In the Columbia Gorge, there’s a natural wonder—or good glass of wine—around every corner.

Kristin Scharkey  – October 1, 2021

Picture this: You’re sipping a glass of sparkling wine on a hill above rows of grapevines that undulate across a rolling patchwork of green. A tray of freshly shucked oysters is passed, then slurped, as a breeze hits your cheek. The vista reminds you a bit of Tuscany, but you’re nowhere near Italy.

Welcome to Oregon’s Mosier Valley.

This little slice of the Pacific Northwest is part of the broader Columbia Gorge that straddles the OregonWashington border. Home to both old and young farmers who are reimagining agriculture, it’s an hour east of Portland but it feels like another world.

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The hill where you stand is part of Analemma Wines, a biodynamic and Demeter-certified winery where cows munch on cold melon rinds and cherry orchards blossom. Winegrowers Kris Fade and Steven Thompson want visitors to sip their wines right next to the vines from which they came. Tastings at the property aren’t seated; in fact, they’re exploratory. Wear your tennis shoes for a roving tour of vineyards planted with varieties from northwest Spain’s Galicia region—Albariño, Godello, Mencia.

Starting this fall, visitors can savor even more of a treat as the winery launches a dinner series to highlight ingredients grown in the region, including from the estate garden. Think of a more ambulatory version of Outstanding in the Field: In the early fall, you’ll be able to take in multiple views from the hillside property, while cooler months will see guests gather among the barrels in the winery.

Analemma Wines is partnering with chef Mark DeResta for an exploratory dinner series.

Michael Hanson Photography/Courtesy of Analemma Wines

In both cases, food will be prepared by Mark DeResta, the longtime executive chef at Riverside restaurant just a few minutes down the highway in the city of Hood River. DeResta’s cuisine—not to mention the restaurant’s patio perched on the banks of the river—will make you rethink everything you knew about Best Western hotel dining. And it’s just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to this world-class wine region.

“There is definitely a pulse to the region right now, where there are a lot of winemakers trying to push the boundaries of both winemaking and approaches to grape growing,” says Savage Grace winemaker Michael Savage, whose facility is perched atop Underwood Mountain just across the Columbia River in Washington state.

Drive from one side of the gorge to the other—even from Analemma to Savage Grace—and the temperature drops by a noticeable number of degrees. Rainfall follows suit. “There’s a drastic temperature and rainfall difference between the western and eastern fringes of the growing region, the result of heavy rainclouds not being able to make it over the Cascades,” says Fade. The result is “raw and dynamic conditions” for the grapes, Fade continues, leading to “provocative flavors” in the glass.

It’s only a matter of time, local winemakers say, before the region is split into smaller American Viticultural Areas. “I think you’re going to start seeing the many different microclimates in the region get called out as sub AVAs and see wines from each of those different regions that really highlight the strengths and differences,” Savage says.

Back in Hood River, winemaker Nate Ready has become a leader in permaculture farming and wine growing. Pigs, cows, chickens, and geese roam the vines at Hiyu. Ready’s approach is inspired by the philosophies of Japanese farmer Masanobu Fukuoka, who believed in farming without tillage or fertilizer.

Winemaker Nate Ready is behind the permaculture operation at Hiyu Wine Farm.

Kyle Johnson/Courtesy of Hiyu

“We’re living in a moment where people are interested in exploring new and unusual flavors,” Ready says. “The gorge is uniquely suited to creating this sort of wine, largely because of the intensity and diversity of the geography. The mountains and rivers create a kind of magic that transcends food and wine.”

Even within the Hood River Valley, more than a dozen AVAs could be differentiated, “just like in Napa,” Ready says. “It’s a good thing,” the winemaker continues. “The more people appreciate the nuances and differences between progressively smaller pieces of land, the more they learn to develop an affinity for the land. This type of specific, imaginative care, is at the core of doing a better job taking care of the world we live in.”

Due to its “diverse elements,” the Columbia Gorge is “not easily categorized” nor “easily understood,” Fade says. To get to know its beauty a bit deeper, we asked the winegrower for a few must-stops during a visit to the majestic region.

Savage Grace

Michael Savage harvests Pinot Noir at Underwood Mountain vineyard.

Andrea Johnson/Courtesy of Savage Grace Wines

Michael Savage’s wines are “a striking introduction to the gorge like nothing else from Washington state,” Fade says. “Perched on Underwood Mountain, his production facility reveals sweeping views of the Columbia River and Mount Hood. Here Michael crafts intriguing and honest wines that are as complex as his approach to making them, inspired by his career as a musician.” 

Ruby June Inn 

Ruby June Inn boasts curated textiles and the work of local artists.

Kelly Turso/Courtesy of Ruby June Inn

“In the beautiful rooms at Ruby June Inn, you’ll feel as comfortable as in your own home. Impeccably curated with rich textiles and the work of local artists, this spot is an incredible beginning for any adventure. Their 1890s IceHouse Wine Bar, chef-inspired al fresco dinner series, and warm hospitality create a vibe and memories that are uniquely Columbia Gorge.”

White Salmon Baking Co.

Visitors flock to White Salmon Baking Co. for fresh pastries.

Kate Schwager/Courtesy of White Salmon Baking Co.

“This unassuming stop just off the main street in White Salmon will have you ordering at least one more treat for later in the day. A local favorite that draws customers from across the river and the state, this classic bakery also boasts one of the most provocative wine lists in the region.”

Catherine Creek hike 

“A short but spectacular hike” provides “the perfect opportunity to enjoy your leftover cardamom bun from the bakery. The trail winds through meadows and white oak forest as you head north toward a culturally significant natural arch. As you head back down, enjoy the magnificent southern view of Mount Hood and the rushing creek.”

The Riv

Grab farm-to-table fare at The Riv, an old stone church transformed into a cafe.

Diamondheart Photography LLC/Courtesy The Riv

“The patio beside this old-stone-church-turned-cafe harkens to the Italian countryside. Nestled in a quaint neighborhood, this spot features excellent house-made pastries and farm-to-table inspired food. Kind service and the sound of doves cooing make this visit unforgettable.”

Historic Highway 30 to Rowena Crest Overlook

From The Riv, head west on Highway 30. “Enjoy stunning views of the Columbia and the Klickitat River to the north. At the Rowena overlook on the top of the switchback climb, stretch your legs and enjoy the spectacular view before continuing through orchards and vineyards.”

Analemma Wines

Winegrower Kris Fade serves plates at Analemma Wines’ exploratory dinner series.

Michael Hanson Photography/Courtesy of Analemma Wines

“Hear the story from a member of our production team on how we make our wines and why they are both spectacular and rare in the story of North American wine. To experience this yourself, book an Exploratory Field Tasting to taste wines straight from the source on our diversified and regenerative working farm.”

Hiyu

Three different food and wine experiences are available at Hiyu.

Kyle Johnson/Courtesy of Hiyu

“From the heart of the Hood River Valley, Hiyu is known for skillful use of permaculture and their meticulous cultivation of vines and produce onsite. Be sure to book your reservation for one of their three incredible food and wine offerings to enjoy views of the farm animals from the tasting room picture window.”

Riverside  

Riverside restaurant overlooks the Columbia River, with delicious food to match.

Rountree Rouse/Courtesy of Riverside

“Featuring locally sourced ingredients through an imaginative and thoughtful menu, Riverside is focused on supporting the bounty of the gorge. As the only true waterfront restaurant on the Columbia River, it’s not uncommon for guests to witness bald eagles and osprey diving for dinner. In an unexpected twist, Riverside is located at a Best Western Hotel. Don’t let this deter you, the restaurant is outstanding.”


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