Columbia Valley Gorge Wines; Small Production, Big Variety

Oregon, April, 2015 049In the 1980’s and 1990’s the Columbia Valley Gorge was just beginning to be planted with vineyards. The grapes of those vineyards were used in other regions to be made into wine. It wasn’t until the early 2000’s that wineries began to appear in the gorge. Today there are 17 wineries on the Oregon side producing wines from a variety of grapes including Riesling, Pinot Gris, Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Barbera, Grenache, Syrah and Zinfandel to name a few. They are small production wineries, making under 10000 cases annually. Many of the wines from this region are only available in Oregon and Washington shops and restaurants and through the wineries’ websites. It is both the exclusivity of the wines and the newness of the region that make the Columbia Gorge such an exciting area to explore.

Founded in 2004, Mt. Hood Winery is situated within view of its namesake mountain, the snow-cap a stunning contrast to the green vineyards. Owned by the Bickford family their production is a modest 2500 cases annually overseen by Rich Cushman who is also the winemaker and owner of Viento Winery.Mt. Hood Winery Pinot Noir

The 2014 Estate Dry Riesling is light and crisp with fruit, floral and citrus aromas. The 2014 Estate Pinot Noir Rosé has aromas of sweet and tangy strawberries with an earthy finish. The 2013 Estate Pinot Noir has spice and red fruit aromas with undertones of mushroom. The 2012 Zinfandel, aged in French oak, has aromas of dark cherries and coffee. The 2012 Barbera is tangy red fruit, dark cherries and anise. The Summit Red is a blend of 80% Pinot Noir, 10% Tempranillo and 10% Syrah. The aromas are dark fruit and spice. The 2010 Syrah has smoky blackberry and leather aromas.

Mt. Hood Winery is located at 2882 Van Horn Drive in Hood River, Oregon. Their website is

The Pines 1852

With over 75% of the vineyards planted in Pinot Noir, it is no wonder that Oregon is known primarily for that grape. But this state is no one-hit wonder. Nowhere is that more true than in the Columbia Gorge where variety is the way of life.

Downtown Hood RiverThe town of Hood River was incorporated in 1895, growing out of a farming community that began to develop in the middle of the century. Like most of the Columbia Gorge, Hood River is located between two very different climates, a rain forest to the west and a high desert to the east. In this cross section of climates, fruits such as apples, cherries and pears have been grown for over a century. Grapes, too, were planted, but mostly for personal use. The first wineries didn’t spring up on the Oregon side until the early 2000’s .

The Pines 1852 began as a dairy farm with a few grape vines for family use. After planting vineyards throughout the 1980’s, the owner, Lonnie Wright established the winery in 2001. Now, with 20 acres of vineyards in the Columbia Gorge, The Pines 1852 produces several varieties including Pinot Gris, Viognier, Merlot, Syrah, Pinot Noir and over-100 year old Zinfandel.

The 2013 Pinot Gris is very clean with pear and apple aromas and very little minerality. The 2012 Viognier, made with grapes from the Dalles, has Oregon Wine 011aromas of apricot, nutmeg, and flowers with a mineral finish. The 2012 Pinot Noir is smooth and tangy with bright fruit flavors of raspberry and cranberry. The grapes are from vineyards in both the gorge and the Dalles. The 2013 Big Red is a blend of 40% Merlot, 20 % Syrah, 20% Cabernet Sauvignon and 20% Zinfandel. It tastes of creamy cherries and oak. The 2012 Merlot has aromas of rich dark cherries. And the Old Vine Zin made with grapes from vines planted in the 1890’s, the oldest vines in the northwest, has deep, spicy dark and red fruit aromas. It is quite rich and elegant.

The Pines 1852 Tasting RoomThe Pines 1852 tasting room is in downtown Hood River at 202 Cascade Avenue. Their website is

Tasting and Contemplation

RoxyAnn 2011 TempranilloPalate fatigue is a common experience in the tasting room. After several tastes, even when spitting, it becomes more difficult to define each wine clearly on its own merits. But, palate fatigue aside, there is something else missing when tasting wines by the dozens. A brief few minutes with one wine among 30 or more can’t do most wines the justice they deserve.

RoxyAnn’s 2011 Rogue Valley Tempranillo in the tasting room had aromas of leather and oak with undertones of cherry and blueberry. It felt full-bodied and rich. At home, over the course of the evening with a plate of chorizo and tomatoes, and later, on its own, the Tempranillo presented aromas of leather, mineral, and dark cherries with a coffee aftertaste. The wine felt deep and rich with soft smooth tannins and a crisp acidity. But something I noticed while spending time with this wine that wasn’t as clear to me in the tasting room was how well integrated the wine is. The elements of the wine, the alcohol, acidity and tannins are all well balanced. But beyond that, the flavors of the wine are in perfect harmony with each other, as if leather, mineral, dark cherry and coffee were all holding hands and leaning backwards with equal amounts of tension, each flavor offering perfect balance to the others.

Many things in our environment can effect how we taste and experience wine; music, mood, the people we are with, the weather. But many wines demand and deserve more than a quick sip. Some wines’ complexity can’t be appreciated in the fleeting minutes we give them in a tasting room. There are some wines that deserve and are worth an evening of contemplation.


Roxyann Winery is located at 3285 Hillcrest Road in Medford Oregon.  Their website is


Variety Carved Out in a Gorge

Route 35 to Hood RiverWe left Welches Oregon driving through a misty rain. As we climbed north toward Mt. Hood, the rain turned to light snow. Once we headed down the mountain toward Hood River, the skies cleared and the road down the mountain was dry. Within 35 miles we drove through a 20 degree change in temperature and a stark change in terrain, from wet and snowy Alpine forest, to the sunny, dry, rolling green farms of the river valley.Hood River

Columbia Gorge on the Oregon side is a combination of three climates; maritime, continental and alpine. As with the San Pablo winds in Napa Valley and the Mistral winds in the Rhone Valley, wind is a major factor in the Columbia Gorge valley as well. The Gorge acts as a funnel for cool ocean air creating a constant wind of about 10 miles per hour. Within a 40 mile stretch from 60 miles east of Portland to the Deschutes River, rain accumulation ranges from 50 inches to 10 inches decreasing by 1 inch for every mile traveled east. Altitudes of the vineyards range from just above sea level to 2000 feet. The soils are silt, sand and loess from the Missoula Floods and volcanic mud and ash from ancient and still active volcanoes. With so much variety of climate, rainfall, altitude and soil, it is no wonder that the Columbia Gorge does not claim any single grape as its specialty. Like its terroir, the Gorge specializes in variety.

Cathedral Ridge Winery VineyardCathedral Ridge Winery was founded in 2003 by Robb Bell. He, along with Michael Sebastiani of the famous Sonoma family, serve as wine makers. With over 100 vineyard acres in the varying terroirs of Columbia Gorge, Cathedral Ridge grows many different varieties of grapes including both cool climate and warm climate grapes.

The 2012 Pinot Gris is clean and crisp with a lot of fruit aroma and a subtle minerality. The 2013 Chardonnay made in neutral oak has creamy pear aromas with a hint of citrus. The Halbtrocken is a Pinot Noir and Riesling blend. It is tart and crisp like a rosé with aromas of cranberry and strawberry with a clean, dry finish. The 2012 Riesling has aromas of petrol and crisp apples with a juicy finish. The 2012 Necessity Red is a blend of Pinot Noir, Merlot and Zinfandel. It is earthy with spicy berry aromas. The 2012 Tempranillo has aromas of leather and tobacco with hints of juicy cherries. The 2012 Cabernet Sauignon has aromas of cedar, herbs and blueberries. The 2012 Bangsund Pinot Noir, grown in the rainy vineyards of the west has aromas of rose water and red cherries. The 2012 Dampier Pinot Noir, grown in dryer vineyards to the east has aromas of spicy red fruit with smooth as satin tannins.


Oregon Wine 003

With so many terroirs and so many grapes, it is no wonder that the Columbia Valley Gorge has not honed in on any one variety as its specialty. It is a young region still finding its place in the wine world. That variation and experimentation is what makes the Gorge such an exciting area to explore.

Cathedral Ridge Winery is located at 4200 Post Canyon Drive in Hood River.  Their website is


Honor in Southern Oregon

Southern OregonWhile Oregon is known for its Pinot Noir and Pinot Gris, southern Oregon excels in Bordeaux and Rhone Valley varieties as well as in Spain’s Tempranillo. Rogue Valley’s warmer temperatures are the key factor to the success of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Syrah, Viognier and Tempranillo.

RoxyAnn Winery was founded in 2002 in Medford, Oregon on 20 acres of limestone and clay soil terroir. Formerly Hillcrest Orchard, tastings are held in the Honor Barn, a 1917 remnant of that orchard.  The structure was given its name while the property was still operating as an orchard.  Customers would take their fresh fruit and leave payment in an honor box.  During my visit the tasting room was fully staffed.RoxyAnn Tasting Room

RoxyAnn is a small production winery with about 15,000 cases per year. But that small production garners some high point ratings including a 90 point from Wine Spectator Tempranillo.

The 2012 Viognier has tropical fruit aromas with soft acidity and a musky heat. The tropical fruit flavors of pineapple and banana linger on the finish of this full, round white wine.

RoxyAnn 2011 TempranilloThe award winning 2011 Tempranillo has leather and oak aromas with undertones of cherry and blueberry. Full bodied and well balanced, it is a rich and satisfying wine.

The 2010 Syrah as deep, dark cherry and mocha aromas with a hint of pepper and iron. It is smooth, dark and juicy.

Roxyann is located at 3285 Hillcrest Road in Medford, Oregon.  Their web address is    The Honor Barn is open daily for tastings from 11 am to 6 pm.

Saved from Arsenic by the King; Adventures in Drinking Locally

Last week-end I was staying in Corvallis, Oregon, and stopped by the hotel bar for a glass of wine at the end of the day. As I perused the list, something struck me as familiar. Seaglass, Menage a Trois, Concannon, Beringer, Sutter Home. ‘Where have I seen this list before?’ Then it dawned on me. Every wine on their list was on the much publicized ‘Arsenic List,’ wines that supposedly have dangerously high levels of arsenic in them.

‘Excuse me, bar keep, do you have anything a little less arsenic-y?’

She took my question in stride as she reached under the bar. ‘Well, I do have a local wine.’

Let me remind you, I’m in Corvallis, Oregon. ‘Go on,’ I said with anticipation.

‘It’s a Pinot Noir,’ she continued.

Again, Corvallis, Oregon. ‘Bar keep, set me up.’

King Estate is in Eugene, Oregon just south of Corvallis. Like many wineries in Oregon, they practice organic and sustainable farming. They have the largest organic vineyard in the world. By any standards, but especially by Oregon standards,  King is a large producer with an annual production of around 125,000 cases. They are known for their Pinot Noir and Pinot Gris. I had the former.  It presented earthy coffee aromas with tangy, spicy, red berry flavors, and a lovely finish, to the wine and to the day.

Even if I hadn’t seen the article about the alleged high levels of arsenic in wines, I would not have wanted any of the wines on the list. None of them is particularly interesting. But, more importantly, when given a choice, drinking locally is always preferable in Oregon.

Finding Trends and Lesser Known Wines on the Iberian Peninsula

Iberian Peninsula WinesThere are aspects of the wine industry that are nothing short of staid. The 1855 classification of Bordeaux wines has had only one change made to it in the last 160 years. France, Italy and Spain have been the three top producers of wine for as long as wine production has been tracked and recorded. Yet, as old and steady as the wine industry is, there is an undercurrent of restless trendiness.

Many trends in wine come from the new world, such as Australian Shiraz of the 1990’s, Argentinian Torrentés and Malbec of the early 2000’s, and California red Moscoto that’s poised to trend for the second decade of this millennium unless we can stop it.

But trends don’t just come from the new world of wine. The old world has some old varietals with a new following. One need look no further than the Iberian Peninsula to find some old, but trendy wines.

The Minho region of Portugal has been a designated wine region for over 100 years, and has been producing wine since Roman times. But Vinho Verde, which translates to ‘green wine’ meaning the grapes are picked very early, while still green and acidic, is becoming a stylish wine in the new world.

Caiu a Noite Vinho Verde, 2013 ($9), typical of wines from this region is a blend of Loureiro and Trajadura, both indigenous grapes. It is a very crisp wine with a grapefruit peel flavor and a frizzanté texture that is creamy on the finish. Light and refreshing, it is very stylish served with a twist of lime and paired with ceviche or fried calamari.

A popular white wine of Spain is Verdejo from the Rueda region. Palma Real makes one that is 100% Verdejo ($12), with pear, banana and floral aromas. It is light bodied with a slight minerality and pairs well with shell fish.

Spain’s other white is Albarino from the Rias Baixas region. Another light white, Val Do Sosego ($15) makes one with aromas of citrus, tart apple and peach. It pairs well with grilled fish served with a fruit salsa.

Not all lesser known grapes of the Iberian Peninsula will become trends. But most are worth exploring. While Rioja is well known for its Tempranillo, the Ribera del Duero region just southwest of Rioja, also makes wines using the Tempranillo grape. Senorio del Tallar’s ($18) wine has leather, dark berries, mineral, and spice aromas. It is aged in American Oak which adds vanilla and coconut flavor to the wine, a wine that is perfect with grilled beef.

In the northeast corner of Spain is the region of Montsant that is known for its red blends. Baronia del Montsant Flor d’Englora Roure ($15) is a blend of primarily Garnacha and Carignan. It has aromas of strawberry jam and plums with ripe tannins and a savory quality. Full bodied and flavorful, Flor d’Englora Roure would stand up to any cut of beef served with a fruit sauce.

From the Douro region of Portugal where the famous Port wines are made, come some beautiful still reds, often made with the same grapes that go into making Ports. Quinta das Carvalhas Reserva Douro ($20) is 60% Touriga Nacional, 20% Touriga Franca, and 20% Tinta Roriz. Any student of Port wines will recognize all three of those grape names. Carvalhas sources from 100 year old vines. It is the old vines that give the wine its richness and depth. With aromas of smoky dark cherry, blackberry, plum, coffee grounds and raisins this is an intense, big flavored wine with ripe, rich tannins and a long finish. It is divine with ham in a raisin sauce.

In the southeast corner of Spain is the region Bullas, known for its use of Rhone Valley grapes. Tesoro de Bullas Monastrell ($18) is 75% Monastrell, known in France as Mouvedre and 25% Syrah. With aromas of blueberry, lavender, and spice, this blend has an earthiness that adds to its intensity. It pairs well with venison.

Rioja, a region in the north central area of Spain is known for Tempranillo. Valserrano Rioja Monteviejo ($42) is a big, full-bodied wine with aromas of dark, spicy fruit, roses, oak and vanilla. After seven years of aging, the 2008 has not yet peaked, and probably won’t for a few more years. It pairs well with grilled pork.

In the south of Spain lies the Sherry Triangle. While there are many styles of Sherry, one of the easiest to love is PX, Pedro Ximenez. Made entirely of the grape of the same name, Osborne Pedro Ximenez ($25) is a rich, lush, sweet dessert wine with aromas of raisin, nuts, figs, dark fruit and chocolate. Serve it with ginger chocolate cake, pumpkin mousse or vanilla ice cream.

From light and trendy to rich and traditional, there are a lot of wines to explore on the Iberian Peninsula.