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. Because it was shaped by prehistoric lava flows and cataclysmic ice age floods, the terrain is as rugged as it is scenic. As a result, it offers a dramatic backdrop for the region’s wineries, tasting rooms and vineyards.

In geographical terms, the Columbia River Gorge extends from Goldendale to Vancouver, Washington, and Portland, Oregon. (The latter two cities sit across the Columbia River from each other.) And within this expansive region, you’ll find the Columbia Gorge AVA, which is fascinating for a number of reasons. For example, its climate transitions from cool in the west to warm in the east as its maritime influences yield to desert. This and its hilly terrain create diverse microclimates. And these are among the factors that allow a wide range of grape varietals to thrive. The region’s red varietals, for example, range from pinot noir to syrah—and even zinfandel. Meanwhile, the area’s white wine grapes include gewürztraminer, riesling, pinot gris and cool-climate chardonnays.

The eastern edge of the Columbia Gorge AVA abuts the massive Columbia Valley AVA. However, 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. And these complement a growing legion of family-owned wineries in Vancouver, Ridgefield and Battle Ground.

Beyond wine

For years, logging and agriculture drove the economies of the small towns that line the Gorge. However, in more recent times, the area’s natural surroundings have fostered recreation and tourism. Similar to the wineries, the area’s lodging and dining options are spread across 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. Its new Waterfront Park transformed a shuttered paper mill into a bustling urban village, with a riverside promenade lined by restaurants and winery tasting rooms. And the city’s adjacent downtown offers additional restaurants, brewpubs and a few more winery tasting rooms. Vancouver and Portland are about 70 miles west of Hood River. However, there are plenty of stellar views along the way. Map it.