Idaho’s side of the historic Lewis-Clark Valley has been making headlines for its winemaking and earning gold medals, so perhaps it shouldn’t have been a surprise when tiny Vine 46 emerged from the 2020 Cascadia International Wine Competition with a double gold medal and best of class for the big Spanish red Tempranillo.
In early October came another international competition — the Great Northwest Invitational — where Jeff Ebel and Mike Yates commanded the attention of judges, not just once or twice, but three times. There was a double gold and best of class for its 2016 Latitude Red Wine, a best of class for its 2015 Cabernet Sauvignon and another best-of-class for that 2017 Tempranillo.
At the end of the month, that Tempranillo grown on Washington’s Wahluke Slope turned into Vine 46’s first career Platinum, and the string of success prompted Wine Press Northwest to select Vine 46 as its 2021 Idaho Winery of the Year.
“We’ve made Tempranillo before, but we’ve always used it as a blender and didn’t think it was worth a standalone bottling of Tempranillo,” Yates said. “The thing about it is that it doesn’t have much acidity to it, which makes it a great blender and use for some barrel topping.
“But we thought that this would be the year when we’d make it stand alone,” Yates added. “It really took to the barrels of American oak with medium toast. We added a bit of tartaric acid, and that really brought it to life.”
Growers and winemakers appreciate the early-ripening nature of Tempranillo, and in 2017, those grapes came off Rosebud Vineyard on Sept. 15. And while some might worry about losing the contract for award-winning grapes, Ebel is not concerned when it comes to Rosebud.
“We’re really fortunate that my son-in-law’s aunt and uncle own the vineyard and treat us like royalty,” he said. “Roy’s dad started it; Roy has run it for years, and now his son Chip (Dobson) is in charge.”
Rosebud is a historic yet overlooked 400-acre site established in 1979 on the Wahluke Slope by Don and Norma Toci. It’s near acclaimed Weinbau Vineyard in the northeast corner of the slope, which ranks as one of — if not the — hottest growing regions in the state. Norma’s son Roy Dobson and wife Sharon took over in 1986.
And with 21 varieties planted at Rosebud, there would seem to be possibilities for growth and more exploration for Vine 46, which has come to view it as a breadbasket for much of its program. That special Cabernet Sauvignon came from some of the Dobson family’s first plantings. It also served as the base for the 2016 Latitude Red, followed primarily by Syrah, Malbec and Petit Verdot. And all of their fruit is hand-harvested.
“We buy two tons of Tempranillo every year, but they’ve never questioned the amount we need,” Ebel said.
With Vine 46 winning the Idaho Winery of the Year, it means Lewis-Clark Valley producers have received three of Wine Press Northwest’s top regional awards in the past two years. Clearwater Canyon Cellars in Lewiston, led by Karl and Coco Umiker, saw their reign end as the Pacific Northwest Winery of the Year with this issue.
“They are great people and very helpful,” Ebel says. “It seems like my wife talks to Coco about once a month with questions about TTB paperwork.”
Vine 46 picks up the baton from Colter’s Creek — a few miles upstream from Lewiston near the Clearwater River — as the Idaho Winery of the Year.
And with the Lewis-Clark Valley somewhat in an eye of the hurricane when it comes to the pandemic, tourism is down and the economy is off, which means Vine 46 hasn’t been able to capitalize on the buzz earned from the gold medals won in 2020.
There is palpable excitement, however, as Vine 46 moves into a former Chevrolet dealership garage across the street from its current tasting room in downtown Lewiston’s Newberry Square between Pioneer Park and the Clearwater.
“It was built in 1956, we purchased it in 2014 and have been chipping away at it ever since,” Ebel said. The down time created by the pandemic “has given us more time to work on the building, which has been a good thing. Lucky for us, sales have been good enough to keep the lights on.”
The bond between Ebel and Yates began when they were school chums who grew up a block away from each other and graduated from Lewiston High in 1979.
Yates has spent three decades working for the local Coca-Cola distributor, while Ebel has been in his family’s remodeling contractor business. Ebel and Yates began as home brewers, but stepped away from that while raising their families.
Then in the late 1990s, Yates and a friend started making wine with grapes from the Yakima Valley, while Ebel found local grapes — and Rosebud fruit — to work with.
In 2014, they went commercial with 450 cases and three partners, whom they bought out a few years ago, leaving Mike and his wife Coda, and Jeff and his wife, Barb.
It was Barb who cried when she learned they had been chosen as the Idaho Winery of the Year.
“We have day jobs, so we’re only able to work on this on nights and weekends, that’s why it’s taken us a lot of time to get things going,” Ebel said. “The new building will be a game changer for us.”
Among the wines served will be a Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Gris, rosé of Syrah, 2017 Cabernet Sauvignon and a handful of big reds from the 2018 vintage, including a Petit Verdot, Mourvèdre, Malbec and — of course — Tempranillo.
“We’re super excited about the 2017 Cab,” Ebel said.
And in October, Vine 46 has a chance to make some more history with that 2017 Tempranillo. It received the equivalent of a gold medal in Wine Press Northwest’s February tasting of Tempranillos from Washington, Oregon and Idaho.
If they chose to enter, that same 2017 Tempranillo could wear a Platinum medal for a second straight year, making it one of the Northwest’s best wines of the past few years.
ERIC DEGERMAN operates Great Northwest Wine, an award-winning media company. Learn more about wine at GreatNorthwestWine.com.
Vine 46 Winery
818 F St., Lewiston, Idaho 83501