Marked by the mighty Columbia River flowing calmly toward the Pacific Ocean, dramatic cliffs dropping into the water, vegetation carpeting the hills with lush greenery, and stunning views of Mount Hood and Mount Adams, the Columbia River Gorge is quite possibly one of the most beautiful places in the country. And, as wine many connoisseurs know, it is also quickly becoming a highly touted wine-growing region.
I’m sure when Lewis and Clark first floated down the Columbia River in 1805, they had no idea that 200 years later vineyards and wineries would be in abundance in this region, or that the beautiful Gorge would be recognized for its world-class grapes—which some have compared to grapes from the other major wine-growing regions in the world (Rhine, Rhone and Burgundy).
Tour the Fruit Loop Trail
The wine region straddles the state line between Oregon and Washington, with wineries on both sides of the river, and extends east to Walla Walla, Washington. However, for Portlanders looking to stick to a daylong trip, there is a relatively short wine trail leaving from Hood River, Oregon called the “Fruit Loop Trail.”
The entire trail is approximately 35 miles long, taking tourists and locals on beautiful winding roads leading to some large fruit orchards and wineries with incredible views of Mount Hood and Mount Adams. This area has dozens of wineries to visit within a stone’s throw of each other, making it easy to stop at numerous wineries in a single day (hope you brought a DD).
For more information, visit the official Hood River Fruit Loop website.
Columbia Gorge Wines
This fairly new AVA (established in 2004) produces some rich and full-bodied wines. A common thread in all wines produced in this area—no matter if it’s a full-bodied red wine or a light, crisp white wine—is that they all have a hint of mineraly-ness to their taste.
Some have compared it to the taste you get when you gulp a cold drink from a garden hose and get that small mineral bite in your mouth. For me, it’s a pleasant and familiar taste. Many winemakers attribute this mineral taste to the fact that the climate in this area is well defined and its soils have accumulated from floods, volcanic eruptions and landslides over the millennia.
A Few Columbia Gorge Picks
Pheasant Valley Winery
This is a beautiful winery with absolutely spectacular views. The grounds are laced with vineyards, organic pear and apple orchards, lavender fields and beautiful flowers. The vineyard has an inviting large veranda with ceiling fans and comfortable chairs. The spacious tasting room features an antique historic bar that made its way around Cape Horn in 1905 and became a part of Barclays Pharmacy for over 50 years, before it found a home at Pheasant Valley Winery.
This winery has always been known for their off-dry pear wines, their ’06 Chardonnay and the ’06 Syrah took Double Gold and Gold in the recent Oregon Wine Awards.
Cathedral Ridge was named “Winery of the Year” in 2007 by the Wine Press NW, and for good reason. The beautiful park-like setting welcomes wine tasters with tree-lined groves, sculpture pieces, picnic tables, flowers and an extra-long tasting bar overlooking the grounds.
Made by fourth-generation winemaker Michael Sebastiani, Cathedral Ridge has a full lineup of wines, dominated mostly by Bordeaux- and Rhone-style reds. But, the whites are equally good and should be tasted and enjoyed.
While Cathedral Ridge was named winery of the year in 2007 in Oregon, Maryhill was given the same honors in 2009 for Washington State. The winery boasts absolutely spectacular views in all directions of the Columbia River Gorge, Columbia River, Mount Hood and high desert. There is a great elevated patio deck where you can picnic and the 3,000-square foot tasting room has a gorgeous, antique wood bar.
And while their wines are delicious, Maryhill is probably best known for their amphitheatre, which, in addition to hosting some big-name acts, also has free summer concerts on Saturdays in through the summer.
Slide image: Flickr