(May 2017) As the bus slowly approached the town of Hood River, I became more excited because it was my first time to visit the Columbia Gorge wine region. Whereas I have visited the Willamette Valley many times in the past, this smaller, less well-known wine region of Oregon was new to me. Looking out the window, I was pleased to see how charming the scenery was with trees filled with pink blossoms, tall pines, and the glittering blue of the massive Columbia River weaving through the town.
We stopped at the Columbia Gorge Hotel, and immediately everyone rushed outside to peer over the stonewall at the mighty river below. From here the water was a dark navy blue with small white caps, and I could sense the power and grandeur of the river that has been an important conduit for commerce and travel over the centuries. Near-by a waterfall cascaded down the cliffs, and the sight and sound of the white rushing water was invigorating. Someone pointed across the river to the bluffs on the other side and we could see vineyards dotting the hillside. Immediately I thought of Germany, and the many vineyards that cover the hillsides of the Rhine River in the Rheingau region.
Who knew the Columbia River Gorge wine region was so enchanting? Suddenly I was more curious about the wines from this region, because I had never tasted them before. Calling us back inside, we were introduced to Brian McCormick, President of the Columbia Gorge Winegrowers Association, and a panel of winemakers who proceeded to walk us through a flight of wines.
About the Columbia River Gorge Wine Region
Ideally situated one hour east of Portland, the Columbia River Gorge is an ideal wine tourism location for a day or weekend trip. Filled with stunning river scenery, quaint restaurants and hotels, and around 30 wineries, it is a very pleasant vacation spot. We also learned that the Columbia Gorge is one of the top five wind surfing locations in the world – thus the white caps we could see on the river.
Brian told us that the Columbia Gorge AVA was established in 2004, and that most of the wineries are small family-run establishments. The largest winery is Maryhill Winery, which produces around 50,000 cases per year. The AVA actually spans both the Oregon and Washington borders.
Highlights of the Columbia Gorge Wine Tasting
Since this wine region is relatively new, many of the winemakers are still experimenting with the types of grapes that grow best in this particular terroir. Therefore we were treated to a smorgasbord of different types of wines. However, with a cooler climate and varied soils, plus the river influence, I found that the wines that stood out for me were the whites, pinot noir, and cabernet franc. Some of my favorites were:
- 2012 Anelemna Blanc de Noir, made from 100% pinot noir
- 2016 Mount Hood Winery Dry Riesling
- 2013 Memaloose Cabernet France
- 2009 Viento Gewürztraminer Ice Wine
In summary, this was a delightful stop, and I will definitely encourage others to visit this wine region in the future. Especially since it is so easy to travel here from Portland.