Columbia Gorge AVA
In 1805, when Lewis and Clark established Rock Fort Camp, it’s unlikely the pair envisioned that the impact of their expedition would include the Columbia Gorge becoming a diverse and thriving wine region nearly two centuries later. Established in 2004, the Columbia Gorge AVA is a stunningly beautiful region beginning just an hour from Portland near Hood River along the Columbia River and extending past The Dalles. The Gorge itself has been designated a National Scenic Area, the largest of its kind in the country at nearly 293,000 acres.
Winemaking in the Columbia Gorge dates back to the 1880s, when the Jewetts, founders of the town of White Salmon on the Washington side of the river, first planted vines. It didn’t really take off until the 1970s when over the following two decades, well-known winemakers began to discover the high-quality of the grapes that could be grown here. In the late 1980s and early ‘90s, some of the fruit from early vineyards planted by Henderson, McAndrew, and Blanchette, were taking over by some outstanding winemakers. They were able to recognise quality wine grapes and were willing to experiment. Not long after, this region earned acclaim for its world-class grapes.
Extreme Climate Variances for High Quality Grapes and Scenic Touring
The west end of the Gorge is classic Oregon, with lush scenery that includes countless cascading waterfalls and moss-draped trees. But by the time you reach the eastern end, the rain shadow effect is obvious, with the average annual rainfall here only 10 inches. The dramatic change makes for an impressive visual backdrop, while extreme variances of climate mean that in the Columbia Gorge AVA, a wide array of classical varieties can be successfully grown.
The Wines and the Winemakers Today
Wine lovers are often surprised by the many different varietals here. There isn’t just one in particular, everything from Pinot noir and Sauvignon blanc to Pinot gris and Zinfandel are produced here. Winemakers collaborate with the goal to further the region as a whole. There are now over 90 vineyards and 50 wineries in the region. The diversity of wine grapes is unlikely to be matched anywhere else in such a small stretch of land.
Even in one vineyard, a vast array of grapes may be grown. There’s always a story to be told, like farmer, winemaker, and former Master Sommelier, Nate Ready of Hiyu Wine Farm. The various types of humans, animals, plants, and microorganisms living in a symbiotic system, allow him to grow more than 100 different varietals. His wines tend to represent historical ideas or various regions. Visiting Europe multiple times, every planting is based on different movements in Europe’s grape-growing history. He creates complex blends via practices like grafting multiple varieties onto one plant. His 2018 Hypericum Spring Ephemeral, for example, comes from a half-acre field planted with more than 15 different southern Mediterranean varieties. It was the result of his desire to find out how Mediterranean grapes would grow in alpine conditions.