Let The Wines Come To You at Local Wine Events

by Nancy Zaffaro
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Wine lovers know there is no shortage of excellent wine regions to visit in the Pacific Northwest.  Each AVA offer wines that will please the palate and offer a diverse range of wines. Each region offers scenic drives, gorgeous tasting rooms and places to spend the night, delicious regional cuisine, and outdoor activities and adventures.

So many wines, so many wine regions, but few of us have the time to visit them all. The solution? Let the wines come to you!

Take a look at two annual Portland wine events: Columbia Gorge Portland Grand Tasting and the Walla Walla Wine Portland. The events offer the chance to taste wines from the regions and meet the winemakers without even leaving town. (Check your local regions for similar events!)

Both the Columbia Gorge AVA and Walla Walla AVA are part of the broader Columbia Valley AVA which includes part of Oregon and Washington.

The wineries mentioned here are only a few highlights, of course!

Columbia Gorge Portland Grand Tasting

The Columbia Gorge AVA is about 15 miles in length along both sides of the Columbia River, in both Oregon and Washington, the boundaries running from the towns of Hood River in the west to Lyle in the east. There are 33 wineries in the region, and 22 of those attended the 2016 event.


Cathedral Ridge

DSC_0028 (427x640)At the 2016 event, I swung by a longstanding favorite (for the wine, tasting room, and events), Cathedral Ridge. Owner and Cellar Master Robb Bell and winemaker Michael Sebastiani and team offer more than 20 wines. It’s their reds that I especially covet, and that day they were on hand to pour their 2013 Petit Verdot and their 2014 Reserve Barbera (a real treat), and more.

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The opportunity to talk one-on-one with wineries is a big benefit of attending wine events.

Their Syrahs, Cabs, Zins, and Merlots are especially excellent and they definitely know how to blend their grapes. Great for sipping, great with food, and definitely cellar-worthy. Cathedral Ridge has won more than 100 awards since opening in Cathedral Ridge name in 2003.

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Cathedral Ridge’s wines are expertly crafted and downright delicious.

Phelps Creek

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Phelps Creek’s Jon Wadman pours at the event.

I hadn’t tasted wines from Phelps Creek wine before, and I’ll definitely seek out their Sauvignon Blanc again. It’s an especially highly aromatic wine with great tropicals and acidity for Asian dishes and seafood, or great for just sipping on a summer day. Phelps Creek produces 5,000 cases a year; they also release Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Gewürztraminer, and Pinot Gris.

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Major Creek Cellars

Major Creek Cellars offers a wonderful Cab Franc. This wine is their signature wine, and it’s got great tannins, very fruit forward, and smooth, smooth, smooth. Launched in 2004, they’re family owned and are one of the smallest producers in the region, bottling just 200 cases a year.

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Major Creek Cellars’ Owner and Winemaker, Steve Mason, talks wine with attendees.


DSC_0069 (640x427)The grapes for Memaloose’s wines are grown on their 20 acre estate, and they make a great Dolcetto. Often considered to be a poor cousin to Nebbiolo and Barbera, I enjoy dolcetto’s fruity, bright flavors and deep purple-red color as a late night wine, although it also pairs well with many foods. Memaloose’s produced 250 cases in their first vintage in 2006, and currently produces over 2000 cases.

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Proprietor Rob McCormick (L) and colleague pour at the event.

Walla Walla Wine At Pure Space

Walla_Walla_AVA_map2The Walla Walla AVA is located in southeastern Washington down into northwestern corner of Oregon. There are more than 100 wineries in the Walla Walla AVA and fifty of those attended the 2016 Walla Walla Wine event in Portland, pouring 150 wines.



Gramercy Cellars

DSC_0012 (640x427)Master Sommelier Greg Harrington (he passed the exam at the age of 26) and his wife Pam founded Gramercy in 2005 and today produce 6,000 cases of wine a year. Their wines are carefully grown and finely crafted. One sip of their 2013 Third Man Grenache won me over; it’s a blend of 76% Grenache, 19% Syrah and 5% Mourvédre. Their 2012 Tempranillo really stood out for me as well. Store some of these in the wine cellar for future opening.

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Talking wine with Gramercy Cellars.

Skylite Cellars

Winemaker Greg Matiko of Skylite Cellars.

Skylite Cellars produces a wonderful Carménère, with lots of good cherry, and a spicy aroma to this deep red hued, medium bodied wine. They maintain tasting rooms in Walla Walla, Spokane and Kirkland. Owners Tom and Cheryl Hodgins invested in a winery in the year 2000, found their joint passion and opened Skylite Cellars in 2003. They’re the only winery listed here that sources all their grapes, but Winemaker Greg Matiko and team do the rest with aplomb.




Browne Family Vineyards

Browne Family Vineyards 2012 Tribute Red caught my attention with its full body, velvety tannins, smoky, “manly” aromas and jammy finish, although it their Cabernet Sauvignons that garner the most attention. Browne Family Vineyards is a branch of the larger Precept Wines, of which Andrew Browne is CEO. Precept owns some very well-known labels at all price points, but this namesake label holds a special place for him and the craftsmanship of these wines shows.

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Tranche Cellars

Tranche Cellars produces their wines under three series: their Mediterranean, Rhone and Estate Series. They produce a wide portfolio with care from grapes that are grown sustainably, and hand-farmed, harvesting the fruit at their most intense flavor. I especially enjoyed their 2011 Barbera. Their Mediterranean Series wines especially explores bringing out the best in their varietal, whereas their Rhone Series has fun with the blends of this region.

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Final Words

While each of these festivals and events is wonderful, of course I still recommend a visit to the regions themselves. Explore the sites below and plan a trip!

2017 Portland Events:

The Wine Regions:

The Wines:

– All photos by Nancy Zaffaro.

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