Over the River and Through the Woods?
It’s true, I can be something of a wine snob. And a food snob, and a beer snob, and a coffee snob, and a music snob? I’m not proud, but at least I’m honest. What I am a sucker for though is high quality. So, when a good friend asked me where in Washington I was going wine tasting, my reply was Camas? Vancouver? I don’t know, it’s all the same, right? And in my narrow Portland bubble mind, if it wasn’t Eastern Washington or the Columbia Gorge, and I had to cross the Columbia River, it was all the same to me. That was until I visited SW Washington area for myself and discovered the rich tapestry of vineyards and burgeoning wine community in the rolling foothills around Battle Ground, Washington.
Three Brothers Vineyard and Winery (Ridgefield)
You are immediately welcomed by the sounds of the cows mooing and the geese honking. As the farm country setting begins to soothe your weary city bones, you become acutely aware of how time seems to have slowed down from the moment you arrive. This family-friendly winery, with summer concert series and picnic grounds, is open for tasting Fri-Sun. Owner Dan Anderson, who has 25 acres planted, and grows six different types of grapes admits, “The soil in SW Washington is just lousy enough for growing grapes.” And if you think about the rocky soil in parts of France and the caliber of wines produced there, you understand. With production ranging from 2000-3000 cases, depending on the vintage, guests will find something for everyone including sweet and vibrant whites to the boldest reds.
Bethany Vineyards & Winery (Ridgefield)
Combine winemaker tradition with the ideal climate of SW Washington and what do you get? You get Bethany Vineyards and Winery. Owned by Walt Houser, who’s affectionately known as the grandfather of wine in Clark County, Bethany is situated on an 80-acre estate, half of which is planted to vine. Planted in 1999, Houser is now growing 10 varieties of vinifera, including Pinot Noir cuttings provided by Mo Momatzi of Oregon’s prestigious Maysara Vineyard. Bethany is experimenting with grapes not typically found in this area but well-suited for the climate, like Zwiegelt, an Austrian high-yield variety tasting of cherries, pepper, and currants. The stunning grounds, which include the vineyards, a lake, and an outdoor pavilion space crafted using mortise and tenon joint (and not a single nail), is the perfect spot to purchase lunch from the onsite caterer, buy a bottle of wine, and while away the day.
Dolio Winery (Battle Ground)
Dolio which is Latin for “barrel” is a great name for a winery that focuses on offering the five essential Italian wines in one place; Sangiovese, Barbera, Dolcetto, Primativo, and Nebbiolo. And because whites do so well in Washington, they also produce Pinot Grigio, Sauvignon Blanc, Viognier, and Gruner Veltliner. Less than one acre of the five-acre estate is planted (with cuttings from Bethany Vineyards), owners Don and Pam Klase (who were actually high school sweethearts) buy 90% of what they produce from Benton City and the tri-cities, Washington. The Klases produced their first commercial vintage in 2013 and just opened their tasting room in 2015. Don will tell you he makes the wine he likes to drink. And much like this saying on the tasting room menu “Wine, because no good story started with a salad”, Don and Pam will happily share stories with you all day long.
Olequa Cellar (Battle Ground)
If you’re looking for unpretentious, I’ve got just the place. Olequa Winery (named for the type of soil the vineyard is situated on) is a small family run winery located due north of Main Street in Battle Ground. With a small tasting room adjacent to the owner’s home, it’s like tasting wine in the winemaker’s backyard. The dog, the kid, and the wife act as an informal greeting committee. Owner/winemaker/vineyard manager Brian Tansy is a chemist in the real world, bringing his scientific approach into the vineyard and cellar. The estate is planted to Marechal Foch, which is right in line with Tansy’s desires to work with more unusual grapes. Expect to taste wines like Cayuga, a crisp and citrusy food wine made from the French/American hybrid grown in Woodland Washington that Tansy finds to be high yield and settles well in the cellar. He also makes a delightful Rosé of Grenache/Mouvedre, Grüner Veltliner, Pinot Noir, Viognier, Chardonnay, and Dry Riesling, but beg him to taste the 2015 Gewurtraminer, if he has any left. Its captivating and hypnotic aromas of apricot, peach, and grapefruit will win every inch of you over.
Rusty Grape Vineyards?(Battle Ground)
A visit to Rusty Grape, the closest winery to Battle Ground, feels a bit like you’re a cool teenager hanging in your parent’s basement. It’s a little rough around the edges, but its homestyle atmosphere is welcoming to all and will immediately put you at ease. Owners Jeremy and Heather Brown have gone to great lengths to convert a former horse barn into a community gathering place where the whole family is welcome (kids included). And it’s the only winery in the county that’s open 7 days a week. With a large deck, community events, and daily food specials, like Mac ‘n Cheese Monday, Taco Pizza Tuesday, and free pizza for wine club members on Sunday—it seems like there’s always something going on, and easy to see why they were Voted best of Clark County for six years running. Rumor has it they’re getting ready to remodel, building a separated designated tasting space and community areas. The Sailers have 2 acres of Pinot Noir planted at the winery, but source most of the grapes for their wines from Waving Tree Vineyard in the Gorge, as well as Prosser and Yakima, Washington. No visit to Battle Ground is complete with a visit to Rusty Grape. Fill your hungry bellies with scrumptious thin crust, wood-fired pizza and a tasty bottle Patina’s Recession Red or Rusty Grape Cider. Leave your inner wine snob behind, you’ll be glad you did.