Region of Wine:
you Like Vino, Gorge Yourself !!
By Fred Delkin
Yours truly just returned from a conducted tour of the Columbia Gorge wine region and
now has an enhanced knowledge of an area with an unexpected variety of superbly crafted
varietals, both red and white. Both sides of the Columbia, from Hood River east to The Dalles,
are home for a growing acreage of premium grapevines. Looking at the topography and its
seeming aridity, one would doubt its ability to nurture virtually the full range of the world's most
popular vinous plantings. The Columbia Gorge appellation (AVA) is earning a deserved respect,
and now includes some 40 wineries on both sides of the river, all but one, small scale operations.
Sure, the world of wine has come to know the Willamette Valley as a lush, green resource for
superb bottlings, but now some dedicated growers and vintners located less than two hours east
have planted a flag to follow.
Leader of this pack is Maryhill Winery, the ambitious undertaking
by Spokane's Craig Leuthold that opened in 2001. Craig and his
gracious wife and host Vicki preside over an estate now
producing over 60,000 cases per annum from no less than 24
varietal bottlings.. Maryhill Winery has a 3,000 sq. ft. tasting room
and retail store with a picnic area overlooking a 4,000 seat
ampitheater (staging a summer live music concert series that has
included such famed musicians as Willie Nelson & Crosby, Stills &
Nash) and a meticulously groomed stretch of vineyards.
This complex is perched on a bluff high above the Columbia River,
adjacent to the Maryhill Museum that was originally built early in the
19th century as a mansion for multi-millionaire Sam Hill. The view
from the winery is stunning and includes Mt. Hood. Visit
www.maryhillwinery.com for details and to plot your course. We stayed
at a just-remodeled The Dalles Inn, now an upscale lodging with numerous
amenities on the Oregon side of the Columbia. This was also a convenient
base for visiting wineries in the surrounding appellation.
The Pines Winery in downtown Hood River, just minutes from The Dalles, is the outpost for
entrepreneur Lonnie Wright, owner of Columbia County Vineyards management operation and a
grape supplier to Maryhill as well as Wright's own "The Pines 1852" label. Wright's tasting room
abuts a large dance floor and art gallery and is a base for live music. Wright came West from
Indiana to plant and oversee vineyards for the Columbia Crest label in Washington state's
Columbia Valley appellation. He has since planted sites along the Gorge that supply both
Washington and Oregon labels. Lonnie is a devotee of the Zinfandel varietal, the bold red first
developed in California. He met an orchardist in The Dalles that had discovered eight acres of
neglected, century-old Zin vines, now revived and supplying The Pines Old Vine Zin. The Pines
also vinifies another seven acres of later Zinfandel plantings, three acres of Merlot and a two-acre
plot of Syrah.
Meanwhile, back in WA
Across the Columbia, near the town of Lyle, Syncline Wine Cellars offers a collection of
bottlings sourced from the Columbia Gorge and Columbia Valley apellations. The Mantone
family was formed when James and Poppy met while working in the cellar at LaVelle Vineyards
in the southern Willamette Valley near Eugene in 1997. The Syncline estate vineyard is on the
eastern edge of the Columbia Gorge AVA. Both public tasting and winery vinification are
conducted in a rustic barn. The wines trend toward the French Rhone Valley varietals, including
reds Roussanne, Mourvedre, Grenache and Syrah, and white Viognier. Here you will also find
Austria's most popular grape, the white Gruner Veltliner, which our tastebuds found equal to the
best of this breed that we have had in Europe. The winery name refers to a geological
designation for a trough of stratified rock wherein the soil beds dip toward each other, as in the
Syncline estate vineyard.
(Near the Colmbia at Maryhill is a reproduction of England's
famous neolithic structure, Stonehenge)
Syncline crafts another tribute to the diversification of this new
AVA by producing a thoroughly wonderful Pinot Noir inspired
by the owners' sojourn in the Willamette Valley. As the label
states: "Here is a wine that proves great Pinot Noir can be
grown in Washington." The Columbia Gorge wineries are now
offering superb quality tributes to Europe's best-known varietals
and it's all happening just a hop, skip & swallow from Portland.
One other experience we should mention on our tour was a drive through Schreiner Wildlife
Sanctuary just off WA state Hwy 14 near Dallesport, where looking out your vehicle window one
can see 15 species of animals in a matter of minutes, including Buffalo, Camels, Llamas,
Wallaroos, Yaks and Zebras ... all roaming within a many-acred sweep of fenced topography.
Diversification goes beyond farming wine!.
If the reader would like to stage a professional introduction to the Columbia Gorge AVA, type
www.explorethegorge.com and access details on a Hood River-based resource operating vehicles
accommodating groups from 6 to 24 and an on-board guide that narrates a very knowledgeable
description of the unique scenery that flows by.
© 2010 Oregon Magazine