Columbia Gorge Appellation
As of July 9, 2004, the Columbia Gorge Appellation (AVA) became a
federally designated grape-growing region. The diversity of micro-climates, soil,
geography and elevation make the Columbia Gorge a unique and very special place
that is the perfect place to grow a huge variety of the worlds best wine grapes.
Columbia Gorge AVA Description
Peter Brehm, White Salmon Vineyard
It is fitting that the landscape, the experience and uniqueness of the Columbia River Gorge is celebrated with federal recognition of the Columbia Gorge as a unique American Viticultural Area at the same time the nation celebrates a band of early tourists that passed through its narrow corridor. The final challenge to the Lewis & Clark Expedition lay in passing through the cascading exit of the Columbia River. Here the Cascade Mountains restrict the Columbia River to a very narrow passage. These snow capped mountains run north into British Columbia and south to California. They isolate the marine climate of the cool Pacific from the continental, high desert climate to the east. The Columbia Gorge is an exit for most of the water falling east of these Cascade Mountains, all the way to Montana. The Gorge is a corridor where a torrent of cool marine air rushes in to replenish the hot, rising air of the eastern desert. The Gorge is a well-defined exit, a corridor chiseled by ice age floods and molded by volcanic eruptions. The Columbia Gorge has two magnificent pillars that adorn this passage from east to west, Mount Hood and Mount Adams. These volcanoes dramatize the extremely vertical nature of the Gorge from their peaks to the river.
Climate, temperature (winter & summer), and rain vary from the eastern end of the Columbia Gorge AVA to its western end. The Gorge’s climate varies in a three dimensional way. Proximity to the Columbia River has an effect on the climate. How high a vineyard is located will have a major impact on the grapes. Vineyards safe from winter’s bud freezing temperatures often only receive sufficient heat to ripen early maturing wine grapes such as Gewurztraminer, Pinot Gris, Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. Dams have tempered the mighty Columbia‘s seasonal flow fluctuations and created a massive thermal mass. This thermal mass and the prevailing wind from the west protect vines from winter’s excessive cold and moderates summer’s heat. As the air flows west to east, it warms. As the marine air flows over the Cascades it precipitates its water to gain altitude. The Columbia Gorge AVA western boundary is approximately 24 miles east of the crest of the Cascades. As the marine air reaches the Columbia Gorge AVA rainfall is about 36 inches per year. Where that air exits the Gorge to the east, it will leave less than 10 inches per year. As the climate warms the vineyards have vines from Bordeaux, Provence and Italy. At the Columbia Gorge’s eastern border the climate has become one of the Columbia Valley AVA, a continental high desert climate.
The Columbia Gorge has long been famous for its fine pears, apples, cherries and other fruit. Early settlers planted grape vines along the Columbia’s shores. The vines prospered but there were few who recognized their ease of growing with the goal of making wine. The Columbia Gorge lay as an undiscovered viticultural gem exploited by a few brave souls in the early 1970’s. In the late 1980’s and early ‘90’s some of the fruit from the early vineyards planted by McAndrew, Henderson, and Blanchette started getting into the hands of very good winemakers. These winemakers were willing to experiment and were able to recognize quality wine grapes. Soon the Columbia Gorge was recognized for its world-class grapes. The Columbia Gorge brings a climate that is well defined and predictably varied. It has soils accumulated from floods, volcanic eruptions and landslides. Soils are generally well suited for grape growing.
The Columbia Gorge AVA has Champenoise style Chardonnay & Pinot Noir in its western reaches and high mountain sites, to Syrah and Cabernet in its eastern portion. The Columbia Gorge viticulture brings a distinctive taste, balance and vibrancy to a wide range of classic varietals. The Columbia Gorge is a national treasure and the Columbia Gorge AVA allows the wines of this treasure to be identified, on the wine labels made from its grapes. The fun will be experiencing the wines made from various varietals at varying locations along this three dimensional, transitional zone, between the worlds of northwestern Oregon and eastern Washington.