Washington’s Frontier Winemakers Are Forging the Next Willamette Valley

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Underwood Mountain rises into view on the Washington side of one of the Pacific Northwest’s most iconic landscapes: the Columbia River Gorge, a playground for windsurfers, hikers, skiers, and those in search of one of the prettiest drives in America.

 

If Thane Hawkins has his way, this mountain and gorge will soon be as big a draw for another kind of activity: wine tasting. He’s so convinced he’s started growing grapes on Underwood Mountain. Last fall, his Hawkins Cellars winery opened a tasting room and patio in Underwood with epic views of Mount Hood. If he and a handful of neighbors succeed, they’ll put an otherwise obscure region on the map, and offer a welcome respite to the often traffic-choked interstates that deliver wine lovers from Portland to the Willamette Valley. But wine is a competitive business, and finding a way to rise above the noise won’t be easy.

 

The Columbia Gorge American Viticultural Area is about 4,500 acres, while Oregon’s more famous growing region, the Willamette Valley, covers 3.3 million acres and contains six sub-appellations. The Gorge straddles both Oregon and Washington, with a wide variety of terroir relative to its size.

 

“People don’t immediately think of this as a growing region,” Hawkins says. “This is one of the few areas that has yet to be really discovered, both from a winemaking and a wine-growing perspective.” The range of microclimates in the Gorge makes a case for Underwood Mountain to be its own AVA, Hawkins says.  “We have a harsher climate with a shorter growing season on Underwood Mountain, and the fruit doesn’t ripen without a strong human element. But 30 miles away, they’re ripening Zinfandel,” Hawkins says. “The slam dunk would be for Underwood Mountain to be its own AVA.”

 

Hawkins is a newcomer to Underwood; he and his business partner Debra Michelson started growing grapes here in 2013.   See the full article on VINEPAIR by VinePair.com (Published: January 4, 2018).

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