Coco and Karl Umiker have been growing grapes in Idaho’s Clearwater Valley for 12 years, and last year their efforts paid off.
Wine Press Northwest gave its Double Platinum honor to Clearwater Canyon Cellars’ merlot, grown entirely in Idaho. Merlot grapes from north-central Idaho also won good reviews for Mike Pearson, his wife, Melissa Sanborn, and their Colter’s Creek Winery.
They hope their success helps get final approval for the pending Lewis-Clark Valley American Viticultural Area. If the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau of the U.S. Department of the Treasury approves, it would be the latest in the explosion of successful Pacific Northwest wine-growing areas to come on the scene — in part because of climate change.
The Clearwater and lower Snake River canyons had a flourishing, award-winning wine industry from 1864 until prohibition, Coco Umiker said. Her grandfather remembers vineyards right across the road from her family’s 100-year-old farm.
But every eight years or so, winter temperatures got so cold that they would seriously damage the grapevines.
“I’ve been growing grapes 12 years,” she said, “and we haven’t had one of those.”
Umiker, who holds undergraduate degrees in microbiology, molecular biology and biochemistry, and a Ph.D. in food science, agrees with Oregon climatologist and wine expert Greg Jones: Global warming has benefited vineyards in the Northwest.
“We’re in the sweet spot,” Umiker said. “The weather data suggests it’s easier to grow grapes in the Lewis and Clark Valley than it was 150 years ago because of less extreme winters.”
A booming wine industry is just one sign that the climate change that scientists say has caused longer and fiercer fire seasons, earlier river runoffs and smaller snowpacks isn’t all bad news.
But over the next 85 years, it is going to get progressively warmer, some climate experts predict. If that happens, that warmth could alter agriculture, threaten salmon, other cold-water fish and wildlife, and change skiing and snowmobile trails.