Gorging on Wine: The Tasting Rooms of the Columbia River Gorge

Lines, real or imaginary, are critical to identifying states, nations and even vineyards. The Columbia Gorge AVA, which incorporates both Oregon and Washington states, became an official American Viticultural Area in 2009 and over 30 grape varieties are in the ground. The Columbia Gorge may not a wine area you’ve even heard of; Oregon’s Willamette Valley and Washington’s Yakima, and Walla Walla have a more well-known reputation. But the Columbia Gorge has 40+ wineries and they are banking on a steady flow of tourists, advocating their unusual and beautiful growing region, and providing terrific bank for the buck, where it’s uncommon to see bottle prices over $40. If you find yourself in the Columbia River Gorge, say touring the 90 or so waterfalls, rafting the White Salmon, paddle boarding, kite surfing or just wandering the scenic beauty, stop at one, or all of these tasting rooms and sample some terrific juice. Make sure you check the hours available (websites are listed below) and drop some cash for a bottle or two.

Nathan Ziegler at his vineyard

The Columbia River Gorge is a 1,200 mile river however the bulk of the wineries are concentrated near the town of Hood River, an hour east of Portland. Gorge wines have a truncated growing season, are susceptible to lots of rain, intermittent sunshine, cool temperatures and aggressive wind. In Washington Nathan Ziegler of Ziegler Vineyards is short on wine, but long on enthusiasm for wine and Underwood Mountain where his property is located. He currently pours only Pinot Gris and Tempranillo, though Nathan has planted the only known Gr├╝ner Veltiner in the state, as well as Riesling. His modest tasting room, actually his grandfather’s retirement house, has sweeping views of vineyards and the Columbia River and he has cheeses available as well. His son has a lemonade stand steps from the tasting room, so you might want to get a wee bit of lemonade, preferably after your wine tasting. Tasting Fee: $2

At the Memaloose tasting room situated on the banks of the Columbia River they are kicking out low alcohol wines, nothing over 13 percent, unusual by most winery standards. “We look for structure and acidity and our cooler temperatures give us that,” says Robert McCormick who knows food and wine from his days with McCormick Spices. “We have a European perspective; old world style; lower alcohol; we take what the vineyard gives us.” Memaloose and their sister label, Idiot’s Grace (I love that name), turn out exclusively Columbia Gorge wines including Primitivo, Cabernet Franc and Riesling. The tasting bar faces the river and if you’re inclined you can sit on the deck just above the water and be amazed at the views, and it’s really cool when the train runs by. Tasting fee: $5

Garrit Stoltz

Hood River, on Oregon’s side of the Columbia River Gorge is home to eight tasting rooms including Stoltz Vineyards where winemaker Garrit Stoltz, a Hood River native, sells the idea of a local making local wine. He routinely produces one barrel lots including Chardonnay and organic Pinot Noir, as well as the peculiar, though inviting, Portuguese variety Ferano Pires (also known as Maria Gomez) and the odd-ball Zweigelt. Therefore Stoltz is something of a renegade. Well, that and their tasting room used to be a funeral home. The beautiful old house turned mortuary turned tasting room has a picturesque view of the river, and was originally built as a model home to draw people to live here. Oh yeah, and he tells me when they bought the property they found an old body in the garage. But the wines are lively and from here you can walk to Cerulean Wine who uses fruit from both Oregon and Washington, to create a broad portfolio of wine
including Gew├╝rztraminer, Pinot Gris, Chardonnay, Tempranillo, and Syrah among others and they use sustainable farming methods. Cerulean’s sleek downtown Hood River tasting has exposed brick walls counterbalanced with a reclaimed wood bar and hardwood floors. You’ll find their wines in several of the local restaurants as well. Tasting fee: $5

Franco Marchesi
Up the road, (you’ll need to drive) is Marchesi Vineyards where you can get onto the vine covered property and taste wine in their small tasting room out back. “When I arrived here in 2001 wine was a novelty,” says Franco Marchesi, originally from Italy. Now he has lots of company, but more wine in the Gorge, Marchesi believes, serves everyone, and that’s a fine attitude. He produces excellent Italian varieties including Sangiovese, Barbara and Dolcetto, among others, grown about a mile from the banks of the Columbia River, which used to be an apple orchard. He doesn’t use pesticides. He does cut some salami and other cured meats for people to have with his wines. Tasting fee: $5

Drink Up

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