Some friends of ours were married in Hood River, Oregon this weekend. Hood River is a small town along the Columbia Gorge in Oregon, about an hour east of Portland on I-84. Although I had heard it was a great little tourist destination in Oregon, known mostly as a top destination for windsurfing gurus, I had no idea how much of a local food pioneer and wine drinking haven it was (for its size), until I started doing a little undercover research before the trip - with full intentions of dragging LB along with me during our free time over the weekend to any cool food destinations I uncovered.
My first discovery was the Hood River County Fruit Loop. This is a 35-mile loop of gorgeous farmland and mountain views that leads to several fruit stands, pear and cherry orchards, lavender farms, wineries and other fabulous Hood River secrets. We didn’t have time to do the whole Loop, but I chose several wineries and a few farms as must-see destinations along the way.
When we arrived in town, we headed to the furthest destinations from town on the Fruit Loop, intending on working our way back up during the next two days. Our first stop? Mount Hood Winery. This little winery is just off Highway 35, which allows for gorgeous views of Mt. Hood as well as Mt. Adams (if you remember to turn around!). The tasting room is small, but cute, and they have a nice little courtyard where you can enjoy a glass of wine after your complimentary tasting. It’s a small operation, and while I think they have potential, the wines there were just okay - neither LB nor I were very impressed. They did have a port and one other variety (Chardonnay, if I recall correctly) that had already sold out, so perhaps those were the gems of this little winery. Regardless, the tasting room has a gorgeous view and the woman pouring wine was talkative and pleasant.
Our second stop was supposed to be Hood River Lavender Farm, which is where the photo at the top of this post was taken. Unfortunately, we missed being able to test out their organic u-pick lavender and essential oils by a mere week – they were closed. The place itself looks very cute and will have to be a stop if we ever make it this way again. They are currently operating by appointment only, but when we called (from the road, just moments after driving by), we only got an answering machine.
The last stop along the Fruit Loop for the day was NutQuacker Farms – we lucked out and happened to be arriving the weekend of their annual Chestnut Roast. Here, we were able to taste delicious roasted and raw chestnuts, chestnut honey, and lucky for us, a free flight of the red wines from Hood River Vineyards – a stop we had planned for the following day. Raw chestnuts are crunchy and have a subtle nutty flavor...roasting them turns them into softer, richer, nuttier treats that would go perfectly with any kind of mushrooms or as an accompaniment, side dish or sauce for roasted chicken or turkey – as soon as I tasted one, I knew what my Thanksgiving stuffing is going to have in it. We also got to see what chestnuts look like on the tree – little hedgehogs!! Tight, spiny balls hold in the deep brown shell of the nut to protect it on the tree – it must be a wonderful defense against birds that want to have their own taste of this delicious tree fruit.
The wines from Hood River Vineyards definitely demonstrate the 26 years of winemaking that this family has been involved in. They have a more traditional European style than many of the wineries in Oregon and age their red wines for several years. This longer aging process, from what I understand, takes away much of the acidity, allows the fruit to balance itself and mellows the tannins in wine substantially – giving it a richer, fuller, more complex flavor than a younger wine (like those from Mt. Hood Winery). It definitely shows in their 2001 Pinot Noir (for some perspective, most wineries are currently offering a 2006 vintage), which has a completely unique flavor, very fruit-forward (means the fruit pops on your tongue as the first, and most prominent flavor in the wine), and with a long, beautifully rich finish to it. They also had a grape variety I hadn’t heard of, or tried before, called a Barbera, and surprised me by offering a Sangiovese – called Chianti when made in that particular region of Tuscany in Italy – this one was LB’s favorite. This winery also offers a few white varieties, several port-style fruit wines, two 12-year aged sherries (we ended up with the pear sherry), and even homemade hard apple cider at their tasting room near I-84, which we made our way to on Sunday.
By this time, LB and I were starving, and ready to make our way into town. We were more than pleasantly surprised at the culinary offerings available in this tiny town. But, since this post is getting long, I think I’ll fill you in on the food in my next post...stay tuned!