Tastings on the Columbia River

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by Richard Duval | Photo © Un-Cruise Adventures

Wine-themed outings are popping up in Northwest travel agendas given the ever-rising visibility of the region’s vibrant wine community. From Woodinville to Roseburg, you can fly, drive, bus, train or sail into wine country, often with a learned expert along as your guide.

Un-Cruise Adventures journeys up and down the Columbia River offering week-long trips that mix winery stops on both sides of the river with visits to scenic vistas. On board the 88-passenger SS Legacy, my trip started in Portland with an evening wine tasting and discussion led by guest winemaker Kevin Correll of Woodinville, Washington’s Barrage Cellars.

We hit our first winery upriver by day two. After a quick stop to view the always inspiring Multnomah Falls, we boarded luxury tour buses for on-shore tastings at Hood River’s Springhouse Cellars and Mt. Hood Winery followed by a jaunt over river to the artisanal AniChe winery just above the town of Underwood.

Growing in popularity, the rich Columbia Gorge Wine Region sits just 50 miles east of Portland and straddles the river, allowing grapes and expertise to move between Washington and Oregon with ease. At 80 miles long and up to 4,000 feet deep, this river canyon cuts the only sea-level route through the Cascade Mountains.

Over the next five days, we moved between ship and the ever-present buses as we sailed upstream to sample wines in the Walla Walla wineries of Dunham, Foundry and Bergevin Lane; toured the Terra Blanca winery and vineyard on Red Mountain; and sipped Maryhill Winery creations from its deck offering stunning views of the vineyard and the Columbia.

During evenings on board, Correll offered wine-themed presentations like vertical flights, a blind tasting throw-down with Chris Arora (the on-board sommelier) and a side-by-side comparison of Washington and Oregon wines. Dinners came with an ever-rotating offering of wines from both sides of the river.
Between winery visits, stops at Palouse Falls via the Snake River, a history of nuclear energy development at the Hanford Reach Interpretive Center and a dive into the surprisingly rich European art offerings at the Maryhill Museum kept us stimulated, entertained and enriched by a deeper understanding of the diversity along the river.

Make no mistake though, wine is king on this week-long cruise. My fellow guests showed considerable wine chops plying Correll with questions on everything from terroir to tannins; the sort of encounters where personable winemakers like Correll thrive.

Guests saw and tasted the difference in wines produced in the Columbia Gorge, Red Mountain and Walla Walla AVAs, a great opportunity to underscore the differences.

A highlight was an unexpected side trip during the Red Mountain stop. With all signs pointing to a much-earlier harvest than usual, Correll wanted to sample the grapes he sources from neighboring vineyard Quintessence. Rather than beg off the group, the guests went with him for an impromptu visit, listening in while Correll and the vineyard manager discussed grape quality and projected harvest dates. Later that evening, he invited guests to test and analyze his grape samples while he explained the factors that lead to harvest decisions.

Our cruise finished far downriver with a visit to the coastal village of Cannon Beach, including one final tasting of Washington and Oregon wines at the snug yet well-stocked Wine Shack.

Passengers on Un-Cruise Adventure’s 2016 trips will find a great new lineup of wine hosts and an expanded Walla Walla schedule that adds stops at the nearby Incubator to taste some of the up and coming wine stars, and a tasting and tour of Basel Cellars and Castillo de Feliciana, two notable estate wineries.

Un-Cruise Adventures has seven wine cruises set for 2016. See un-cruise.com for more information and to book your stateroom