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Tuesday, Feb. 15, 2011

Camas Prairie Winery sold after 28 years

MOSCOW, Idaho -- Stuart Scott launched his winery in Moscow, Idaho, not long before the U.S. invaded Grenada in 1983.

He served in Vietnam and later in the Gulf Wars, but in between Scott was a frontiersman in the Idaho wine industry.

“There are only three of us left from that vintage — Camas Prairie, Weston and what is now Ste. Chapelle,” Scott said.

After 28 years, and nine months, Scott and his wife, Susan, have sold Camas Prairie Winery.

The new owners, Jeremy and Heidi Ritter, will celebrate their grand re-opening March 26. Under Scott, the fascinating downtown operation earned Wine Press Northwest’s 2007 Idaho Winery of the Year award.

“Nothing has really changed, and we do not want it to change,” Jeremy Ritter said in a phone interview Tuesday. “We’re still going to deal with all of Stu’s vendors and distributors.”

Ritter, 38, moved from Colorado to Helmer, Idaho, seven years ago to be closer to family near Seattle. The former sheet rock hanger has made fruit wine as a hobby at home for several years.

“We were looking for a new direction and new careers, and we came across this online,” Ritter said.

Last spring, Scott put the winery, tasting room and wine bar on the market. The Department of Justice retiree listed it for $135,000, which didn’t include the inventory.

“Everything I asked for I got,” Scott said. “The buyer is keeping the winery and hiring me as a consultant. I’m very lucky considering this economy.”

The Scotts still own the historic two-story Browne Building, which includes their residence, a guest rental and the winery space.

As Ritter’s landlord, Scott is motivated to see Camas Prairie continue to prosper. Annual production is 2,000 cases, which covers more than 20 styles, ranging from sparkling wines to award-winning meads.

There’s also the Cabernet Sauvignon from Paul Champoux’s famous vineyard in the Horse Heaven Hills of Washington.

“Paul is willing to work with us, as well,” Ritter said, who sells the Camas Prairie 2009 Champoux Cab for $17.50 per bottle.

Quality and affordability have been the cornerstones to Scott’s success.

“Our wines were always at an approachable price point, so we weren’t hurt as badly by the recession as some people,” Scott said.

The Ritters also are maintaining Scott’s retail stock of more than 90 selections of imported beer, another draw for faculty and students at nearby University of Idaho.

In 2008, Camas Prairie became Idaho’s first winery to receive rural development funds for solar energy.

“That was one of the things that attracted me — Stu’s vision to be the first solar-powered winery in the state of Idaho,” Ritter said. “I’m no tree-hugger, but it’s something you can do to help with the carbon footprint.”

Perhaps the only physical change that Camas Prairie’s customers will notice immediately is a revamped website, however the Ritters hope to begin offering sidewalk seating this summer.

“There are new changes going through Moscow,” Ritter said. “New young faces will be bringing different ideas on how to maybe make Moscow more of a true getaway.”

For Scott, he plans on growing his wine consulting business around vacations with Susan.

“I’m just 62 and in good health. I just got that in writing today from the VA,” Scott said. “But I’m not going to be one of those who tells you ‘Days of Our Lives’ comes on at 10 a.m. and ‘All My Children’ is after that. I love the people involved with making wine, the growers, the restaurants, the customers. It has been and I believe it will continue to be a great way of life for me.”