Located one hour’s drive east of Portland, Oregon, the Columbia Gorge river corridor spans the area on both sides of the Columbia River, extending into both Oregon and Washington. The region offers a diverse landscape, breathtaking views and mineral-rich soils, combined with a unique climate for wine grapes.
While young as a winegrowing region, the earth here is ancient, having been greatly influenced by the Missoula Floods. These swept through the region thousands of years ago, separating mountain ranges, carving out canyons and dispersing mineral deposits and soil throughout much of the Pacific Northwest.
Columbia Gorge became an official AVA in 2004. There are just 90 vineyards, spanning 526ha, and 50 wineries – of which 95% produce 5,000 or fewer cases a year.
No one grape variety or wine style is a specialty here, which means the Columbia Gorge is challenging to define, but also ripe with potential. For such a tiny planted area, there are more than 50 different varieties under vine, including Dolcetto, Grüner Veltliner, Gamay, Mencia and Tocai Friulano, to name just a few.
Winemakers and grape growers are still discovering the untapped riches of the Columbia Gorge AVA – as are holiday makers. Beyond adventure sports, the area is a great place for wine lovers to explore, with many excellent cellar-door experiences, as well as both casual and upmarket dining opportunities. Here are just a few to try…
Columbia Gorge: wineries to visit
Located on the wetter west end of the Columbia Gorge AVA (which gets 76cm of rain a year), Aniche Cellars is perched at the top of a hill overlooking the Columbia River.
Named for founder Rachel Horn’s two children Anaïs (the winemaker) and Che, the family-run winery sources fruit from growers in the Gorge and Washington’s Yakima Valley AVA. Most of their wines are blends that incorporate Bordeaux, Rhône or Italian varieties.
Guests can reserve tastings indoors (with proof of vaccination against Covid-19) or outdoors on Aniche’s covered patio.
- Address: 71 Little Buck Creek Rd, Underwood, WA
- Open: Wednesday to Sunday, 12pm to 6pm
Founded in 2010 by Steven Thompson and partner Kris Fade, Analemma sits on the east side of the appellation in the Mosier Valley. Located within one of the primary rain shadows of the Cascade Mountains, the property gets 25cm less rain per year than nearby Hood River. Analemma focuses on regenerative and biodynamic farming as well as lesser-planted Spanish varieties such as Godello and Mencia. Their expressive, site-specific Pinot Noirs are also worth trying.
Visitors can book a wine tasting on Analemma’s patio or opt for a vineyard tour and tasting. There’s also a vineyard picnic experience, where guests can take in the views from Analemma’s Hillside Terrace while enjoying lunch prepared with locally sourced ingredients.
- Address: 1120 State Road, Mosier, OR
- Open: Friday to Sunday; reservations required
Hiyu Wine Farm
Hiyu Wine Farm is about 12ha, roughly half of which are vineyards while the rest of the property includes employee housing and a state-of-the-art dining and winemaking production centre. It’s an organic farm-to-table operation, complete with grazing animals, expansive herb and vegetable gardens and a restaurant.
The winery features two wine labels: Smockshop Band and Hiyu Wine Farm. All wines – and ciders – at Hiyu are made naturally, without the addition of yeasts, enzymes, sugar, acid or water.
Wine tasting experiences in Hiyu’s tavern (or outside in the courtyard) are accompanied by small plates made with ingredients grown or foraged almost exclusively on the farm.
The winery also offers a family-style Wine Farmer’s Lunch between Thursdays and Saturdays, and a special multi-course evening Feast and twilight vineyard tour experience from Friday to Sunday, with advance reservations.
- Address: 3890 Acree Dr, Hood River, OR
- Open: Thursday to Sunday; reservations required. Tavern tasting reservations must be made 48 hours in advance and Feast Reservations must be made five days in advance.
Owner/winemaker Michael Savage and his wife Grace established their winery in 2011 on Underwood Mountain, at the western edge of the Columbia Gorge AVA. Savage Grace practices regenerative farming and has been organically certified since 2017.
The vision was to make single-vineyard varietal wines in an expressive, lower-alcohol style, with a particular focus on Loire varieties such as Cabernet Franc. Over time, Syrah, Gewürztraminer and Grüner Veltliner have been added to the fold as their potential in the region was realised. Guests to the Underwood property can schedule an outdoor tasting experience with expansive views of the Columbia and Hood rivers. The winery also has a tasting room in Woodinville, Washington.
- Address: 442 Kramer Rd, Underwood, WA
- Open: Fridays 1pm-4pm, Saturdays and Sundays 12pm-5pm; reservations required. Text Michael on (206) 920-4206 or send an email to email@example.com to book.
Cross the Columbia River and drive about 25 minutes east of Hood River to the dryer end of the Columbia Gorge AVA, and you’ll find Cor Cellars.
With distant views of snow-capped Mount Hood, the winery’s tasting room and courtyard are open, airy and modern. Guests can also enjoy the winery’s dozen limited-production wines on the rooftop terrace or in vineyard ‘tasting tents’, styled like upmarket yurts.
Cor Cellars specialises in bright, crisp estate-grown whites, including a Tocai Friulano and a Sauvignon Blanc, as well as fresh red blends made with fruit sourced from vineyards in the Gorge as well as from further north in Yakima.
- Address: 151 Old Highway 8, Lyle, WA
- Open: Wednesday to Sunday; reservations required
This winery sits directly east of a dramatic series of cliffs called the Bingen Syncline that rise from the Columbia River into the surrounding mountains. The Syncline marks the point where the rainy western Gorge transitions into the semi-arid eastern Gorge.
Inspired by Washington producers’ early efforts with Burgundy varieties, Syncline’s first vintage in 1999 consisted of 76 cases of Pinot Noir made from locally sourced grapes. Within a few years, owners James and Poppie Mantone purchased their own land and built a winery. Today the winery has 5ha under vine and practices sustainable and carbon-neutral farming.
The Mantones focus on Rhône varieties, traditional-method sparkling wines and a few outliers such as Picpoul and Grüner Veltliner, which they purchase from the Columbia or Yakima Valley. Guests can book guided tastings and vineyards tours, or casual outdoor tastings in the garden.
- Address: 11 Balch Road, Lyle, WA
- Open: Friday to Sunday 12 pm to 5 pm; reservations required
Columbia Gorge: where to eat and drink
The Society Hotel Café
For an excellent espresso, tea or breakfast in a gorgeous library-like setting, The Society Hotel Café is a great choice. This unique venue (which also has a branch in Portland) offers both private rooms and upscale hostel-like shared rooms as well as the newest coffee shop in Bingen, just a couple of minutes’ drive from Hood River and White Salmon.
The café itself offers plenty of cozy indoor seating, including comfy stuffed chairs by the fire, as well as outdoor picnic table seating.
- Address: 210 N Cedar St, Cook, WA
- Open: Monday to Sunday, 7am to 9pm
White Salmon Baking Co
A favourite local haunt (evidenced by the queues out the door at most times between breakfast and lunch rush hours), White Salmon Bakery serves up an array of naturally leavened, wood-fired breads and pastries. A light lunch menu, including sandwiches and salads, as well as beer and wine are also available. Limited seating is offered outside.
- Address: 80 NE Estes Ave, White Salmon, WA
- Open: Wednesday to Sunday, 8am to 3pm
One of the higher-end dining options in Hood River, Celilo offers a farm-to-table menu and a well-curated wine list of both local and international options, delivered by knowledgeable and friendly staff.
From the lettuce or chestnuts in your salad to the mushrooms and organic meats, the focus is on sourcing ingredients from farms as close as possible to the restaurant. Expect smaller portions but mouthwateringly fresh ingredients, prepared simply and elegantly.
- Address: 16 Oak St, Hood River, OR
- Open: Open Tuesday to Saturday, 5pm to 8:30pm on weekdays and 5pm to 9pm on Friday and Saturday; reservations encouraged
Slopeswell Cider/Heights Taproom
Looking for a break from wine? This Hood River cidery, brewery and taproom crafts small-batch hard ciders made from apples harvested in the Columbia River Gorge which they serve on tap, alongside a handful of local beers.
There are usually 14 different ciders available, ranging from dry, crisp examples made from heirloom apples, to wild-yeast-fermented styles, and those co-fermented with fruit.
The Taproom also serves beer and food and regularly hosts food and cider pairings as well as live music. It’s a relaxed yet buzzy community hangout, with friendly service and indoor, outdoor, pet-friendly and family seating options.
- Address: 1021 12th St #102, Hood River, OR
- Open: Thu & Fri 5-10pm, Sat 3-10pm, Sun 3-7pm
Columbia Gorge: things to do
Hood River is known for its world-class windsurfing, but the entire Columbia Gorge area has become a mecca for outdoor enthusiasts and extreme sports lovers. From windsurfing, kiteboarding and rafting on the Columbia River in summer to skiing and snowboarding at nearby Mount Hood in winter, as well as hiking and cycling in between, there’s plenty to do year round.
Away from winter sports, the best time to visit Columbia Gorge is between June and September with air temperatures ranging from 15°C to 38°C.