It has been a bittersweet Christmas, a week of celebrating mother's return to the States but also my goodbye as I leave in January 2009 for my adventures in Argentina.
Portland International Airport, NE 181st Street, Gresham, and Troutdale . . . . One by one, mother, the sister, and I counted as we sped past Portland's eastern suburbs and into the Columbia River Gorge. Anticipating the majestic views of the river valley, we were instead greeted by a steady and increasingly energetic rain. It was as if mother nature desired no visitors and did its best to turn back the city slickers.
At the end of the last ice age, the Missoula Floods angrily rushed millions of tons of ice down the Columbia, cutting through the volcanic Cascade Mountains and creating the 80-miles long Gorge. Jagged bluffs, sometimes up to 4,000 feet/1,200 meters, now flank the mighty river's northern and southern banks.
Mt. Hood and her shy sisters hid behind a thick white veil.
I cannot say exactly when the landscape changed, perhaps at the Dalles, the end of the Oregon Trail. The narrow and dramatic Gorge gave way to open sky and a high desert landscape befitting of Clint Eastwood's spaghetti westerns.
Excitedly ejecting myself out of our rental car each time we pull up to a new winery, I sampled offerings from L'Ecole No. 41, Woodward Canyon, Bergevin Lane, and finally Sapolil Cellars. But while the Syrahs were definitely worth the four hours drive, what struck me the most is the contrast between the winemakers' connection to the land they farm*, and their commitment to produce creative and quality wines; some converted rocky family plots that were unsuitable for planting wheat or onions but are great for the vines, while others came from as far away as France because of Walla Walla's freewheeling wine making culture.
Today, the Columbia River Gorge was a pensive grand old lady who cautiously permitted us into her realm.
* Many Walla Walla winemakers commented that they're 3rd or 5th generation Walla Walla residents.
For lodging we stayed at the Walla Walla Inns' downtown location.