Dozens of of apple varieties, pears for miles, acres of wine and plenty of distilleries
I had no idea what to expect when I was invited to what was titled a “tastemade” trip through the Columbia River Gorge and right into the base of the stunning Mount Hood. Here in Northern California, we get the chill of fall but rarely do we get the change in color throughout the foliage like I experienced in the Gorge as well as the roaring fireplaces, crisp fall produce and hearty cuisine.
Meandering along the Columbia River, we stop first in Cascade Locks to nibble on fresh -caught fish at Brigham Fish Market; smoked chinook, sockeye and coho have an otherworldly quality when freshly cured out of the river. We washed this down with distinctive beers from Thunder Island Brewing Company where they also serve a fantastic lunch.
These Cascade Locks businesses as well as the perennially popular Sugar Pine Drive-in in nearby Troutdale are all part of the West Gorge Food Trail and this is how I found out why the trip was called Tastebound. There is a recipe book by this name distributed throughout the Gorge that brings together local recipes made with the best of local vegetables, fruit, beef and fish from the Gorge.
When you come along the charming hamlet of Hood River, it is easy to imagine this turn of the century town vibrant with life as the trains rolled by picking up or discharging cargo. In fact, check in to the charming Hood River Hotel, with its roaring fireplace and Scandinavian restaurant named Broder Ost that puts out one of the best breakfasts I’ve had in years. But, get to your room and find a super comfy bed with a pair of ear plugs sitting on the nightstand. Don’t ignore these. As with many historic hotels and their quirks, noise is unavoidable, but The Hood River Hotel comes with the added bonus of trains all night long. As soon as I put in the ear plugs, I loved it.
Hood River is a great launching point for the whole Gorge Hood area. In town, find the Hood River Distillery, where they serve tastings of their numerous spirits, including an array of brandies made from apples, pears, berries and more found just down the street. A fantastic tasting here where you can choose to taste just the spirit or an array of mini cocktails that reflect the seasons. And, if you have luck, you will run into the young female distiller, Caitlin Bartlemay. You will find something you like here at Hood River Distilling because they, basically, make it all.
Wineries in the Gorge are plentiful, too, and, while you can find some of your favorite Oregon varietals here, the Columbia Gorge terroir offers up the opportunity to grow grapes like Italian varietal Dolcetto and Barbera, Alsatian wines like Pinot Gris and Riesling and even some Rhone varieties like Syrah and Grenache. Tierra de Lobos is a fun stop with no reservations necessary and owner-winemaker, Adolfo, who crafts solid organic wines when he is not winning dance competitions around the area. Check out the silver ball trophy in the tasting room.
Analemma Wines are small production, Columbia Gorge-grown wines that adhere to Slow Wine and Food guidelines. Enjoy what they call the 20 mile lunch here with all food sourced from within a 20 miles radius with varieties like Grenache, Trousseau and Chardonnay.
For a truly unique wine and food experience in the Gorge, book lunch or dinner at Hi-Yu Wine Farm, a property dedicated to responsible growing and respect for the land, employing permaculture, organic and biodynamic principles. Nathaniel Ready, a Master Sommelier and his partner, China Tresemer, a chef, welcome guests to their farm that melds animals, agriculture, food, wine and hospitality into a welcoming kitchen serving the day’s bounty.
Heading toward Mount Hood through wide open land and woods dropping their red adn yellow leaves. The mountain is inescapable, majestic and truly takes your breath away. Around thrown he base of the mountain are several orchards including the longest continually operating family apple and pear business. Since 1911, Kiyokawa Family Orchards on the Hood River Fruit Loop has thrived, now growing 80 varieties of apple and pear, including my favorite, the Mt. Rose, a red-fleshed apple that is as tasty as it is surprising.
Head up the mountain to find the striking and historic Timberline Lodge, a majestic mountain hotel whose facade served as the exterior of the hotel in The Shining. Inside find roaring fireplaces, charming guestrooms and an array of casual and fine dining, I was there in the fall but have the feeling this place is abuzz once the snow starts falling. Always holding court are two St. Bernards named Heidi and Bruno to greet as you finish a day of skiing or snowboarding.
Other places to eat in this gorge of plenty are The Riv, a church converted into a coffee and breakfast place with specialties like chicken and waffles. For sushi and a solid bar in an ambiance of fun and colorful kitsch, try Koya Kitchen where diners can tuck into the cozy bar area as their Asian fusion or Indian dishes are being prepared or sit outside under the lights and next to gurgling waterfalls or jump on the school bus that has been transformed into a cafe car.
Another activity visitors to the Hood Gorge area can’t miss, especially in damp fall weather, is foraging for mushrooms. As always, it is best to have a guide who know where to go and what mushrooms to harvest. A small percentage of mushrooms are edible and the best part is sauteing these up at the end of the forage. Our guide, First Nature Tours, took care of everything including the licensing necessary.
The Columbia Gorge and Mount Hood are spectacular and incredibly tasty no matter what time of year brings you here. Relax, enjoy, eat and imbibe.