UnCruise Adventures’ Rivers of Wine Cruise: Day 1 aboard the ss Legacy

Wake early for here, normal for East Coast time. It is hard to tear your eyes away from the scenery, the Columbia River backed by the Cascade Mountains port and starboard.

We are heading to Bonneville, our first lock; there will be six up river and six back down. All have fish ladders; the requirement for building dams and locks is a 97 percent survival rate for salmon. And yes, there is someone at each fish ladder counting salmon and noting size and whether hatchery or naturally-raised in both directions 24 hours a day! We also see ships carrying nursery-raised young salmon out to sea.

Our schedule:

Yoga at 7 – should have but didn’t.

Breakfast at 8

Disembark at 9 for tastings at two wineries and lunch.

In the meantime, I watch to see what the Columbia brings us.  The river was here before the Cascade mountain range which is why it is navigable almost to Idaho.

Experts still debate whether Beacon Rock, an 848-foot high basalt monolith on the Washington side, is the core of an old volcano or the leading edge of a lava flow. Either way it’s eye-catching and is where Lewis and Clark first noted a tidal change, the sign that they were nearing the ocean.

Moored at a tiny spot called Cascade, we begin by visiting Multnomah Falls, Oregon’s number one tourist attraction and the second highest continually flowing waterfall in North America.

Then it is on to two wineries for tastings. It’s a family affair. Chief wine maker at Springhill Cellars is Peter Cushman, son of Richard Cushman, chief winemaker at Mt. Hood Winery (Richard was a classmate of the winery’s owner). Peter’s grandfather, Robert McRitchi, was one of the first professional winemakers brought west to see what could be produced in this terroir, or, as we call it in America, AVA (American Viticultural Area).

Springhill is in a 100-year-old building, originally a pear packing company (Oregon, the biggest pear producing state, accounts for one-third of the world supply) in the town of Mt. Hood and in the volcanic mountain’s shadow. Our tasting was in “the Ruins,” the picturesque outdoor side.

Multnomah Falls

With his chardonnay, Peter says he is trying to convert the “anything but chardonnay” group and is making pinot noir because, well, the temperamental grape is every winemaker’s ultimate challenge. Dedicated to sustainability, most of Springhill’s 2,000 cases worth of wine a year go directly to consumers in growlers.

Mt. Hood stares you in the face at its namesake winery where we tasted and had lunch on the trellised patio overlooking part of the vineyard. At this 100-plus year-old farm, the family began growing apples and pears then added grapes.

It is a good combo as their “seasons’ progress compatibly: pears ripen first, then apples and finally grapes.

Back on Legacy, others go in for naps but Robert Ramsay Cellars winemaker Casey Cobbles, her mother Laura Sherfe and I watch the scenery passing by, particularly the kite and sail boarders. Story goes that a local brewery has offered a free dinner to the first boarder to “tag” Legacy. We are swarmed by daredevils much to our delight and the captain’s chagrin.  None are successful although one comes close.

In the afternoon sommelier Chris and winemaker Casey begin our tasting tutorials, a fun and informative way to discover what we like and why. My Aha! moment comes when chatting with Casey, her mom and a few others afterwards. I’m finding I prefer big wines with an underlying mustiness in their aromas.

“Anyone here a farmer’s daughter? Casey asks.

“Why yes,” I reply. “My favorite smell in all the world is a well-kept horse stable.”

“Ta-dah!” she exclaims. “Earthiness!”

Mission accomplished.

After dinner, cruise director Lilly gives us a lively talk on Lewis and Clark, and their Corps of Discovery, whose footsteps, or canoe tracks we are following.

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