Winding Up at Wind River

The little sign on the highway north of White Salmon reads "Winery: 2 miles." Some two miles: The blacktop quickly fades to gravel, the gravel gives way to damp dirt, and the barely one-lane road winds ever upward through a green tunnel of overgrowth. "It's a good thing there's no place to turn around," says Joel Goodwillie cheerfully, "or nobody'd ever make it all the way up here." Fortunately, when they do make it all the way up there, they find a steep-sloped, sun-drenched vineyard, a quaint Alpine barn winery, and a terrace with gorgeous views of Adams and Hood and the Columbia Gorge. Few visitors head back down that road without a bottle or two of wine from picturesque Wind River Cellars. It almost seems like a bonus that the wine is not just drinkable but damn good. Only Wind River's riesling ($12) is made with grapes grown on-site (20 acres of 30-year-old vines trained in traditional German freestanding fashion). Much of the rest comes from nearby Celilo Vineyard, which produces some of Washington's most prized white wine grapes and also some remarkable reds. Winemaker Joel is particularly proud of a big, aromatic pinot noir ($20) made from Celilo fruit that reminds you that the lachrymose Willamette Valley isn't the only place in the Northwest where this persnickety grape can flourish. Goodwillie and his wife, Kris, market more than 10 wines, including a lemberger ($28) that brusquely demands red meat and b顲naise, a port-style dessert wine ($25 a half-bottle) made from lemberger, and a substantial gewrztraminer ($12). With an annual output of only 2,500 cases, some say the Goodwillies are spreading themselves too thin, but you wouldn't know it from the wines. And for the Goodwillies, the winery business is not just about the product. Joel worked for Gallo marketing in southern Oregon, which is based in a scenic vacation area, and they know that many of their customers now will be tourists; so they go out of their way to make sure their guests have a good time—presenting live music, special harvest tours and events, even a whitewater-and-wine combo in association with a local river-rafting firm. As if that doesn't keep them busy enough, they're spearheading a campaign to get the Columbia Gorge officially recognized as its own bi-state viticultural area, just like Walla Walla to the east. "We're the oldest operation here, and we've only been making wine seven years," Goodwillie says. "We've barely scratched the surface." Wind River Cellars: 509-493-2324 or www.windrivercellars.com rdowney@seattleweekly.com

 
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