An award-winning Washougal winery will take part in the Southwest Washington Winery Association’s annual Memorial Day weekend winery tour, which is set to wind its way through Clark County, May 24-27, with stops in Camas, Vancouver, Battle Ground, Ridgefield, Woodland and Yacolt.
“A lot of people aren’t familiar with the grapes we can grow here, so this gives us a chance to introduce them to our wines,” said Ray Hall, who co-owns Columbia Gorge Vintners, an estate winery in the Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area, with his wife, Cheryl Hall.
Founded in 2010, Columbia Gorge Vintners produces wines from grapes grown, harvested and bottled on the Halls’ Washougal area vineyard.
Nestled on a scenic piece of land in the National Scenic Area that boasts Mount Hood views, the vineyard, cider apple orchards, the occasional wandering bear and 1 acre of established “u-pick” Black Diamond raspberries, the Washougal winery is unique in the Southwest Washington wine-making world.
“We have cooler weather, so the grapes that grow well here aren’t the grapes most people are used to,” Ray said.
Many Southwest Washington wineries buy grapes from the Willamette Valley in Oregon or from much warmer areas like the Yakima Valley in eastern Washington, allowing them to produce the cabernet sauvignons, pinot noirs and chardonnays familiar to most wine enthusiasts.
The wines at Columbia Gorge Vintners, however, rely on the grapes that can be grown in cooler weather, including many varieties found in Germany, Canada, Austria and cooler regions of France.
Before purchasing the Washougal property in 2010, the Halls experimented with producing wines from grapes they’d purchased from vineyards in warmer climates, but Ray, who came into the wine business after a long career in agriculture that included travel to nearly 40 countries and residential stints in seven different nations, wanted to produce estate wines from grapes grown right there at the winery.
The couple bring in workers for harvesting the grapes, but mostly do everything the winery demands — destemming, crushing, bottling, labeling — by themselves or with family and friends.
“The varieties come in at different times, so we’re not harvesting everything at once,” Ray said. “We harvest from August to October, which makes it a little easier.”
Currently, the Halls are in the middle of the permitting process for their tasting room, which will sit near the winery’s entrance off Hans Nagle Road in Washougal and — the Halls hope — open in 2020.
Because they don’t yet have an operational tasting room, the Halls will sample their Columbia Gorge Vintners wines at Salud! Wine Bar in downtown Camas during the Memorial Day weekend winery tour.
The Halls plan to showcase five of their wines, including one white, one rose and three reds — including two bronze-medal winning reds that will be honored in early June at the 2019 Craft Wine and Beer Fest in Vancouver.
The following Columbia Gorge Vintners wines will be available for tasting and purchase during the Memorial Day weekend winery tour:
Siegerrebe (2016): Produced from a pink-red skinned grape grown in Germany, Canada and parts of the U.S., this white wine has subtle flavors of grapefruit and floral notes and is one of the Washougal winery’s bestsellers.
Zweigelt Rose (2018): A dry rose made from grapes popular in Austria, this wine, according to the Halls, “delivers a crisp, light rhubarb flavor with hints of citrus fruit flavors.”
Pinot Noir (2016): One of the more recognizable wines produced at Columbia Gorge Vintners, this red wine is produced from the Pinot Noir Precoce grape, which ripens earlier than other Pinot Noir grapes and is known for its rich aromas, cherry and floral notes and decreased acidity and tannin levels.
Leon Millot (2016): One of the two bronze-medal award winners, this medium-bodied red is grown from the early ripening Leon Millot grape, which is a French-American hybrid that, according to the Halls, “has small clusters and takes more labor to hand-harvest.” The resulting dark-red wine has hints of blackberries, plums and earthy notes.
Marechal Foch (2016): The second bronze-medal winner at the Washougal winery, this red also incorporates a French-American hybrid grape that is common in other parts of the U.S., including the Midwest and New York State. Similar to wines found in the Rhone Valley or Italy, the Halls say this award-winning wine is a “light and easy to drink dry wine.”
The Southwest Washington Winery Association’s Memorial Day weekend winery tour includes 17 wineries throughout Clark County, and is happening Friday, May 24 through Monday, May 27. Each winery or tasting location has different hours and activities planned.
The Columbia Gorge Vintners tasting at Salud! Wine Bar, 224 N.E. Third Ave., Camas, is set for noon to 5 p.m., Saturday through Monday, May 25-27.