We 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.
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 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.
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 http://www.cathedralridgewinery.com