Columbia Gorge: Established in 2004
- Area of Columbia Gorge AVA is 191,000 acres, approximately 300 square miles.
- Approximately 500 planted acres of vinifera.
- Located within a National Scenic Area, sixty miles east of Portland/Vancouver.
- The Columbia Gorge wine region is defined by the Columbia River Gorge, a narrow passage that marks the dramatic transition from eastern desert to cool maritime climate as the Columbia River cuts through the Cascade Mountain Range on its way to the Pacific Ocean.
- The region encompasses the corridor flanking the river in both Washington and Oregon and includes the Columbia Gorge and the southwestern part of the Columbia Valley American Viticultural Areas (AVAs).
- Within the compact area of the Columbia Gorge lays an extraordinary combination of climate, soil and geology creating distinctly different “micro-climates” perfect for growing premium grapes of almost every variety from Albarino to Zinfandel.
- Passing through the Columbia Gorge from west to east, the rainfall diminishes at almost an inch per mile while sunshine increases dramatically.
- Western vineyards have a cool, marine influenced climate where it rains 40 inches a year -- ideal for cool-weather loving varietals like Pinot Noir, Gewurztraminer, Chardonnay, Pinot Gris and Riesling.
- Eastern vineyards have a continental high desert climate with just 10 inches of annual rainfall but plentiful sunshine to ripen hot-weather Bordeaux, Rhone and Italian varietals like Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah, Zinfandel and Barbera.
- Soils vary just as dramatically as the rain and sunshine; from red from old volcanic mudstone to gray showing fragments of basalt rock.
- Vineyard altitudes vary from near sea level to close to 2000’.
The Columbia Gorge, named after an 80-mile long gorge the Columbia River carved into basalt bedrock, is located in south-central Washington. The area straddles the Columbia River, with part of the growing region extending into Oregon.
Due to relatively cool temperatures in some areas of the appellation, the Columbia Gorge is one of only three growing regions in Washington where white grape plantings outnumber red grape plantings (Yakima Valley and Ancient Lakes are the others). White wines from this region are known for their crisp acidity.
The area has a long viticultural history, with plantings dating back to the late 1880s. However, as of 2011, only about 400 acres were under vine. Chardonnay, Gewürztraminer, and Pinot Gris are the most planted varieties.
Chardonnays from this region are mildly aromatic with aromas and flavors of fresh green apple. These wines often have prominent acidity. Gewürztraminer from this region displays white flowers, spice, and grapefruit. These wines often have prominent acidity.
This region’s proximity to the Cascade crest, which lies to the west, results in radically different microclimates over a very small area. Driving west to east, annual rainfall decreases approximately one inch per mile. The western section of the appellation receives an average of 36 inches (90cm) of rainfall annually; the eastern section a mere 10 (25cm).
As a result, western vineyards have more of a maritime climate, ideal for cool climate grapes; eastern vineyards have a continental climate, better suited to warm weather varieties. Additionally, some western vineyards can be dry-farmed, an extreme rarity in eastern Washington.
Proximity to the Columbia River helps guard against frost, which can be a problem in nearby areas. Climatically, the Columbia Gorge is also notable for its near-constant winds due to pressure differentials caused by cool air from the Pacific Ocean meeting warm arm from eastern Washington’s deserts.
Most vineyards on the Washington side of the appellation are planted on south-facing slopes in order to receive as much sunshine as possible and to protect from wind.
Notably, the Columbia Gorge is one of Washington’s only growing regions that lies outside of the Columbia Valley appellation, which it abuts.