Most of Washington’s growing regions sit within the broader Columbia Valley AVA, but not the Columbia Gorge, which is just west of Washington’s largest growing region and spans two states in the heart of the Cascades.
The Columbia Gorge, home to nearly 400 acres under vine, includes a variety of microclimates that give rise to the growing region’s diverse plantings. This is one of the few AVAs, for example, where white grape plantings outnumber red grape plantings.
The west end of the gorge is home to a cooler, marine-influenced climate that receives 40 inches of rain per year, while the east end of the Gorge sees a sunnier, high, desert-like climate that gets just 10 inches of rain per year. As if that wasn’t enough variety, vineyard altitudes range from just above sea level to nearly 2,000 feet in elevation.
This dichotomy of growing areas is reflected in the broad array of plantings. Gewurztraminer, chardonnay and pinot gris grapes grow near the region’s west end, while cabernet sauvignon, syrah and zinfandel can be found at wineries in the drier, more arid climate to the east.
Cities and Towns
One of the westernmost AVAs in Washington is also one of the few to cross state lines: The Columbia Gorge AVA covers wineries in Washington as well as in Oregon, with vineyards as far south as the Hood River Valley, near the foothills of Mount Hood. The bustling city of Hood River along the banks of the Columbia River is the region’s top outpost for exploration and hosts myriad tasting rooms in its charming downtown core. Just across the river in Washington, White Salmon offers a smaller, quieter getaway from the hustle and bustle of Hood River, and provides easy access to wineries in and around the nearby communities of Bingen and Lyle.
Key Touring Routes
Two highways run east and west along the Columbia River through the Columbia River Gorge. In Washington, it’s State Route 14. In Oregon, it’s Interstate 84. If you’re heading into the Hood River Valley, you’ll take Highway 35 south out of Hood River. Near the eastern edge of the region, take the Historic Columbia River Highway (accessible from Interstate 84 at exit 69 in Mosier) through the area’s fertile foothills. This 15-mile stretch of road, which continues all the way to The Dalles in the Columbia Valley AVA passes a handful of small wineries. With various loops and sweeping curves it is among the most beautiful stretches of highway in Oregon.
COR Cellars prides itself on producing approachable wines, with white and sparkling wines that use grapes from the region’s AVA. on a clear day, its outdoor seating area boasts views of Mount Hood rising above the horizon. Across the Columbia River on Hood River, Cathedral Ridge Winery is a family-owned, boutique winery pouring numerous blends and varietals. Its tasting room boasts a spacious garden area that affords wide-open views of nearby Cascade peaks.
Please remember to designate a driver.
– Written by John King. Updated by Matthew Wastradowski in September 2020