Hat Ranch Winery tops Idaho Wine Competition with Cabernet Franc from Lewis-Clark Valley

By on August 18, 2021
Tim Harless, left, owner and head winemaker for Hat Ranch Winery in Caldwell, Idaho, celebrates another award with his assistant winemaker Will Wetmore. Hat Ranch won best of show at the 2021 Idaho Wine Competition for its 2018 Rivaura Vineyards Cabernet Franc from the historic Lewis-Clark Valley. Earlier this year, Wetmore’s Veer Wine Project was named the 2021 Idaho Winery to Watch by Wine Press Northwest magazine. In 2019, Hat Ranch was Wine Press Northwest’s Idaho Winery of the Year. In 2015, Harless won best of show at the Idaho judging with a dry Muscat using estate grapes. (Photo by Eric Degerman/Great Northwest Wine)

CALDWELL, Idaho — Judges at the 2021 Idaho Wine Competition provided reminders to the Gem State and beyond that Tim Harless ranks among the region’s top winemakers when the Hat Ranch Winery 2018 Rivaura Vineyards Cabernet Franc won best of show.

Harless also earned a double gold for his 2020 Sèmillon and a gold for a 2020 Rosé. He was also the winemaker behind the 2018 Malbec from young Kerry Hill Winery that won a gold medal and best of class. Six years ago, Harless and Hat Ranch won the Idaho Wine Competition with a brilliantly dry Muscat off his 6-acre estate along the Sunnyslope west of Caldwell.

And yet, the mild-mannered retired commercial pilot with a dry and self-deprecating sense of humor gives credit to the source for those Cabernet Franc grapes and two young winemakers — Will Wetmore and Lane Hewett — for turning those six barrels into something extraordinary.

“We got it from Rivaura just the one time,” Harless said of the young planting near the tiny town of Juliaetta in the Lewis-Clark Valley. “It’s quite possibly the most beautiful-looking European hillside vineyard that is not in Europe. I’ve never been any place that looks so beautiful. We got 2.8 tons of Cab Franc — and that was one of the three or four times when a lot of fruit rolled through our place and you just know it was special.”

It edged out a strong lineup in the sweepstakes of the field of 180 entries, the largest in the past 10 years of the Idaho Wine Competition, as a panel of socially distanced judges from both sides of the United States awarded gold medals to 45 wines. The tasting was staged at Koenig Vineyards in the Sunnyslope Wine District west of Caldwell.

Cinder Wines near Boise wins Best White, Best Rosé

Melanie Krause earned four gold medals, including two double golds and three best-of-class awards during the 2021 Idaho Wine Competition. (Photo courtesy of Cinder Wines)

Homegrown winemaker Melanie Krause of Cinder Wines in Garden City placed two in the sweepstakes as her 2020 Dry Viognier earned the award for Best White and her 2020 Cinsault Rosé topped its category.

“The Cinsault for the rose is mostly from Sawtooth Vineyard with a small amount off a new block at Williamson Vineyards, near their homestead house,” Krause pointed out. “It’s right in the center of their old orchards on thee Sunnyslope, so it’s a very proven site.

“The wine and the award are emblematic for me of the exciting stage the Idaho wine industry is in: the excellent combining of sites, varieties, and farming/winemaking talent to take quality to higher levels than we’ve seen yet, with more on the way,” she added. “The future of the quality of Idaho wine is more exciting to me now than at any point so far in my career.”

The Austrian white grape Gruner Veltliner is gaining a toehold in the Snake River Valley, and the Alger family at Huston Vineyards near Caldwell turned it into a double gold medal.

Telaya Wine Co., which produced the best Syrah of the judging, also is working with Gruner Veltliner. And Harless recently planted 600 vines at his Hat Ranch estate.

“I think Gruner might do well here,” Harless said. “I told Gregg Alger, ‘i’m not copying you. It’s just that only thing available for me from Inland Desert Nursery was Gruner Veltliner. I’ve tasted his, and that’s a pretty good wine. The grape is cold tolerant down to zero from what I heard, and it doesn’t seem to care what the soil type is.”

This year’s judging helped to reinforce that Rhône varieties thrive throughout Idaho. The Telaya 2018 Syrah won best of show earlier this year at the Cascadia International Wine Competition, and there’s the Cinsault rosé and Viognier by Cinder that wowed judges.

“The Viognier comes from three vineyards that all produce excellent Vio — Sawtooth, Wiiliamson and Emerald Slope,” Krause noted. “I’m happy to see the award for the Vio as it’s been my favorite white wine variety from the Snake River Valley since I first tasted it as a judge in the Idaho Wine Competition circa 2005, when I was starting my winemaking career. It feels full-circle.

“I remember Parma Ridge and Sawtooth Vios from that tasting in 2005,” the former assistant winemaker at Chateau Ste. Michelle added. “It was one of the main things that convinced me Snake River Valley could produce great wine!”

Young site in Lewis-Clark Valley leads to best of show

Rivaura is a young planting in the new Lewis-Clark Valley American Viticultural Area along the Clearwater River near Juliaetta, Idaho.
Rivaura is a young planting in the new Lewis-Clark Valley American Viticultural Area along the Clearwater River near Juliaetta, Idaho. (Photo courtesy of Lane Hewett)

Hewett, a product of Walla Walla Community College’s vaunted Institute of Enology and Viticulture, spent two years working for Harless and with Wetmore, the assistant winemaker at Hat Ranch and owner/winemaker for Veer Wine Project. The Hewett family owns young Rivaura Estate Vineyards & Winery in the Lewis-Clark Valley, near the confluence of the Clearwater and Potlatch rivers.

“Lane arrived to me as exceptionally trained guy, and I told him, ‘Lane this is your fruit and you grew up with it,’ so he picked the lane he wanted — no pun intended — and it was a like a bowling lane with bumping lanes on it. He pulled from what he learned at Walla Walla Community College from Tim Donahue and was already quite a qualified guy.”

Hat Ranch earned the 2019 Idaho Winery of the Year award from Wine Press Northwest magazine. The next year, the winemaking by Harless prompted the publication to select Kerry Hill as its Idaho Winery to Watch.
Now, Wetmore’s Veer Wine Project is the reigning Idaho Winery to Watch.

Meanwhile, Hewett is making wine and tending his family picturesque vineyard at Rivaura, which won a gold medal this week for its 2020 rosé — produced with Cabernet Franc. Alas, there’s only about a dozen cases of that stellar 2018 Cab Franc left to sell at Hat Ranch.

“We released it around Thanksgiving, and not long ago it went into that wonderful period when it was tasting so good and people have been loving it,” Harless said. “This just validates the work and dedication that we’ve been putting into all of this – primarily from Will in the winery and the tasting room staff, too. They will be very happy to tell people, ‘This won best of show at the Idaho Wine Competition.”

Chief judge for the Idaho Wine Competition was Dr. Richard Larsen, research winemaker emeritus for Washington State University’s Ste. MIchelle Wine Estates Wine Science Center in Richland. This year’s judging panel featured Ilene Dudunake, owner, A New Vintage Wine Shop, Meridian, Idaho; Lane Hoss, wine buyer/Vice-President of operations for Anthony’s Restaurants, which is headquartered in Kirkland, Wash.; Kathryn House McClaskey, director of education, Hayden Beverage Co., Boise; Ellen Landis, certified sommelier/journalist, St. Petersburg, Fla.; Sophia McDonald Bennett, journalist/educator, Eugene, Ore., and Jeff Ritchey, winemaker/owner of California-based Winerat Consulting, who now lives in the Snake River Valley.


2021 Idaho Wine Competition results

The Hat Ranch Winery 2018 Rivaura Vineyards Cabernet Franc from the Lewis-Clark Valley was awared Best of Show at the 2021 Idaho Wine Competition, which was held at Koenig Vineyards in Caldwell, Idaho. (Photo by Traci Degerman/Great Northwest Wine)

Best of show/Best Red, double gold medal
Hat Ranch Winery 2018 Rivaura Vineyards Cabernet Franc, Lewis-Clark Valley $34.00

Best White Wine/double gold medal
Cinder Wines 2020 Dry Viognier, Snake River Valley $25.00

Best Rosé
Cinder Wines 2020 Cinsault Rosé, Snake River Valley $23.00

Best sparkling/double gold medal
Coiled Wines 2018 Rizza, Washington $30.00

Best Sweet Wine/double gold medal
Roghani Vineyards 2015 Riesling Late Harvest, Snake River Valley $30.40

Best of class/double gold medal
Camas Prairie Winery 2020 Raspberry Mead, Idaho $14.00
Clearwater Canyon Cellars 2019 Heritage Series Louis Delsol Cabernet Sauvignon, Lewis-Clark Valley $32.00
Huston Vineyards 2020 Huston Estate Grüner Veltliner, Snake River Valley $38.00
Cinder Wines 2019 Valentina Red Wine, Snake River Valley $32.00
Indian Creek Winery 2020 Riesling, Snake River Valley $18.00
Telaya Wine Co. 2018 Syrah, Snake River Valley $34.00

Best of class/gold medal
Indian Creek Winery 2019 Reserve Chardonnay, Snake River Valley $24.00
Coiled Wines 2019 Merlot, Snake River Valley $34.00
Kerry Hill Winery 2018 Malbec, Snake River Valley $45.00
Indian Creek Winery 2018 Reserve Tempranillo, Snake River Valley $32.00
Lindsay Creek Vineyards 2016 Petite Sirah, Washington $28.00

Double gold medal
3100 Cellars 2018 Runoff Rosé, Snake River Valley $36.00
Hat Ranch Winery 2020 Sèmillon, Snake River Valley $25.00
Holesinsky Winery and Vineyard 2018 100% CH Syrah, Snake River Valley $32.00
Koenig Vineyards 2018 Cabernet Sauvignon, Snake River Valley $28.00
Koenig Vineyards 2019 Riesling Ice Wine, Snake River Valley $26.00

Gold medal
Cinder Wines 2019 Tempranillo, Snake River Valley $32.00
Clearwater Canyon Cellars NV Waha II, Washington $28.00
Coiled Wines 2019 Black Mamba, Snake River Valley $34.00
Free Dog Wines 2020 Albariño, Snake River Valley $18.00
Free Dog Wines 2018 Cabernet Sauvignon, Snake River Valley $25.00
Fujishin Family Cellars 2019 Malbec, Snake River Valley $27.95
Hat Ranch Winery 2020 Rosé, Snake River Valley $20.00
Holesinsky Winery and Vineyard 2018 100% JH Syrah, Snake River Valley $22.00
Holesinsky Winery and Vineyard 2020 Idapeach Sangria, Snake River Valley $14.00
Holesinsky Winery and Vineyard 2020 Sparkling Unicorn Rosé of Syrah, Snake River Valley $18.00
Huston Vineyards 2019 Malbec, Snake River Valley $32.00
Indian Creek Winery 2018 For the Mountains Malbec, Snake River Valley $25.00
Indian Creek Winery 2020 Viognier, Snake River Valley $17.00
Jovinea Cellars 2018 Cabernet Sauvignon, Washington $26.00
Koenig Vineyards 2019 Estate Viognier, Snake River Valley $18.00
Rivaura Estate Vineyards & Winery 2020 Estate Vineyards Rosé of Cabernet Franc, Lewis-Clark Valley $19.00
Rolling Hills Vineyard 2018 Cabernet Franc, Eagle Foothills $45.00
Sawtooth Winery 2020 Classic Fly Chenin Blanc, Snake River Valley $24.00
SCORIA 2018 Merlot, Snake River Valley $32.00
Williamson Vineyards 2020 Albariño, Snake River Valley $23.00
Williamson Vineyards 2019 Malbec, Snake River Valley $26.00
YKnot Winery 2019 Sèmillon, Snake River Valley $25.00
SCORIA 2018 Cabernet Sauvignon, Snake River Valley $32.00
Ste. Chapelle 2020 Panoramic Chardonnay, Snake River Valley $26.00

Silver medal
3100 Cellars 2016 Eddy Out, Snake River Valley $36.00
Bitner Vineyards 2017 Bitner Vineyards Terrosa, Snake River Valley $80.00
Bitner Vineyards 2018 Lanae Ridge Vineyard Menapause Merlot, Snake River Valley $35.00
Bitner Vineyards 2018 Bitner Vineyards Terrosa, Snake River Valley $36.00
Bitner Vineyards 2018 Bitner Vineyard Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon, Snake River Valley $50.00
Bitner Vineyards 2018 Lanae Ridge Ridge Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon, Snake River Valley $33.00
Bitner Vineyards 2018 Rose Cottage Vineyard Chardonnay, Snake River Valley $20.00
Bitner Vineyards 2018 KP Martin Vineyards Reseerve Tempranillo, Snake River Valley $40.00
Cabin View Winery 2019 Elephant Mountain Vineyard Petit Verdot, Washington $45.00
Camas Prairie Winery 2020 Strawberry Mead, Idaho $14.00
Cinder Wines 2019 Syrah , Snake River Valley $32.00
Cinder Wines 2020 Laissez Faire Sauvignon Blanc, Snake River Valley $19.00
Cinder Wines 2020 Verdejo, Snake River Valley $30.00
Cinder Wines 2019 Malbec, Snake River Valley $32.00
Cinder Wines 2020 Chardonnay, Snake River Valley $23.00
Clearwater Canyon Cellars 2019 Merlot, Lewis-Clark Valley $28.00
Clearwater Canyon Cellars 2019 Phinny Hill Vineyard Carménère, Washington $32.00
Clearwater Canyon Cellars 2020 Estate Rosé of Syrah, Lewis-Clark Valley $22.00
Clearwater Canyon Cellars 2019 Renaissance Red, Lewis-Clark Valley $23.00
Clearwater Canyon Cellars 2019 Malbec, Washington $28.00
Coiled Wines 2019 Sidewinder, Snake River Valley $30.00
Fujishin Family Cellars 2019 Viognier, Snake River Valley $17.95
Fujishin Family Cellars 2019 Tempranillo, Snake River Valley $26.95
Hat Ranch Winery 2020 Dry Moscato, Snake River Valley $20.00
Hells Canyon Winery 2016 LAVA/100 BLACK, Snake River Valley $58.00
Hells Canyon Winery 2019 Claret, Snake River Valley $26.00
Hells Canyon Winery 2018 Cabernet Franc, Snake River Valley $35.00
Hells Canyon Winery 2020 LAVA/100 Gold, Snake River Valley $58.00
Holesinsky Winery and Vineyard 2018 Idawine Red Blend, Snake River Valley $12.00
Holesinsky Winery and Vineyard 2019 Unicorn Rosé of Syrah, Snake River Valley $8.00
Holesinsky Winery and Vineyard 2020 Stainless Steel Chardonnay, Snake River Valley $14.00
Holesinsky Winery and Vineyard NV IdaPeach Red Sangria, Snake River Valley, $12.00
Holesinsky Winery and Vineyard 2019 Buhljolais Sparkling Cuvée (clear glass), Snake River Valley $18.00
Holesinsky Winery and Vineyard 2019 Buhljolais Sparkling Cuvée (green glass), Snake River Valley $18.00
Holesinsky Winery and Vineyard 2020 Idapeach Sparkle, Snake River Valley $18.00
Holesinsky Winery and Vineyard NV Liquid Quack Sparkling Moscato,
Indian Creek Winery 2018 Star Garnet, Snake River Valley $17.00
Indian Creek Winery 2020 White Iris, Snake River Valley $18.00
Indian Creek Winery 2018 Cabernet Sauvignon, Snake River Valley $22.00
Koenig Vineyards 2020 Dry Riesling, Snake River Valley $18.00
Koenig Vineyards 2018 Snake River Valley Cuvée, Snake River Valley $28.00
Koenig Vineyards 2018 Lanae Ridge Vineyard Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon, Snake River Valley $36.00
Lindsay Creek Vineyards 2020 Dry Riesling, Lewis-Clark Valley $20.00
Lindsay Creek Vineyards 2017 Malbec, Washington $24.00
Parma Ridge Winery 2018 Cabernet Sauvignon, Snake River Valley $42.00
Rivaura Estate Vineyards & Winery 2019 Estate Vineyards Viognier, Lewis-Clark Valley $28.00
Roghani Vineyards 2016 Love and Passion Red Blend, Snake River Valley $51.20
Roghani Vineyards 2018 Chardonnay, Snake River Valley $33.60
Rolling Hills Vineyard 2018 Azzurro (Red Blend), Snake River Valley $39.00
Rolling Hills Vineyard 2020 Rosé, Eagle Foothills $22.00
Rolling Hills Vineyard 2020 Muscato, Snake River Valley $20.00
Sawtooth Winery 2019 Classic Fly Syrah, Snake River Valley $35.00
Sawtooth Winery 2019 Trout Trilogy Series Cabernet Sauvignon, Snake River Valley $45.00
SCORIA 2018 Malbec, Snake River Valley $32.00
Sheppard Fruit Wines 2020 Elderberry Wine, American $12.00
Sheppard Fruit Wines 2020 Raspberry Wine, American $12.00
Ste Chapelle 2019 Panoramic Petite Sirah, Snake River Valley $34.00
Ste Chapelle 2020 Open Air Muscat Blanc, Snake River Valley $24.00
Ste. Chapelle NV Special Harvest Huckleberry, American $12.00
Telaya Wine Co. 2020 Anam II, Snake River Valley $26.00
Telaya Wine Co. 2018 Sangiovese, Snake River Valley $35.00
Telaya Wine Co. 2020 Chardonnay, Snake River Valley $27.00
Two Bad Labs Vineyard 2020 Riesling, Lewis-Clark Valley $17.00
Two Bad Labs Vineyard NV Summer White, Lewis-Clark Valley $17.00
Two Bad Labs Vineyard 2020 Fume Blanc, Lewis-Clark Valley $20.00
Two Bad Labs Vineyard 2020 Sèmillon, Lewis-Clark Valley $20.00
Two Bad Labs Vineyard 2020 Chardonnay, Lewis-Clark Valley $20.00
Vale Wine Company 2020 Viognier, Snake River Valley $21.00
Vale Wine Company 2018 Cabernet Sauvignon, Snake River Valley $28.00
Vale Wine Company 2020 Chardonnay, Snake River Valley $23.00
Veer Wine Project 2018 Le Compere, Snake River Valley $30.00
Veer Wine Project 2018 Carménère, Snake River Valley $30.00
Vine 46 2017 Carménère, Washington $28.00
Vine 46 2017 GMT, Washington $26.00
Vizcaya Winery LLC 2016 Tempranillo, Snake River Valley $29.00
W2 2019 Pinot Noir, Columbia Gorge $34.00
Williamson Vineyards 2020 Viognier, Snake River Valley $19.00
YKnot Winery NV Meritage, Snake River Valley $29.00
YKnot Winery 2020 Riesling, Snake River Valley $24.00
YKnot Winery 2020 Old Vine Sweet, Snake River Valley $22.00
YKnot Winery 2020 Late Harvest Gewürztraminer, Snake River Valley $18.00

Bronze medal
Bitner Vineyards 2020 Bitner Vineyards Dry Riesling, Snake River Valley $23.00
Bitner Vineyards 2018 Doc Ollie Block Barbera, Snake River Valley $50.00
Bitner Vineyards 2018 Bitner Vineyards Syrah, Snake River Valley $48.00
Bitner Vineyards 2018 KP Martin Vineyard Cabernet Franc, Snake River Valley $60.00
Bitner Vineyards 2018 Lanae Ridege Vineyard Erlexte Tempranillo, Snake River Valley $30.00
Cabin View Winery 2019 Elephant Mountain Vineyard Red Wine Blend, Washington $38.00
Cabin View Winery 2019 Elephant Mountain Vineyard Syrah, Washington $38.00
Free Dog Wines 2018 Merlot, Snake River Valley $24.00
Holesinsky Winery and Vineyard 2020 Idawine White Blend, Snake River Valley $14.00
Holesinsky Winery and Vineyard 2019 Pinot Noir, Snake River Valley $25.00
Holesinsky Winery and Vineyard 2020 Buhljolais Rosé of Syrah, Snake River Valley $12.00
Jovinea Cellars 2018 Syrah, Washington $24.00
Lindsay Creek Vineyards NV IRRESPONSIBILITY, Washington $20.00
Owyhee Vista Vineyard 2019 Tempranllo, Snake River Valley $23.00
Parma Ridge Winery 2020 Tre Bianchi, Snake River Valley $20.00
Parma Ridge Winery 2020 Rosé of Merlot, Snake River Valley $20.00
Roghani Vineyards 2015 Riesling , Snake River Valley $30.40
Sawtooth Winery 2020 Classic Fly Pinot Noir Rosé, Snake River Valley $22.00
Sawtooth Winery 2019 Classic Fly Series Grenache Syrah Mourvèdre , Snake River Valley $48.00
Sawtooth Winery 2019 Trout Trilogy Series Tempranillo, Snake River Valley $42.00
Sheppard Fruit Wines 2020 Rhubarb Wine, American $12.00
Sheppard Fruit Wines 2020 Pear Wine, American $12.00
Ste Chapelle 2019 Open Air Merlot, Snake River Valley $24.00
Two Bad Labs Vineyard 2017 Merlot, Washington $20.00
Two Bad Labs Vineyard 2020 Sauvignon Blanc, Lewis-Clark Valley $17.00
Vale Wine Company 2019 Pinot Noir, Oregon $34.00
Veer Wine Project 2018 Barbera, Snake River Valley $30.00
Veer Wine Project 2020 Soigne, Snake River Valley $20.00
White Tree Winery NV Redacted (mead with natural flavor), American $25.00
Williamson Vineyards 2019 Petite Sirah, Snake River Valley $22.00
YKnot Winery 2020 Merlot, Snake River Valley $29.00
YKnot Winery 2020 Blue Noir, Snake River Valley $29.00

About Eric Degerman

Eric Degerman is the President and CEO of Great Northwest Wine. He is a journalist with more than 30 years of daily newspaper experience and has been writing about wine since 1998. He co-founded Wine Press Northwest magazine with Andy Perdue and served as its managing editor for a decade. He is a frequent wine judge at international wine competitions throughout North America and orchestrates 10 Northwest competitions each year.

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