each bottle features a silhouette of Tess. It turns out there is such thing as a Free Dog!
Listen to Teresa tell the full story of Free Dog Wines, see videos of Tess, and purchase wine here:
On a hillside at the confluence of the Clearwater and Potlatch Rivers near Juliaetta, Idaho sits one of the most picturesque wineries in all the New World. It is not hyperbole. This view is depicted on the label of every bottle at Rivaura Estate Vineyards and Winery. There are some wineries that might leave it at that; let their customers pay for the view but not necessarily good wine. That is not with case with Rivaura, where the view is only the beginning.
The land where Rivaura’s vineyards are now located was purchased by Ron Hewett, Sr. in 1959. His family has had ties to the Lewis-Clark Valley for more than 100 years and to this day runs a hay and cattle ranching business there. However, the property’s soil and south-facing slopes are ideal for premium grape growing. Ron Hewett, Sr., and sons Reece Hewett and Ron Hewett, Jr., did their research and decided to launch Rivaura, planting their first vines in 2014. Consulting geologist Kevin Pogue, PhD, RG, of VinTerra Consulting in Walla Walla, Washington believes that, “some of the finest wines ever produced from Idaho grapes will be sourced from these vineyards." In a short span of time, Dr. Pogue’s assessment has proven correct.
Under the direction of Consulting Winemaker Billo Naravane and Assistant Winemakers Vince Hewett (Ron, Jr.’s son) and Lane Hewett (Reece’s son) the wine program has already received critical acclaim. In 2021 Rivaura won Double Golds for their Viognier and Rosé of Cabernet France and Gold for their Grenache at the Best of the Northwest Wine Competition. Wine sourced from Rivaura by other wineries also were awarded. Great Northwest Wine magazine named Rivaura the 2022 Winery to Watch and Wine Business Monthly declared it one of its Hot Brands in the U.S.
An absolutely stunning tasting room is overseen by Manager Shannon Hewett (Reece’s wife and Lane’s mom), who is also the Director of Vineyard Operations. During the winter you can visit Wednesday through Sunday. With a reservation you can even experience a tasting of all their offerings with the winemaker.
Visiting the Hewett family and Rivaura Estate Winery and Vineyards should be at the very top of your itinerary when planning your trip to the Gem State. Great people, great views, and great wine. How does it get any better?
Learn more, purchase wine, and follow them here: