Oregon Wine Country: To the Columbia Gorge!

Posted on: August 21st, 2012 by

oregon wine country

I recently returned from the Wine Bloggers Conference in Portland and knew part of my experience there would entail a bus trip to Oregon Wine Country. But where in Oregon? One of the highlights of the conference is when almost 400 wine bloggers pour out of the hotel, boarding buses to a destination unknown. You see, we have no idea where we are headed until the bus is in motion and there is no turning back.

I have to admit I assumed we would all be headed to the most famous region in Oregon Wine Country: the Willamette Valley. And we’d be drinking oceans of Pinot Noir. But just as there is so much more in the Willamette Valley than Pinot Noir, there’s also a whole lotta wine in Oregon outside the Willamette. So I was surprised to hear the announcement that we were headed to the Columbia Gorge. From the Oregon Wine Board‘s website:

Just 60 miles east of Portland, the Columbia Gorge Wine region lies in the heart of the Columbia River Gorge, a dramatic river corridor that straddles the Columbia River for 15 miles into both Oregon and Washington. This region, which encompasses 40 miles, includes both the Columbia Gorge AVA & part of the Columbia Valley AVA. Lewis and Clark first made the Columbia Gorge famous when they passed through on their way to the Pacific Ocean in 1805.

oregon wine countryWe arrived at Phelps Creek Vineyards and met by the affable Robert Morus, Winegrower and President. And, like no other vineyard tour I have been part, went on a hay ride to ascend to the upper reaches of the property. I quickly slathered on some sunscreen and donned a baseball hat to protect my pasty Seattle pallor from the blazing sun, and we were on our way.

And when we got to our destination in the vineyards…what a view! The photo at the top of this post was snapped from where we marveled at Mt. Hood. We were greeted with wines from a handful of  producers eager to pour their wares from the Columbia Gorge region:
oregon wine country

After braving the sun and huddling in the available shade, we headed back to the winery for an unforgettable dinner prepared by Din Din Supper Club & Catering. I figured we were in for something memorable based on the passed bites we enjoyed in the vineyard, but Team Din Din really knocked it out of the park. And naturally, there were some good wines to sample alongside each dish.

oregon wine countryMy favorite pairings started with the first dish we were served: Lobster Mushroom Carpaccio with Lovage and Sauteed Chanterelles with Treviso and Sakura Ridge Pickled Currant. Wowzers! I really enjoyed this dish with the 2010 Viento Gruner Veltliner. With all the competing flavors on the plate, it managed to not get in the way, shifting gears with each earthy/bitter/pickled bite. The home team, Phelps Creek Vineyards, showed well in the next course: Sturgeon and Cocozelle Zucchini Salads with Gem Lettuces. I liked that Robert had made a point of having us eat sturgeon rather than the more familiar salmon, as the nearby Colombia River is famous for sturgeon. The creamy salad and meaty sturgeon paired fantastically with the 2010 Phelps Creek Estate Reserve Chardonnay, which had just the right amount of oak to support but not overwhelm.

oregon wine countryViento made another appearance in the menu with their 2011 Barbera. A youthful wine, it happened to be made by someone quite youthful himself: Winemaker Rich Cushman’s son, Peter. It was a lively, refreshing red that was great with our second (!) meat course: Braised Beef Shortrib with Fresh Pocha Beans and Heirloom Pepper Carrot Sauce. (Please excuse me while I look up what exactly a pocha bean is.)

We then took a break between courses to admire how the view of Mt. Hood had changed while the day turned into night:

oregon wine country

We left after dessert, took a return hay ride to the bus, and headed back to Portland. Big thanks to Phelps Creek Vineyards for hosting, all the Columbia Gorge wineries for being generous with their time (and wine), and the sensational job done by Din Din on a meal that had two other courses I didn’t even mention. (Ok, must mention the dessert: Fresh Fern’s Edge Goat Cheesecake with Peach Licorice Coulis. Which was pretty much perfect with the light, gorgeous 2009 Viento Gewurztraminer Ice Wine.) And hooray to everybody on Bus #1! I know we were glad to end up in the Columbia Gorge and I don’t think anybody would disagree with me when I say it was an afternoon and evening we won’t forget.

Note: The Columbia Gorge Wine Region also has vineyards and wineries in Washington as well. Explore the Washington side! And if you want more Gorge, I got you covered.

oregon wine country

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19 Responses

  1. Tom Lee says:

    I hope you got to try The Pines 1852 Zinfandel or Old Vine Zinfandel. Delicious wines!

    • Jameson says:

      Tom,

      We did have the 2010 The Pines Old Vine Zinfandel. It was great to hear from Lonnie about how these vines were discovered and brought back to life.

      Thanks for the comment.

      Jameson

  2. Great pictures! It was so great to meet you and to sit at the same table with you for dinner! Cheers!

  3. Alina says:

    I’m loving hearing/reading about everyone’s experiences! I need to get Lucky Bus #7′s adventures up. :D

  4. Luke says:

    Great post! It’s like I was there. Wait – I WAS there!

  5. gabe says:

    excellent post! Glad you got to experience some of the fun varietals happening in Oregon, including zinfandel, gruner veltliner, and barbera. and of course we love our patron saint, mt. hood
    8-)

  6. [...] more to Oregon wine than the Willamette Valley. On a mystery bus ride, Jameson Fink recently wound up at Phelps Creek Vineyards in the Columbia [...]

  7. [...] more to Oregon wine than the Willamette Valley. On a mystery bus ride, Jameson Fink recently wound up at Phelps Creek Vineyards in the Columbia [...]

  8. sippitysup says:

    Yo get to do the coolest stuff. GREG

  9. denise says:

    I literally said, “Oh my GOD!” and gasped when I saw that amazing mushroom dish. Don’t get me wrong, I’m excited about wine, but that looked stunning. Cheers to food that looks like, well, food! Beautiful place, what a marvelous way to get closer to the grapes we know and love.

    • Jameson says:

      Denise,

      What, Mt. Hood is ho-hum compared to mushrooms? Kidding! That dish was really fantastic and original. I’ll have to show you the entire menu. Thank you for your nice comment!

      Jameson

  10. [...] I can really write about it as eloquently and effectively as other people have (check out posts by Jameson Fink and Becca Yeamans) but I will be trying to do just that over the next few weeks. If I can write as [...]

  11. [...] blog post looks super helpful. Isn’t it gorgeous out there? I can’t wait for the warm dry summer [...]

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