Our recent travels took us through Washington's fantastic Columbia Gorge, an area of fascinating extremes. It's green and lush cool climate at the west end and hot, arid desert at the east end, a difference brought about by a drastic drop in annual rainfall of about an inch per mile. When we visited, it was around 80 degrees when we turned east off of I-5 near Portland and 103 when we arrived at our campsite about 70 miles east--the change occurs so fast it almost doesn't make sense. Wineries have been popping on both sides (the north shore is Washington, the south shore Oregon), and the difference I just mentioned seems to afford them the opportunity to grow almost every kind of wine grape imaginable. Here you can taste from a winery that specializes in superripe, fruit-forward barbera (Cascade Cliffs) at one end of the spectrum and another from the other end that specializes in burgundian style pinot noirs (Phelps). Some pics I took that make the point:
The winery furthest east of all is Maryhill, a brand that's easily available all over Washington and which I've avoided after tasting goopy Sauv Blanc and chardonnays from them shortly after moving here about ten years ago. They are perhaps best known for their zin grown on a south facing slope high above the Columbia River right there at the winery which I found better than the whites back then, but not especially compelling in light of my familiarity with California versions.
Far more important than the wines, though, is Maryhill's namesake mansion and museum a mile or so down the road. The unlikely brainstorm of a lumber baron named Sam Hill (as in "what in the Sam Hill do you think you're doing?"), he commissioned some Wash DC architects to design and build (in 1914) a stately three story Beaux Arts mansion in what is still essentially the middle of nowhere, named it after the wife who never came to occupy it, and planned it as the cornerstone of a utopian Quaker peacenik community which also never came to be. For good measure, he also threw in a fullsize concrete replica of Stonehenge as a WWI war memorial in hopes that all who visited it would be reminded to never let war on that scale happen again. (Like it did any good, but the thought was nice.) The grounds are peppered with modern sculptures.
The Museum itself is home to a fantastic art collection, which endowments guarantee is still added to, and which includes a whole roomful of Rodins and a spectacular collection of PNW native American artifacts curated by tribe/location which speaks to the resources naturally available to each.
Based on my prior experience with Maryhill wines which date back to my move here 11 years ago I had no intention of tasting there, but after visiting the museum it seemed wrong to leave without the complete experience so we stopped in to see if anything changed. I told my pourer about my prior experiences by way of a challenge, and by golly they were up for it. Turns out, a new winemaker has turned everything around (since 2007) and they wanted to prove it. I couldn't have been more impressed. That is--there weren't any Lafites in the collection but that's not what they strive for. What they instead want to do is present a large array of well-made, unspoofy, varietally correct wines that are good value for their moderate price point.
2012 Aurelia RSV (marsanne, roussanne): pretty nose, clean, dry. B+
2013 Viognier: too sweet for my tastes but balanced for what it is, a perfect mother-in-law wine. C
2013 Winemaker's white: big fruit, some residual sugar. Like the viognier but more complex. C+
2011 Classic Chardonnay: apple, pear, fantastic acids, some austerity and crisp, unwooded. B
2012 Pinot Gris: clean, pure, correct, unusually good for a domestic PG. B+
2012 Sauvignon Blanc: musty-cheesey with some grass and nice citrus. "Like New Zealand," I said, delighting my server. Turns out the new winemaker is a New Zealander and was going for that style.
2011 Classic Sangiovese: pretty med red fruit, with some spice. A great every day red. B
2011 Malbec: crazy good, floral nose, classic malbec on the palate. Competition for the Argentines. A-
2009 Classic Zinfandel: dry with good minerality. Won't improve from here, though. C+
2010 Zinfandel Proprietors Reserve: three vineyards, four different oaks, and it seems to have got the best of all of them. Complex, sweet, spicy, too much oak, exc structure. Should be ageable. B
2008 Cabernet Franc: Cherry, tobacco, fresh basil, cardamom, minerals. LOVED this, and jeez, they were blowing it out at $130/case. If I'd had room, I'd have taken a case with me. B++
And here's a gratuitous parting shot, just because the petroglyphs in the area are so cool--the Columbia Gorge is SO worth visiting.
My wine shopping and I have never had a problem. Just a perpetual race between the bankruptcy court and Hell.--Rogov