One of the most exciting but least understood Northwest wine regions is the Columbia Gorge.
Officially, the Columbia Gorge American Viticultural Area is a grape-growing region that crosses both sides of the Columbia River, surrounding the city of Hood River, Ore., and such towns as White Salmon and Bingen, Wash.
But in reality, the region known as “the Gorge” extends from Troutdale, Ore., in the west to Goldendale, Wash., in the east.
It is a fascinating area because the western part of the region is a cool, rainy climate, making it good for growing pinot noir, gewürztraminer, riesling and chardonnay. As you travel east, the Cascade Mountains block the rain and the area dries out. This is ideal for growing warm-climate grapes such as zinfandel and cabernet sauvignon.
Further confusing matters is that many wineries in the region bring in grapes from other areas of the Pacific Northwest. As a result, within about a 60-mile stretch of highway, we enjoy a world of wine tasting.
Today, more than 30 wineries and tasting rooms call the Columbia Gorge home, and that is helping to create a dynamic region for wine lovers. Restaurants and hotels are building up, particularly in Hood River. But amenities are not limited to the Oregon side of the Columbia. The grand Skamania Lodge in Stevenson, Wash., is an amazing property with superb dining, as well as golf, hiking trails, a spa and zip line tours.
We recently conducted the inaugural Columbia Gorge Wine Competition at the historic Columbia Gorge Hotel in Hood River. The top wine of the judging was a pinot noir from Phelps Creek Vineyards, while the best white wine was a riesling from Mt. Hood Winery — both in Hood River.
Here were the six gold medal winners: