(Note: As we progress through our day trip, you’ll find we give a few recommendations for pairings. Being that we are far from experts when it comes to wine and what to do with it, these should just be considered the amateur observations of 4 people who enjoy food and drink.)
On a beautiful May-in-Oregon Saturday, Dawn, from Unforgettable Service & Events, Lyle, from The Likable Scribe, and our respective and gracious spouses, Dylan and Lillian, made a day of it with a trip to Hood River for a wine and cider tasting experience. After the previous evening of barbequing and relaxing, we were greeted with exceptional weather to make our trek up The Gorge from Portland. With clear skies and a warm sun, we turned off of Interstate 84 and made our way up Highway 35 in search of wineries and cideries yet untried. We were all excited to see the alternatives to the microbrews and craft distilled spirits we were already familiar with, especially since Lyle and Lillian were new to wine tasting.
Our first stop brought us to Mt. Hood Winery, nestled a short distance off of the highway. The large showroom with high ceilings offered an impressive view of the northeast side of Mt. Hood. Equally impressive was the quick service once we nestled up to the high countertop bar. Our server was friendly and happy to chat with us while she offered wines for trial. Since Lyle and his wife were new to wine tasting, she was exceptionally positive and asked a lot of questions from all of us about our preferences while guiding us through a selection of whites and reds. With several bottles of wine, including a wonderful Estate Riesling, clutched in our hot little hands, we headed down the highway to our next unknown destination.
Not more than a mile up the road, we happened upon a large sign proclaiming “PINOT NOIR”, in large white letters on a dark brown background. Since it appeared they were offering, we felt it was only appropriate to accept. We pulled into Wy’East Vinyards and entered the low roofed building that was formerly a fruit stand. We were greeted by a pair of gentlemen who advised us to take the best seats in the house as a bus load of tourists were set to arrive within a few minutes. Enjoying the sun as it filtered through the overhanging branches, we took a table on the large deck behind the tasting room with ample space to stretch out and relax. Our seating choice gave us a view that overlooked the vineyards and orchards while we sipped the offerings of Wy’East.
We began with the 2013 Pinot Gris, a lovely white wine produced from the oldest vines. Dylan and Lyle came to the conclusion that it needed a good dry salami and a creamy or smoky gouda to finish it off. We were then offered the 2013 Pinot Noir Blue Chip, a hit with everyone at the table as the conversation moved to sausage fettucine, pulled pork sandwiches, and relaxing in the hot tub. As we moved through several more wines, Lillian found her zen with a 2014 Rosé, a wine club exclusive, and Lyle found his with the 2012 Cabernet Sauvignon, a hefty, blood red wine that evoked the essence of a 12 year old Jameson Irish Whiskey.
What started with their 2013 Pinot Gris, ended with us walking out with nearly a case of wine and a membership in the Wy’East Wine Club. Even though we shared the experience with the bus load of visitors, we received exceptional service from the staff. Those interactions, combined with the atmosphere created by the owners, Christie and Dick Reed, and the wonderful selection of wines, led us to uniformly declare that Wy’East might just be our new favorite winery.
After Wy’East, Lyle made it clear that it was time to change drivers. Dylan graciously offered to be the designated driver and took charge of the car. We landed a short time later at our first cidery, Fox Tail. With a taster of ten ciders, the equivalent of two pints, we started our first cider tasting. After all the talk of food while at Wy’East, we added a spicy brat with sauerkraut, red potatoes, and a German pretzel to stave off our growing hunger. The atmosphere of Fox Tail was that of a brewery, with high ceilings and views of the cidery brewing floor. Our server was engaging and offered good information about the cider tasters as she delivered them. Of the ten we tried, we took home three growlers: the Highlander, a potent (8.5% ABV) but light flavored cider; the Imperial Hopped Cider, an interesting dry hopped cider version of the IPA; and the Fuzzy Haven, a lightly sweet peach cider.
After taking our fill of cider and wine, we deviated from our tour for a stop at Foothills Yarn & Fiber, an alpaca ranch that creates yarn from the herd found wandering the grounds. While Dawn picked up some yarn for her mom for Mother’s Day, the boys and Lillian wandered about and took in all that the ranch had to offer. Lyle was overjoyed at meeting his first Great Pyrenees and plotted to steal the 120 pound “puppy” until Dylan and Lillian reminded him that theft was generally bad for business and extremely poor taste in any setting.
Shortly thereafter, we moved on to the Gorge White House Winery, nestled among rows of trees and vines, and conveniently located next to our first stop. Now consumed with full blown hunger, we ordered food to enjoy with our seven cider taster. Lillian and Lyle split a grilled turkey, bacon and cheddar sandwich, while Dylan and Dawn split what was supposed to be a run-of-the-mill cheese burger. Even though the ciders had some clear hits, the surprise came from the seemingly simple yet delicious food. Sitting in the comfortable shade as we carried on about the ciders, the conversation quickly turned into a rave session about our lunch. As Dylan and Dawn carried on about the cheese burger, Lillian and Lyle wished aloud they had ordered a second sandwich so they wouldn’t have to share with each other. After a brief tour of the Gorge White House, we made our way back to the car with more growlers in tow: the Lemon Perry, a bright lemon and pear cider which was a hit with all of us, and the aptly named Dry Newton Apple.
As the afternoon came to a close, there was no way we were going to make it out of Hood River without a final stop. The Naked Winery in downtown Hood River is one of Dawn and Dylan’s favorite places to visit and they have been wine club members there for several years. Our stop at Naked fulfilled two principal motives: introduce Lyle and Lillian to the atmosphere and quality of the Naked Winery and, equally important, to retrieve Dawn’s quarterly wine club selection. The Naked Winery tasting room was relaxed and the staff was easy going. On hand for pairing were various cheeses, crackers and dark chocolate. As we worked our way through the wines, our server was always smiling and joking with us. The rest of the staff was equally easy going and lived up to Naked’s motto, “(they) aim to tease”. As we made our way out the door, the Club Naked selection for Unforgettable, and couple of bottles for Lyle and Lillian, we were bid a fond farewell by the staff.
We finished up the day with Dylan driving west back to Portland, the rest of us seemingly as full of wine and cider as the trunk of our car. For all of us, it was a day of fellowship, sharing, and relaxing – a day away from the everyday pressures of life. More importantly, it was the perfect ending to the perfect day where memories were created and we felt as alive as the late spring day was long.