The locals might hate me for letting their best kept secrets out, but I just can’t keep this to myself any longer! Poised at the precipice of Washington’s rugged Gifford Pinchot National Forest and the Mount St. Helens wilderness area lies an unlikely and emerging wine region. Scattered throughout the land and separated by rushing rivers, whimsical (and sometimes whopping) waterfalls, wild woods, and an abundance of hallowed hiking trails, lies the unassuming expanse of the SW Washington wine region.
From Vancouver to Camas, and Ridgefield to Battle Ground, the expanse includes urban wineries, suburban wineries, and those situated off the well-beaten mountain path. These wineries are all modest, down-to-earth, and completely unpretentious, so don’t be expecting palatial Napa estates. But don’t let the wineries’ humble nature fool you, the wines speak for themselves, appropriately and with pride.
First stop (or last, your call) sustenance. Whether it’s for breakfast, lunch, or dinner, a visit to the neighborhood Mill Creek Pub in Battle Ground will fill your body with hearty good food. Guests should expect a broad menu that supports local farms, breweries and distilleries, and consists of salads, pasta dishes, chef crafted burgers, and plenty of healthy vegetable-centered options. Yes, plant-based foods can be the star of the plate! The motto: Sustainable foods that are good for you, good for local business, and good for the earth. Insider tip: The weekend Bloody Mary bar is practically a meal in and of itself (with just about every hot sauce you can imagine)!
The wineries await…
Heisen House Vineyards — It’s like the little winery that could. Located on the magnificent historic 15-acre Heisen homestead, the winery is the past and the future of the land, all rolled up into one. The history of the estate is astounding. Built in 1866, the home and land had all but succumbed to the area?s encroaching blackberries. Owner Michele Bloomquist, who considers herself a historic preservationist first (though she’s also a winery owner, winemaker, and mother), saw the beauty and potential of the estate, and was inspired to rescue it from disrepair and the bramble that was swallowing it whole. She jokingly calls it a MacGyver winery, making wine with rocks and a couple of sticks, though you’d never guess that when you taste them.
Bloomquist—living in harmony with nature—makes wines by instinct and intuition, with a focus on natural winemaking and sustainability, minimal chemical intervention, and without the use of harmful pesticides. Which all boils down to the simple fact that you can feel good about the wine in your glass. Enjoy beautifully refreshing white wines, like Dry Muscat and Sauvignon Blanc, and swoon over the absolutely tantalizing reds, including Sangiovese and Cabernet Sauvignon in the casual and comfortable tasting room. Your visit won’t be complete without a little conversation with the enthusiastic and friendly turkeys (Henry VIII and his two merry wives), and if you’re lucky, you’ll spot the elusive barn owl that resides in the lofty 100-year-old barn (one of the oldest in the county!). Bloomquist is a dreamer, and we should thank her for her vision. She’ll be the first to tell you that Napa started with a bunch of crazy dreamers too.
Pomeroy Cellars — Nestled in the enchanting Lucia Valley, along the Lewis River in Yacolt just beyond Battleground, experience a slice of the region?s history on this historic 100+ year old farm on a 677-acre estate (mostly used for cattle, hay, and timberland). Featuring an interactive living museum that depicts farm life prior to modern inventions like electricity, several times a year, children can experience what it was like to live in the early 20th century.
Winemaker Dan Brink crafts big red wines sourcing fruit from both the estate as well as prestigious vineyards like DuBrul in the Yakima Valley. Enjoy the well-balanced wines in the Brink’s grandparents’ parlor, inspired by the 1920s and featuring antiques from that time period. Though the family has a long history making fruit wines, Brink admittedly has no formal wine education. He says he’s driven more by artistry, experimentation, and experience. The family invites guests to bring their own picnics and enjoy them on the grounds during the warmer season.
Moulton Falls Winery and Cider House is situated on a pastoral setting in Yacolt. The spacious rustic barn is laden with wood and features antlers of all kinds. Big Jake the Cascade Mountain Dog will warmly welcome you to the family-friendly space that’s warmed by a classic potbelly stove and comfortable seating areas. Kids and grownups alike will enjoy the wood-fired pizzas, music events (Friday and Saturday nights), expansive grounds, country setting, deer, elk, and even eagles. In fact, it’s become something of a neighborhood gathering place.
Owners Joe and Susan Milea started the winery on a whim (or was it a bet), and now source all the fruit for their wines from Red Mountain in eastern Washington. Wine highlights include: Big Jake Chenin Blanc, a Lemberger, a wine with an almost cult following from Kiona Vineyard, and Syrah and Sangiovese blend called Siouxon Red. And for those who aren’t interested in wine and offering something to appeal to everyone, Moulton Falls makes some damn tasty handcrafted ciders. Hang out long enough to learn the meaning of ‘Yacolt’ and the ancient stories of Ghost Valley.
Instead of blowing through town on your way to or from the mountain, plan to stay for the day, or even a weekend, because there is plenty to see, taste, and explore. Recreational activities aside (because that’s a whole other article), there’s an abundance of boutique wineries (the small, laid-back kind where the winemaker is waiting behind the bar to tell you stories about the history of the county and about the wines), home-style restaurants, and craft breweries that make the area ideal for foodies, winos, as well as cider and beer hounds. Especially those who enjoy the less touristy and under-explored areas. Squeeze in a few of those picturesque waterfalls to your agenda, and it?s a feast for all the senses.
If you really want to have some fun and let loose a little, bring some friends, rent a limo from Silver Limousine, and tour the area in style! And when you’re ready to call it a day, check into the unexpectedly charming Best Western Plus in downtown Battle ground. The comfortable, large, themed suites (I stayed in the Log Cabin Suite) give you a delightful place to call home while you see and do everything there is to see and do in SW Washington. So, don’t be afraid. Go on, cross the river, discover the undiscovered, and see what treasures await you. You’ll surely return again soon.