Washington’s next big-deal wine destination lies along the steep slopes and dramatic basalt cliffs where the Columbia River demarcates Oregon and Washington. This AVA straddles the state line, a 40-mile stretch from rainy Cascade Mountain foothills to hotter, drier Eastern Washington climes that will grow anything from albariño to zinfandel. Here, tasting rooms often look out over the very vines that provided its grapes, as you might in Napa or Tuscany, but with bonus views of Mount Hood and dramatic river canyons.
Producers from elsewhere in the state source grapes from the Columbia Gorge, but a relatively small group of local wineries push Washington’s stylistic boundaries, like James Mantone at Syncline, or Michael Savage’s fresh, food-friendly creations at Savage Grace. Explore the full breadth of what this region can do at these tasting rooms, on both the Oregon and Washington sides.
Across the river in bucolic Mosier, Oregon, vigneron Steven Thompson embraces the same biodynamic farming methods he practiced during his tenure as Christophe Baron’s assistant vigneron at famed Cayuse. Analemma uses only Columbia Gorge fruit—from both the Oregon and Washington sides of the appellation—and explores varieties rarely seen in this area such as mencia, albarino, and tempranillo. The compact tasting room has a patio and great vineyard views.
Cor Cellars and Ago
Luke Bradford is part of a new guard of makers who favor low oak, low alcohol wines, released younger and able to be enjoyed in the shorter term rather than cellared. His Ago label, meanwhile, focuses on grapes from the Columbia Gorge, including sparklers, rosé, and unusual varieties like tocai friulano. A tasting room in Lyle overlooks the winery’s estate vineyard and the Columbia River, though currently tastings happen by appointment in the courtyard, or in handsome private tents.
The drive up to Idiot’s Grace in Mosier, Oregon, is a quintessential Gorge experience, one surrounded by organic vineyards and orchards and a sense of stillness and calm. Co-owner Brian McCormick paints from a diverse palette that includes cabernet franc, barbera, dolcetto, semillon, primitivo and gamay noir. Some are more successful than others, but these bottles are always interesting.
Two ski bum friends who met on the slopes in Tahoe went on to found a winery that’s shown real promise in its first few years. Their love of skiing informs the labels as well as the wines, which are made in a bright, fresh, apres ski style. The tasting room in downtown White Salmon has seating made from a converted chairlift, parklet seating out front, and a telling proximity to the slopes of Mount Hood.
Maryhill’s Goldendale tasting room is as much about the experience as what’s in the glass; the deck overlooking the Columbia River is perfect for whiling away the hours. As one of the state’s larger wineries, producing roughly 80,000 cases annually, Maryhill sources grapes from 20 vineyards throughout the Columbia Valley, with bottles at a wide range of price points.
Outdoor space with firepits, picnic tables, and sights of Mount Hood? Check. A backdrop of the estate vineyard? Check. An assortment of wines sourced completely from the Columbia Gorge? Check. Phelps Creek was established in 1990 and focuses mostly on estate grown pinot noir and chardonnay. However, it also explores Gorge riesling, pinot gris, gewürztraminer, and even merlot with varying levels of success.
In 2011, Michael Savage and his wife Grace entered the industry with a unique voice: one dedicated to single vineyard wines, picked significantly earlier than most to retain acidity and to go with food. The winery remains extremely hands-off during production, then releases its wines young. In 2018, Savage moved his production from Woodinville to the Columbia Gorge, on the slope of Underwood Mountain, an extinct volcano. Visitors can look out over vineyards that lead downward to the Columbia River—the perfect match of winemaker to place. Here visitors will find creations unlike any others in the state. White cabernet franc, anyone?
James and Poppie Mantone’s operation in Lyle (population: 464) radiates rural charm, from the tasting room garden to the Adirondack chairs where you can sip a sparkling gruner veltliner by the firepit while you take in views of the vineyards. Syncline built its reputation on Rhone-inspired wines from various Columbia Valley appellations, but the Mantones have increasingly expanded their focus to Columbia Gorge fruit in recent years, including estate plantings of seldom seen varieties, such as gamay and mondeuse. These bottles stand out, though many of them don’t make it much farther than the wine club and this destination-worthy tasting room.
In Hood River, the beating heart of the Columbia Gorge, a striking black and white tasting room offers both wine and purpose. Founder Seth Kitzke (of Kitzke Cellars) and his wife, Audrey, give 20 percent of Upsidedown’s net proceeds to a trio of worthy nonprofits. What’s more—the low-intervention wines that propel this altruism are quite good, made from fruit sourced throughout the Columbia Valley.