Gorge offers eclectic mix of wineries

This weekend marks opening of touring season

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Pop quiz: What do potbellied pigs, Cheetos and Tibetan prayer flags have in common? If you need to grab a glass of wine to think about it, you’re on the right track.

The answer: You’ll find all of these, along with wine for the sampling, at Washington’s Columbia Gorge wineries.

Minnie, the potbellied pig, roams the grounds of Wind River Cellars in Husum. Cheetos are the food of choice for cleansing the pallet at Marshal’s Winery & Vineyard in Dallesport (a place Minnie would do well to avoid this weekend during the winery’s pig roast). And Tibetan prayer flags flutter over the grounds of Domaine Pouillon in Lyle.

Memorial Day weekend marks the opening of touring season for Gorge wineries in both Washington and Oregon, said Autumn Woods, marketing coordinator for the Columbia Gorge Winegrowers Association.

Most wineries charge a tasting fee, waived with wine purchase. Some offer live music and all include wine conversation.

We toured. Now it’s your turn to explore.

Wind River Cellars

Where: 196 Spring Creek Road, Husum.

Hours: 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. daily.

Tasting fee: $10, waived with wine purchase.

Summer events: Various monthly events; call in advance for information.

Price range: $15 to $30.

Information: 509-493-2324 or http://www.windrivercellars.com/.

Joel Goodwillie, owner and winemaker, is a stickler when it comes to the ambience of his tasting room, a space dotted with painted grapevines along the wall and floored in terracotta tiles.

“I have a strict jazz-free policy,” Goodwillie said.

Goodwillie explains it this way: Wine, and its tasting, should be about fun and not pretense. So out with anything that gets in the way, which, in his mind, includes jazz music.

Goodwillie lives on the 20-acre vineyard, where he produces six varieties of red and white wines.

While visiting, keep an eye out for Minnie, the potbellied pig, who often finds herself posing with guests for photos. Riesling ranks as her favorite wine, Goodwillie said. She’s also been known to make something of a pig of herself.

“During harvest, when grapes are coming out, she’s always up here eating them,” Goodwillie said.

Syncline

Where: 111 Balch Rd., Lyle.

Hours: 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Thursday through Sunday.

Tasting fee: $5, waived with purchase.

Summer events: Will be held Memorial Day and Labor Day.

Price range: $16 to $30.

Information: 509-365-4361 or http://synclinewine.com/.

A chicken-crossing sign greets visitors to this 36-acre winery, which bottled 5,000 cases of wine in 2009. The chickens, scattered in coops, belong to 6-year-old Ava Mantone, daughter of the winemakers, James and Poppie Mantone.

Tastings take place in the cellar room, where barrel stacks line the walls under a wooden ceiling.

Wine can also be had by the glass and enjoyed on the outside patio.

Cor Cellars

Where: 151 Old Highway 8, Lyle.

Hours: 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Wednesday through Sunday.

Tasting fee: $5, waived with purchase.

Price range: $10 to $25 .

Information: 509-365-2744 or http://www.corcellars.com/.

Tucked in a nondescript building adjacent to experimental vines, you’ll find Cor Cellars’ tasting room. The six-year-old winery produced some 3,500 cases of wine in 2009.

In the tasting room is where you’ll sometimes find Adrian Bradford, who grows the grapes that his son, Luke Bradford, makes into wine.

Adrian Bradford, a bespectacled man in bib overalls and a poet’s beret, talks the finer points of growing grapes while he sips and swirls the product of those grapes.

Bradford has also grown wine grapes in California and talks about the finer points of grape-growing in the Columbia River Gorge. He’s certain, for instance, that the grapes pick up distinct flavors from the region’s volcanic soil. The cool nights also make for slower ripening, which increases the flavors in dry and crisp wines. And the Columbia River, as it winds its way through the Gorge, adds to the grapes and wine, too, he said.

Klickitat Canyon Winery

Where: 6 Lyle-Snoden Rd., Lyle.

Hours: Noon to 6 p.m. Friday through Sunday.

Tasting fee: $3, waived with purchase.

Summer events: Full moon concerts May 28, June 26 and July 24.

Price range: $9 to $30.

Information: 509-365-2900 or visit Columbia Gorge Winery’s website at http://klickitatcanyonwinery.com/.

Blink and you’ll miss this five-acre winery, the vision and work of Robin Dobson. It’s a small place, rooted in organic, with a crunchy, granola, hippie feel to it. The winery produced about 600 cases of wine in 2009. It’s all sulfite-free and organic, with a wild yeast fermentation, Dobson said.

A bistro set offers a place to sit outside of the tasting room, which is carved from a corner section of the wine cellar.

During summer full moons, the winery will host concerts and, for $10, overnight camping.

Memaloose/McCormick Vineyards

Where: 101 Lyle-Snowden Rd., Lyle.

Hours: 11 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Thursday through Sunday.

Tasting fee: $5, waived with purchase.

Price range: $14 to $25.

Information: 360-635-2887 or http://winesofthegorge.com/.

You’ll find this winery atop rolling hills that overlook the Gorge. In its third year of production on 17 acres (although the grapes were planted seven years ago), the winery produced 1,200 cases of wine in 2009.

Outside of the tasting room, you’ll find a scattering of picnic benches under wind-swept pines.

Domaine Pouillon

Where: 170 Lyle Snowden Rd., Lyle.

Hours: 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Thursday through Sunday.

Tasting fee: $5, waived with purchase.

Price range: $17 to $35.

Information: 509-365-2795 or http://domainepouillon.com/.

You’ll notice the Tibetan prayer flags first, fluttering in the breeze as you follow a bark-covered path to the winery’s tasting room, which overlooks a pine and wildflower savannah.

Alexis Pouillon works the tasting room of the winery that he started in 2006. He produced 2,000 cases in 2009. For Pouillon, it’s more than just wine. He also raises chickens and culls locally grown foods for wine club member dinners.

“We use the wines with the land to create a culture,” Pouillon said.

The tasting room, a slant-roofed building with a dirt floor behind the counter, brings more of the outside in with framed beetles and the like.

All of it works together, Pouillon explains, and quickly turns the conversation toward the optimal environment for tasting wine: Low atmospheric pressure at about 11 a.m. in the morning.

Illusion

Where: 31 Schilling Rd., Lyle.

Hours: 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Thursday through Sunday and holidays.

Tasting fee: None.

Price range: $13 to $20.

Information: 206-261-1682 or http://illusionwine.com/.

At the end of a long and twisting gravel road, on a 2,000-foot-high hillside, you’ll find this new winery, owned by Dave and Dina Guest.

It’s a small, hands-on operation, with some 500 cases bottled in 2009. Dave Guest, a former news editor for the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, pours tastes and tends the vineyard. He planted some 400 vines last year and has plans to plant at least as many this year.

Inside the tasting room, wine barrels support a sea glass-studded concrete slab countertop. Guest’s dog lounges between the barrels.

You’ll find no tasting fees here. Guest says that if someone’s willing to make the drive, and bounce over the gravel road, they’ve earned a taste.

Jacob Williams Winery

Where: 421 State St. (Highway 14), Lyle.

Hours: 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Friday through Sunday.

Tasting fee: Free.

Price range: $14 to $40.

Information: 541-490-6773 or http://jacobwilliamswinery.com/.

From the outside, it looks like a Western storefront, a place for dry goods or to belly up for a shot of whiskey. But inside, you’ll find Asian rugs scattered over the floor, a black couch and an oak bar as the room’s focal point.

The winery, named after the family’s children, sold 2,000 cases in 2009. There are no vineyards for this winery, although the grapes are purchased from area growers, said Len Gearhart, the family patriarch who runs the tasting room.

Marshal’s Winery & Vineyard

Where: 150 Oak Creek Road, Dallesport.

Hours: 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. daily.

Tasting fee: $5, waived with purchase.

Summer events: Pig roast and live music Memorial Day weekend.

Price range: $10 to $29.

Information: 509-767-4633 or http://marshalsvineyard.com/.

Ron Johnson, a gravel-voiced man in a polka-dot train engineer’s cap, works the counter of his tasting room, which feels more like a country bar or mini grange hall, with picnic tables scattered about.

He points to a countertop bowl and fills it with Cheetos.

“Cheetos cleanses your pallet instantly,” Johnson said. Other wineries “have cheese and crackers; we have Cheetos.”

Over the Memorial Day weekend, he’ll also have a pig roast and live music for a donation. Camping, which is free, is also available.

Cascade Cliffs Vineyard and Winery

Where: Mile marker 88.6 Highway 14, Wishram.

Hours: 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. daily.

Tasting fee: $5, waived with purchase.

Summer events: Memorial Day open house.

Price range: $13 to $50.

Information: 509-767-1100 or http://cascadecliffs.com/.

Sandwiched between towering buttes and the Columbia River, this winery and tasting room start with a dramatic setting. Rows of grape vines surround the knotty pine building, where Italian flag-themed barrels invite visitors.

Inside, it’s more of the same, with warm pine and trays of both chocolate and crackers to enhance the tasting experience. A chalkboard offers a lineup of the winery’s specials.

Expect to learn about Italian Piedmont varietals here, the winery’s specialty, hence the Italian flag-covered barrels.

Maryhill Winery

Where: 977 Highway 14, Goldendale.

Hours: 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. daily.

Tasting fee: No charge for most; $5 for reserved wines, which is waived with purchase.

Summer events: Memorial Day weekend, music from 1 to 5 p.m. and concerts throughout the summer.

Price range: $13 to $28.

Information: 877-627-9445 or http://www.maryhillwinery.com/.

A covered patio with panoramic views of the Columbia River and the winery’s amphitheater greet visitors to this winery. Inside the front door you’ll find a gift shop with cheese, jewelry and, of course, wine glasses.

Tastings take place at the antique oak bar, where patrons linger, swirl, sip and chat. Most of the tastes are free. Expect to pay $5 for reserve stock, unless you buy a bottle of wine, in which case the fee is waived.

Visit the winery’s website for more summer concerts.