Mt. Hood named top Oregon winery

Bickford Family Century Farm sign stands in front of the winery, in Pine Grove on Van Horn Drive, visible from Highway 35.

Photo by Kirby Neumann-Rea.
Bickford Family Century Farm sign stands in front of the winery, in Pine Grove on Van Horn Drive, visible from Highway 35.

Here’s a stop for your Blossom Time wanderings this weekend: Mt. Hood Winery, just voted 2016 Oregon Winery of the Year.

The panoramic tasting room is located five miles south of Hood River, near Highway 35, on Van Horn Butte Drive. The patio takes in views of both Mount Adams and Mount Hood. Wine Press Northwest announced the award last week, stating in a release, “Steve Bickford and his family grew up in the Hood River Valley with generations of success with tree fruit, but they’ve been a rather quick study when it comes to wine. And it wasn’t even his idea to plant a vineyard back in 2000.”

“I just took a gamble on some grapes,” Bickford said. “A friend spurred me into it, telling me there was nursery that had some grape vine cuttings. I asked how many, and he said, ‘4,000.’ I guess it was ‘go big or go home.’ ”

Bickford began by replacing Newtown Pippin apples with 5 acres of Pinot Noir and 1 acre of Pinot Gris. Those efforts by Bickford, his brother Don and sister-in-law Libby paved the path to Wine Press Northwest naming Mt. Hood Winery as the 2016 Oregon Winery of the Year.

Their résumé for 2015, authored by winemaker Rich Cushman, led with a double platinum for its 2014 Dry Riesling — the highest-ranking Riesling at last fall’s Wine Press Northwest Platinum Judging. That wine earned its way into the Platinum with a double gold at the Great Northwest Wine Competition, one of six gold medals won by Mt. Hood at the spring event, which also awarded the 2012 Glacier Late Harvest Riesling as best dessert wine and 2012 Barbera and 2014 Gewürztraminer with best-of-class awards.

More validation came this winter when the Mt. Hood 2013 Merlot finished second overall in the Wine Press Northwest peer-judging of 100 Northwest examples of Merlot.

“I don’t come in and just get work orders,” Cushman said. “It feels like a family here. We all have lunch together every Friday and drink other people’s wines. But I’ve also walked through those vineyards so many times since 2007, and the Bickfords are really good farmers. They are dedicated.”

It’s been a steady climb for Mt. Hood Winery. Those initial plantings reached their third leaf in 2002, and the grapes weren’t going to turn themselves into wine.

Cushman’s winemaking path included stops in Germany and the University of California-Davis before working throughout Oregon for 25 years. He moved back home to Hood River and began making wine for a couple of clients. One brand rented space from the Bickfords, who’d recently sold their successful fruit-packing operation and transitioned into a 10,000-square-foot winery facility.

“We got bigger, and Rich ends up staying here,” Bickford said.

Cushman’s arrival in 2007 is not a coincidence with the rise of Mt. Hood Winery. Production of the brand has reached 3,000 cases, with Cushman’s own Viento label at about 2,000 cases. There also are a handful of custom-crush clients, and they partner on their growing Hood River Ciderworks. Estate plantings make up 70 percent of Mt. Hood’s bottlings.

Bickford, a mechanical engineer from Oregon State University, sits on the board of directors for the Columbia Gorge Winegrowers Association. The group counts more than 30 wineries along both sides of the river with 80 vineyards covering a total of 1,250 acres.

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Parkdale third graders sing "12 Disaster Days of Christmas"

Welcome to your sing-able Christmas gift list. What follows is an emergency rendition of “12 Days of Christmas” – for outfitting your home or car in case of snow storm, earthquake, flood or other emergency. Read it as a simple list, or sing it to the tune of “12 Days” – you know, as in “ … and a partridge in a pear tree…” Not to make light of it, but the song is a familiar framework for a set of gift ideas that you could consider gathering together, even if the recipient already owns items such as a bunch of coats, tire chains and flashlights. Stores throughout the Gorge are stocked up on all these items. Buying all 12 days might be prohibitive, but here are three ideas for checking any of the dozen off your list (notations follow, 1-12.) The gift items needed to stay warm, dry and safe are also coded to suggest items in your abode (A) in your car (C) or both (B). 12 Gallons of Water (A) 11 Family meals (B) 10 Cans of propane (A) 9 Hygiene bags (B) 8 Packs of batteries (A) 7 Spare coats (B) 6 Bright red flares (C) 5 Cozy blankets (B) 4 Tire chains (C) 3 Flashlights (B) 2 cell phone chargers (B) 1 And a crush-proof first aid kit (B) Price ranges? Here’s a few quotes for days Three, Two, Four and Nine: n A family gift of flashlights (three will run $15-30, Hood River Supply, Tum-A-Lum) n Cell phone chargers (two will run $30-60) n Tire chains (basic set, $30, Les Schwab, returnable if unused for the winter) n Family meals ($100 or so should cover the basics for three or four reasonably well-fed days) n The home kit should be kept in a handy place near an exit, and remember that water needs to be replenished every few months. If you have a solid first aid kit already, switch out the gift idea with “and-a-sto-o-u-t- tub-for it-all …” Otherwise, it’s a case of assembling your home or car kits and making sure all members of the family know what the resources are and how to use them (ie flares and propane). Emergency situations are at worst life-threatening, at best deeply uncomfortable if you and your family are left without power for an extended period, or traveling and find yourself in a situation where you need to wait out a storm, lengthy traffic delay, or other crisis. Notes on the 12 gift ideas: 12 – Gallons of water: that’s one per person in a four-member family to last for three days, the recommended minimum to be prepared for utility outages. 11 – Easy-open packaged goods, energy bars, dried food and nuts are good things to include for nutrition. Think of what your family of four needs for three days to stay fortified and hydrated (see number 12). Can-opener also recommended 10 – If you have a propane camping stove, keep extra fuel handy. 9 – Hygiene bags: put packaged moistened towelettes, toilet paper, and plastic ties in large garbage bags (for personal sanitation) Resource list courtesy of Hood River County Emergency Management, Barbara Ayers, manager/ 541-386-1213. The county also reminds residents to Get a Kit, Make A Plan to connect your family if separated, and Stay Informed. See to opt-in for citizen alerts. Enlarge


blanchjoe says...

I was very happy to read this article as Rick Cushman and the Bickfords confirmed something that my late Father had believed in since the mid 70's, and that was that the Hood River Valley, and the Columbia Gorge, had within it some of the best wine producing region in the world. As the creator of Hood River Vineyards, he and Dick Erath, Dick and Nancy Ponzi, Susan and Bill Sokol Blosser, were some of the first commercial producers of quality wines in the Northwest. Sincerely, Joseph Blanchette

Posted 13 April 2016, 9:17 p.m. Suggest removal

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