Columbia Gorge Wine Tours
One of Washington’s newer appellations is Columbia Gorge, established in 2004. In terms of physical size it is tiny compared to others in the state with just 4,432 acres total and only about 300 of those acres planted to wine grapes. There are approximately 30 Columbia Gorge wineries located within the boundaries of the AVA (American Viticultural Area) and it is one of several Washington appellations that shares territory with neighboring Oregon. You’ll have no regrets if you make this area part of your wine vacation.
The defining feature of the region is the deep river gorge forged by the eruption of the Cascade chain of volcanoes and repeated violent flooding, the result of ice dams further upriver bursting many thousands of years ago. Today, the Columbia River Gorge is a protected scenic area and development is tightly controlled. Agriculture has thrived here in modern times, especially pears, cherries and apples. Although grapes were planted here as early as 1880, the area is still relatively new for premium wine production.
What makes this region so interesting for viticulture is that it sits squarely on the transition point where the hot, dry valleys of the east meet the Cascade mountain range and the landscape rapidly changes into the cool, wet forests that define the west. Vintners are only beginning to tap into the rich, varied soils and unique micro-climates but wine tourists will be delighted with jaw-dropping vistas, waterfalls and numerous outdoor activities, in addition to charming, friendly tasting rooms.
One of the few larger wineries in the area is Maryhill Winery outside the town of Goldendale. With a popular outdoor concert venue, bustling tasting room overlooking a stunning view of the river and a well-made lineup of mainly red wines, it is a favorite for locals and tourists. Nearby Cascade Cliffs Winery also makes a wide assortment of wines including Zinfandel, Syrah, Cabernet Sauvignon and several Italian varietals.
Promising small family-owned wineries especially Syncline Cellars, Domaine Pierre Noire, Cor Cellars and others are tucked away off the main highway near the tiny hamlet of Lyle, Washington but are well worth seeking out.
Traversing across the river into the town of Hood River you will find a group of small tasting rooms in the nicely restored downtown core including The Pines, one of the oldest vineyards in the area. Winemaker Peter Rosback brought attention to this vineyard and to the Columbia Gorge appellation under his Newburg, Oregon winery named Sineann. Rosback is also the winemaker for The Pines and other wineries in the area.
Just outside Hood River good winery stops include Viento Wines, Pheasant Valley Winery and Cathedral Ridge Winery.
It should be noted that fruit wines are still made in the area and the Hood River “Fruit Loop” scenic drive is a very popular tourist activity that includes several wineries.