For Oregon Wine Country enthusiasts, touring the Columbia Gorge means a wine for every palate. A world of wine – from A as in Albarino to Z as in Zinfindel – can be found in this compact but diverse AVA. Our itinerary focuses on the Oregon side of the Columbia River, but the visible Washington side shares the same AVA. We suggest you save those wineries for another trip.
A series of colossal dams on the Columbia River makes the grape-growing phenomenon possible. Built during The Great Depression, the cement barriers harness the river creating a series of relatively warm reservoirs. Wicked frosts that once arrived on the Gorge’s ferocious and relentless winds are more of a rarity. Without the dams, today’s popular wine-touring destination likely wouldn’t exist.
On the Gorge’s misty west end, Portland’s suburbs rub up against green, waterfall-laced mountains (Multnomah Falls) bathed in Douglas fir, vine maple and blackberry brambles. By the time Interstate 84 reaches the sparsely populated terminus of the Columbia Gorge National Recreation Area, gentler hills are mostly treeless and blanketed in pale grass and sagebrush. And vineyards.
Meshing these landscapes in the heart of the Gorge is the famed city of Hood River. The vibrant crescent-shaped is one of Oregon’s most energetic outdoor playgrounds. It’s also home to most of the region’s vineyards, wineries and tasting rooms. Although the city of The Dalles and small town of Mosier have recently joined the vino party.
The varied terrain and varietals grown in this part of Oregon Wine Country are a marked contrast to the Willamette Valley. In the valley, where wineries generally revolve around Pinot noir, it would take many days to savor the variety the Gorge offers in a mere three.
You’ll want at least three days to have the optimum Columbia Gorge experience. Especially if you want to include non-wine cultural and historical attractions. We’ve outlined a touring order that also includes our favorite dining and imbibing establishments in Hood River and The Dalles.
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Begin your day in Hood River with a light breakfast of “gorge-ous” sandwiches and rustic-style pastries at Pine Street Bakery. If you’re coming from The Dalles, Petite Provence offers a similarly exquisite experience with homemade French pastries, superb coffee and creative sit-down breakfasts. The bonus with both: To-go lunches for wine-tasting tune-up or break.
Hood River has six wineries in town. We recommend closing your day at one or two to fully embrace the town’s vibrancy.
Head first for the hills and the Gorge’s Most Convenient tasting room, Viento, on Country Club Road. A short distance uphill on the plateau overlooking the Gorge is Phelps Creek Vineyards. The quaint spot on the Hood River Golf Course earns our nod as Most Charming. From there, follow the crowds to Cathedral Ridge Winery for the Most Diverse Lineup. You’ll find the gardens colorfully pretty but the views of Mount Adams even prettier.
For midday, plan a lengthier visit at Marchesi Vineyards & Winery for the Gorge’s Best Ambiance and Best Nosh. Marchesi’s grounds are reminiscent of Italy’s Piedmont region down to the olive oil line up. For drinking in spectacular views, the Gorge’s Most Opulent tasting room is Mount Hood Winery. Thirty-foot picture windows frame the snowy flanks of Mount Hood as you sip.
Catch your breath in classic Gorge scenery on the historic Old Columbia River Drive to Mosier, where Analemma Wines bubble with excitement. From there, continue another 16 miles to The Dalles and our Most Historic tasting room, the towering Sunshine Mill Winery. Once a busy grain mill, the tasting room embraces its past by combining relic machinery and equipment with the new.
Head back to Hood River to choose between the Most Congenial tasting room (Cascade Cliffs Vineyard & Winery), Most Down to Earth (Springhouse Cellar) and/or the Best Hipster Vibe (Naked Winery) to end day one of wine touring.
A world of dining choices also await in the Gorge’s Oregon Wine Country. Celilo Restaurant & Bar tops the list for consistently well-prepared Northwest cuisine and conscientious seasonal menus. A full bar, small plates and area wines add to the appeal. Up the hill, deck dining with views is the draw at 3 Rivers Grill. All five of their dining rooms in the historic house overlook the Columbia River.
If you’re wined out and need a different wind in your sails, check out the eco-oriented Full Sail Brewing Company Tasting Room & Pub. One of Oregon’s iconic microbreweries serves above-average pub food that lists beer as a prime ingredient. Daily tours and glimpses of windsurfers riding the Columbia’s thermals are free. For casual dining, gorge on inventive wood-fired pizzas at family-oriented Solstice Wood Fire Café & Bar. The menu also boasts local wines and creative cocktails.
In the heart of downtown is the affordable 1911 Hood River Hotel. More extravagant yet equally historic is the Columbia Gorge Hotel & Spa, with 40 rooms on gorgeous grounds perched above the river.
Hood River has a fine array of B&Bs as well. Our choices: the sprawling lodge at Sakura Ridge Farm and Lodge four miles outside of town and Three Sleeps Vineyard B&B near the river at Mosier. For views of the Columbia and themed rooms with fireplaces, Lakecliff B&B is a serene country cottage tucked intimately amid Douglas firs.
Most lodging in The Dalles is run of the mill. However, the renovated-retro Celilo Inn on a bluff overlooking Bonneville Dam, is a cut above. Bonus: check-in includes a complimentary glass of wine.
For a peaceful night’s sleep laced in pioneer ambiance, consider the 40-mile drive south of Hood River to the Balch Hotel in Dufur.