RIDGEFIELD — Wine lovers can add another stop to their Clark County tasting tours this summer. Ridgefield-based Columbia Ridge Winery will be opening a new tasting room on Memorial Day weekend.
This new space at 3006 N.W. 199th St. features views of the winery’s acre of pinot noir grapes as well as a small pavilion and fire pit. Wine flights come in a choice of mixed red and white or all red at a price of five tastings for $10. Wine also comes by the glass, and guests can order small bites like charcuterie and other appetizers.
Tasting room hours are Saturday and Sunday from noon to 6 p.m. Hours will expand to Fridays and later on Saturdays when owners Tom and Angela Sanchez add wood-fired pizzas.
The couple moved from Portland to Clark County in 2011 when Tom Sanchez got a job as chief operating officer of The Vancouver Clinic. The couple bought 10 acres near Ridgefield with an older home built in the 1950s. They divided the property and built a new home, which they moved into in 2015.
A 1-acre plot sat in front of the house.
“That’s a lot of grass to mow, so we thought maybe we should grow some grapes, and the wineries nearby will buy them,” said Angela Sanchez. The couple made wine with their pinot noir grapes. This first attempt in 2017 yielded a good result. The 2018 wine wasn’t as good, but they still decided to hire a winemaker.
At that same time, Richard Hood, who previously worked as an enologist at E & J Gallo Winery in Healdsburg, Calif., moved to Clark County and contacted the Southwest Washington Winery Association looking for a local winery seeking his services.
The association reached out to its members, including the Sanchezes who joined as sellers of pinot noir grapes. When the couple heard that Hood was looking for work, they contacted him immediately and hired him to make wines for their new business, Columbia Ridge Winery.
Opening the tasting room took a lot longer than anticipated.
“We should’ve been open last year, but a lot of things like permitting, supply chain issues, and COVID got in the way,” said Angela Sanchez, “it works out because Memorial Day weekend is the big kick off for summer.”
For its grand opening weekend, the tasting room’s hours will be noon to 5 p.m. Saturday, Sunday, and Monday. There will be musicians performing, and winemaker Richard Hood will be there all three days.
One of the things that sets this winery apart is that Columbia Ridge uses grapes grown on its property to make their pinot noir.
“We can’t put estate on our bottle because we don’t have an AVA for on-site grapes,” said Angela Sanchez.
An AVA, or American Viticultural Area, is determined by the United States Alcohol and Tobacco Tax Bureau. To get a special AVA designation, the applicant must show that a grape-growing region has specific geographic or climate features which produce a fruit unique to that region.
The AVA designation on a wine label helps consumers know the geographic origins and accompanying traits of the grapes in a bottle of wine. Grapes vary in flavor based on climate, soil, and other natural factors. This combination of traits gives a distinctive taste to the wine made from those grapes called terroir.
If a consumer likes the way a grape tastes from a particular area, they can look for wines that use that grape by reading the label. In the absence of an AVA, it’s difficult for customers to know much about the grapes in their wine. Applying for an AVA designation is an extensive process, but can lead to more consumer interest in wine made from fruit from a particular area resulting in higher wine and higher grape prices.
The Southwest Washington Winery Association is near the end of the application process for an AVA designation.
Although many grapes grown on-site at Clark County wineries are ornamental, Stavalaura Vineyards and Winery and Bethany Vineyard and Winery make wine from the grapes in their on-site vineyards. The Sanchezes don’t plan on adding any more acreage or varietals to their small vineyard.
“We wanted some different options. Syrah and cabernet won’t get ripe enough here. They grow better in warmer climates. In addition, it isn’t easy to grow grapes. Pinot noir can be finicky and susceptible to disease. It’s damp here, it’s like a rainforest. You really have to tend to the plants. Pinot noir is susceptible to powdery mildew, and that can wipe out an entire growing season,” said Angela Sanchez.
The tasting room’s soft opening the weekend of May 21 and May 22 was busier than expected. Angela Sanchez attributes the growing wine business in Clark County to various factors. The wineries in Ridgefield treat other business owners as colleagues and not competitors.
“The thing that’s nice about other vineyards growing on-site is that there’s diversity. We can send them customers. I think it’s great for everybody to have their little niche,” said Angela Sanchez.
She also believes that the rural tasting rooms in north county benefit from the better known wineries from elsewhere opening tasting rooms on the Vancouver waterfront.
“Tasting rooms on the waterfront are helping to push customers up to our direction, and we’re getting a little more traction,” said Sanchez.