When I lived in Washington State many years ago, you could visit the state’s wineries in an afternoon. There were two. Oregon had perhaps that many.
Now there are more than 900 in Washington, more than 700 in Oregon.
I and the other passengers aboard UnCruise’s SS Legacy will spend the next seven days, Saturday to Saturday, on “Rivers of Wine,” a cruise down the Columbia, Snake and Willamette Rivers that introduces guests to some of the best wines and wineries in those two states. As the friend who recommended the cruise said, “You will learn to spit.”
I fly in from the East coast and am escorted from the Portland Airport to the Crystal Room in the International Trade Center complex. Tables, chairs, refreshments, greeters and tenders of luggage are welcoming, but with three hours before we board, I choose to cross the street to the park and walkway along the Willamette River.
It is Saturday and the place is hopping. I missed the annual Mermaid Parade, but costumed participants are hanging around, some wading in the fountain for relief from the heat. Down the river walk, the Oregon Brewers are having their annual festival. Its quarter-mile-long gathering is testament to the popularity of craft brewing.
Beyond that, the weekly Saturday Craft Market attracts another crowd with entertainers, food stalls and all sorts of creations.
I return to the Crystal Room and begin to get acquainted with fellow passengers. We are given lanyards with nametags. First names only, this is a very casual cruise.
Lilly, the cruise director, arrives in period attire – our ship for the week is a replica of a late 1800s packet steamer – We follow her – or bus if preferred – the block to S. S. Legacy at 5 to be welcomed by hotel manager Kirsty and captain Tim at the dock and the rest of the crew aboard.
We are ushered to our cabins where our luggage awaits; 15 or so minutes later we gather in the Lounge for safety drill and champagne or whatever our drink choices are. We are further welcomed by the captain, chief engineer and first mate, all of whom have good senses of humor.
We cast off about 6:30 and make the curve into the Columbia while at dinner around 7:30.
And oh, dinner. Chef Brendan Monts began with fresh salad of field greens and fruit – blueberries, blackberries, raspberries and candied pistachios – with a Champagne vinaigrette.
Choices are Land, Sea and Farm (vegetarian). Hard to choose between Columbia River sockeye salmon and duck breast. Some didn’t, requesting small portions of both. Must remember that tomorrow night. Dessert is a Pavlova with lemon sorbet. Wines, Mt. Hood white and red pinot noirs.
Remarkable how fat from the salmon coats the throat and transforms the red pinot for a perfect match. Chris Arora, our sommelier, also provides a dessert pairing. Each makes the other better.
As someone said, on this cruise no one goes thirsty or hungry.
Cruise director Lilly and Chris talk about the destinations and wineries we will visit in the week ahead, plus tasting etiquette. With six to eight wines to taste at often two wineries a day plus wine with meals (!), spitting is not only polite it’s a matter of self-preservation.