About Our Terroir

its a lot about the dirt


Located just 60 miles east of Portland/Vancouver, our wine region defined by the Columbia River Gorge, a narrow passage that marks the dramatic transition from eastern desert to cool maritime climate as the Columbia River cuts through the Cascade Mountain Range on its way to the Pacific Ocean. The region encompasses the corridor flanking the river in both Washington and Oregon and includes the Columbia Gorge and the southwestern part of the Columbia Valley American Viticultural Areas (AVAs). Within the compact area of the Columbia Gorge lays an extraordinary combination of climate, soil and geology creating distinctly different "micro-climates" perfect for growing premium grapes of almost every variety from Albarino to Zinfandel.

This is a land of strong contrast and rapid change passing through the Columbia Gorge from west to east, the rainfall diminishes at almost an inch per mile while sunshine increases dramatically. The western vineyards have cool, marine influenced climate where it rains 25 inches per year- ideal for cool-weather loving varietals like Pinot Noir, Gewurtztraminer, Chardonnay, Pinot Gris and Riesling. Eastern vineyards have a continental high desert climate with just 10 inches of annual rainfall but plentiful sunshine to ripen hot weather Bordeaux, Rhone and Italian varietals like Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah, Zinfandel and Barbera.

But it's not just the difference in heat that makes individual vineyards special. Grapes reflect the soil in which they are rooted; they express distinctive character in special sites. In the Columbia Gorge, soil can vary just as dramatically as the rain and the sunshine. This geological wonderland began with massive mud and lava flows from ancient volcanoes millions of years older than today's majestic Mt. Hood and Mt. Adams. During the last Ice Age, the Missoula Floods- the largest flows of water in Earth's history- roared through the Gorge eroding vertical canyons walls up to thousands of feet high and depositing thick layers of silt and sand. This cataclysmic history resulted in multitude of different soils deposited in close proximity to one another. When visiting a vineyard, notice the ground- is it red from old volcanic mudstone or gray showing fragments of basalt rock? Perhaps you may be standing on soil deposited from ancient floods and carried to the Gorge from present day Montana. Our high elevations Wy'East Vineyards is above missoula flood level resulting in Vineyard soils unlike any others in the Gorge.

Climate, temperature, soil, aspect, altitude- each component acts on the grapes grown in an individual vineyard to form what they French term "terroir"- the idea that wine in the bottle expresses the distinct place it was grown. In your wine travels, ask your host "What makes these grapes special in this particular location?" While you taste the extraordinary wines from the Columbia Gorge, savor the expression of fruit grown in America's most exciting wine region.

-Alan Busacca, Ph.D. Vinitas Vineyard Consultants