Wine Country Escape

Columbia Gorge: The Wild Frontier

Here's how to spend a day in Oregon and Washington's ruggedly beautiful shared wine region.

By Sean P. Sullivan September 14, 2021

Mount Hood views and tasting tents at Cor Cellars. 

Image: Kelly Turso

Usually considered a day trip for Portlanders, this 40-mile-long appellation along the Oregon-Washington border is home to some of our own state’s most exciting new wines. It also happens to be one of the most visually stunning areas in the Pacific Northwest, where the Columbia River cuts through bedrock and the Cascades and flows west to the Pacific. Basalt cliffs tower above the river. Mount Hood gleams in the distance. Windsurfers knife up into the air. A world of wine awaits.

Plan to make Hood River, the cultural heart of the Columbia Gorge and way more than a world-class windsurfing area, your home base. Then cross the river for White Salmon Baking Co. Owned and operated by Jure Poberaj and Nina Jimenez, the bakery draws locals and out-of-towners alike with its pastries and sandwiches—and, on Mondays, pizza from the wood-fired oven.

Fifteen minutes away on the slopes of Underwood Mountain, an extinct volcano, Savage Grace Wines pours its low-alcohol, food-friendly, single-vineyard creations. Owners Michael and Grace Savage make some of the most unique and compelling wines produced in Washington, and many of them begin in the adjacent vineyard.

An artful salad at Sugarpine Drive-In.

Image: Kelly Turso

Continue east on the Lewis and Clark Highway to the tiny town of Lyle, population 464. Four of those people are the family behind Syncline Wine Cellars. Owners James and Poppie Mantone make Rhône-style wines and offer guided tastings in the winery’s ample garden. From there continue on up the road to Cor Cellars. Here, views of Mount Hood backdrop the estate vineyard, which grows varieties like tocai friulano, seldom seen in the region. The winery’s Ago wines focus on Columbia Gorge fruit and the appellation’s signature electric acidity.

Back in Hood River, dinner at Celilo Restaurant and Bar sets the standard for fine dining in the area. Or, if you’re heading to Portland, stop for a sculptural soft-serve sundae and pulled pork sandwich from Sugarpine Drive-In, an old gas station turned dining destination at the very start of the Historic Columbia River Highway.

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