Two thousand wineries, two states, one trailblazing small ship ... UnCruise Adventures' SS Legacy ushers oenophiles and culinary explorers into a land of enchanting wines and wineries in the Pacific Northwest, calling at a number of wineries in Oregon and Washington and pouring even more of these liquid assets onboard during its Rivers of Wine and Culinary cruises.
Against the dramatic backdrop of the Columbia and Snake Rivers, the gustatory delights of the week to come are heralded with the popping of champagne corks and go full-on flavor and fun through the Captain's Dinner, a four-course tour de force introduced with an amuse-bouche trio.
UnCruise definitely adds the "un" to its lineup of curated wine and food pairing experiences for the 90 guests aboard. Each is unique and unexpected, beginning with a demo by "Chef Daddy" Chris Holen, restaurateur, entrepreneur and owner of Baked Alaska, a restaurant perched at the edge of the Columbia River in Astoria, Oregon. Holen makes mouth-watering magic with "trash" fish (the plentiful monkfish of the Northwest Atlantic Ocean), serving it with his own special-recipe aquavit, a spirit that originated in 15th century Scandinavia and given a local spin. It "tastes like the Northwest." Translation: deliciously refreshing.
"Astoria has history, culture and character, and the slogan, 'keep it weird,'" said Holen. "It is interesting, real, authentic."
And Holen's culinary masterpieces – created with such ingredients as salmon, sturgeon, steelhead, mushrooms, fiddlehead ferns, etc. that define Northwest cuisine – fit right in.
At the fourth generation, family-owned and operated Mt. Hood Winery, guests sample the rare white pinot noir at an erstwhile apple farm. Owner Steve Bickford explains how the fruit benefits from being grown in the volcanic soils of Mt. Hood and manager Linda Barber lets slip (multiple times) that Mt. Hood was the number one winery in Oregon in 2016 – quite an honor given the proliferation of critically acclaimed wineries in this state.
In Walla Walla, a stop is made at Squire Broel's art studio to see richly complex sculptures, paintings and photographs made by an artist who, as a child, told his parents he'd be happy just painting trees in his backyard. While the UnCruise bartender keeps the champagne flowing and classical music plays lightly in the background, guests are free to wander the space and ask Broel any questions.
It is the perfect prelude to a stroll through this funky arts-centric town that ends at the renovated Power House Theatre. Here, an indoor picnic lunch is laid in the loft space, a setting that charms with its white brick walls, colorful theatre posters and plenty of natural light – not to mention the wines of local vintner, Mark Ryan. Several local venues, including D'Olivo Tasting Bar, decadently rich Bright's Candies and Graze "A Place To Eat," enhance the outing with their own tastings and demos.
Guests taste more wines at family-owned Dunham Cellars, including the unexpected and exceptional Trutina, a Bordeaux-style blend. The tasting room is located in a remodeled World War II-era airplane hangar whose interior is given a splash of color by a massive bottle tree designed by founder Joanne Dunham.
Floozies greet the ship when it calls at The Dalles, a town with a saucy past and the end point of the Oregon Trail. Hidden within the surrounding cliffs are amazing wine and museum collections. This includes Maryhill, voted winery with the best view, an accolade that seems indisputable when glimpsing vistas of Mt. Hood and the Columbia River from the winery's perch high atop a bluff.
While guests sip malbecs, merlots, cabs and zins, they learn that Maryhill is not only one of Washington's most awarded wineries, but also one of the few places that grows grapes from the grapes' natural root stock. Adding some spice to the tasting is a beautifully arranged charcuterie board prepared by the Legacy's chef.
A visit to the Walter Clore Wine & Culinary Center culminates in a sublime wine and cheese sampling before guests are whisked off to Washington's smallest wine-grape growing region, Red Mountain, for a visit to the fairytale-like Terra Blanca Estate Winery & Vineyard and a sommelier-guided tasting. For comparison, a stop is also made at Oregon's largest AVA to tour and taste at the family-owned, boutique wineries Raptor Ridge and Archer Vineyards.
In addition to visits to some of the most beautiful wineries in the Pacific Northwest, delicious food every step and river mile along the way, presentations on wine, including one on the wine aroma wheel, and programs on Lewis and Clark and "Native Americans and the Columbia River," the itinerary showcases several breathtaking sights. These include the Columbia River Gorge; Oregon's tallest waterfall – Multnomah Falls; and Maryhill Museum of Art, home of Rodin sculptures, 400 intricately crafted chess sets and Thetre de la Mode (small-scale fashion mannequins garbed in the haute couture of post-World War II France), among other exquisite treasures.
An UnCruise Adventures Rivers of Wine and Culinary cruise is more than wining and dining; it is a satisfying feast for the soul.
PLAN YOUR TRAVELS
UnCruise Adventures include comfortable accommodations; delicious meals (emphasis on local ingredients sourced in local communities); spirits, wine and beer; non-alcoholic beverages; and thoughtfully planned shore tours. The SS Legacy has flat-screen TVs in cabins and a Book/DVD Library in the lounge, plus fitness equipment on the top deck and an open bridge. The dress code is casual; the atmosphere blissfully relaxed.
The wine-themed excursions feature an onboard sommelier and farm-to-table culinary demos; winery tours in Washington and Oregon AVAs (Columbia Gorge, Walla Walla, Red Mountain, Willamette Valley); wine, craft brews, kombucha and cider tastings; wine pairing lunches, cooking demos, tastings at award-winning wineries and more.
In 2020, UnCruise Adventures' Rivers of Wine and Culinary cruise departures (roundtrip Portland, Oregon) are scheduled for September, October and November. Before boarding, visit Powell's books, the world's largest independent bookstore, and find a book or three for leisurely reading in the lounge. Information: www.uncruise.com.
(Author and travel and lifestyle writer Kathy Witt feels you should never get to the end of your bucket list; there's just too much to see and do in the world. Contact her at KathyWitt24@gmail.com, @KathyWitt.)
Visit Kathy Witt at www.kathywitt.com