The mighty river shapes this uniquely rugged setting.

The steep, multihued banks of the Columbia River help make the Columbia River Gorge one of the most scenic wine tasting regions anywhere. Shaped by prehistoric lava flows and cataclysmic ice age floods, the terrain is as rugged as it is scenic. And this creates a dramatic backdrop to the region’s wineries, tasting rooms and vineyards.

Geographically, the Columbia River Gorge extends from about Goldendale to Vancouver, Washington, and Portland, Oregon. (The latter two sit across the Columbia River from each other.) Among other things, this region is home to the Columbia Gorge AVA, which is fascinating for a number of reasons. Most notably, its climate transitions from cool in the west to warm in the east, as its maritime influences give way to desert. This and its hilly terrain have created diverse microclimates. And these, in turn, allow a wide range of grape varietals to thrive. Its red grapes range from pinot noir to syrah and even zinfandel. While gewürztraminer, riesling, pinot gris and cool-climate chardonnay are among the white varietals that shine.

The eastern edge of the Columbia Gorge AVA abuts the massive Columbia Valley AVA. But the Columbia Gorge is one of the few Washington AVA’s that is not a subregion of the Columbia Valley.

You’ll find about 30 wineries and tasting rooms spread out between Goldendale and Underhill. These include several on the Oregon side of the river, mostly between Mosier and Hood River. The area’s standouts include Syncline Wine Cellars, in Lyle, and Maryhill Winery, in Goldendale. Meanwhile, several wineries have opened satellite tasting rooms in Vancouver, Washington. These complement a small legion of family-owned wineries in Vancouver, Ridgefield and Battle Ground.

Beyond wine

For years, logging and agriculture drove the economies in the small towns that line the Gorge. But the area’s natural surroundings and outdoor recreation have fostered tourism. Similar to the wineries, the area’s lodging and dining options are spread out in the small towns on the Washington and Oregon sides of the river. Of these, you’ll find the most in Hood River, which is also a world-class windsurfing and kiteboarding destination. And its eclectic restaurants include health-food cafés, ethnic restaurants, brewpubs and more.

At the western gateway to the Gorge, Vancouver, Washington, is emerging from the shadow of Portland. Much of this stems from Vancouver’s new waterfront park, which has transformed a shuttered paper mill into a bustling office, residential and entertainment complex. Most noteworthy is its waterfront promenade, which is lined by restaurants, a brewpub and winery tasting rooms. And the rest of downtown Vancouver also has a lot to offer. But Hood River is about 70 miles east of Vancouver (and Portland). Map it.