Mt. Hood Winery named Oregon Winery of 2016
The award-winning Mt. Hood Winery received its biggest award yet, named “Oregon Winery of the Year” for 2016 by Wine Press Northwest. In operation for 14 years, the winery’s location on a century-old family farm just south of Hood River, Oregon, combined with the wisdom of a multi-generational farming family has undeniably contributed to the winery’s success.
Wine Press Northwest, a regional wine magazine, informed Mt. Hood Winery that its Winery of the Year honor was based on both the winery’s recent and long-term achievements. “Mt. Hood Winery has a legacy of farming and family-living in the Columbia Gorge, plus a more recent history of producing great wines,” explained Linda Barber, general manager for the winery. “Our recent success at competitions was a big factor in earning this designation.”
Last fall’s Wine Press Northwest Platinum Judging, where “the Best of the Best” regional wines are determined, earned the Mt. Hood Winery a double platinum for its 2014 Estate Dry Riesling, the highest ranking Riesling at the event.
The fourth annual Cascadia Wine Competition held in March at the historic Columbia Gorge Hotel in Hood River, Oregon, confirmed the quality of recent vintages. This year, Mt. Hood Winery submitted eight entries and brought home eight awards: 2014 Estate Pinot Noir – Cole Danehower Award for Best Oregon Wine / Double Gold Medal; 2013 Tempranillo – Gold Medal and Best of Class; 2013 Syrah – Double Gold Medal; 2013 Cabernet Sauvignon – Gold Medal; 2015 Estate Pinot Gris – Silver Medal; 2014 Estate Chardonnay – Silver Medal; Summit Red – Silver Medal; and 2013 Merlot – Bronze Medal.
Although the wine grower has been honored with many awards since its inception, these latest are more impressive considering Mt. Hood Winery produces just 3,000 cases per year. “There are many wine competitions throughout the U.S.,” Barber explains. “Due to our small production and limited distribution we enter the few which focus on Northwest wines, judged by some of the top wine professionals on the West Coast. “
Established in 2002, Mt. Hood Winery includes 25 acres of estate vineyards, plus an expansive tasting room, wine production and bottling facility, and cold storage building in the scenic Hood River Valley.
Owned by brothers Steve and Don Bickford and their families, Mt. Hood Winery’s local story is steeped in Hood River Valley’s history. In 1909, the Bickfords’ great-grandparents purchased 20 acres of orchard near the Pine Grove “store block,” along with the local grocery store, which they ran until 1955.
The family continued to acquire surrounding land over the decades, creating the 160-acre Bickford Farms that exists today. Three-quarters of the acres are planted in pears (anjou, bartlett and bosc), and the 25 acres of wine grapes now outnumber apple acres more than two-to-one. Five generations of Bickfords have nurtured the land on the Century Farm, with a sixth generation onsite.
“Steve and Don saw the potential of the Columbia Gorge AVA as a world-class grape growing area, based on their experience farming in a world-class fruit-growing region,” expresses John Stehlik, cellar master and son-in-law of Steve Bickford.
The Bickfords planted five acres of Pinot Noir and one acre of Pinot Gris in 2000. “When our vines started producing fruit we decided to try making wine rather than sell the fruit,” Steve Bickford remembers. They networked, researched, then filled a 10,000 square foot fruit packing facility with winemaking equipment. A winery was born.
Since that time, the Bickfords have added more Pinot Gris and Pinot Noir, plus Riesling, Chardonnay and Gewürztraminer. About 70% of their wine comes from estate grapes that thrive in cooler climates, while the balance of warmer climate fruit is purchased from small family-owned vineyards, mostly within a 20 mile radius.
In 2007, the Bickfords reconnected with Rich Cushman, a Hood River native with decades of winemaking experience, now Mt. Hood Winery’s chief winemaker.
Steve, more the practical farmer than romantic winemaker, credits the rich, water-retaining soil and his hard-working crew. Although wine grapes are “quite a bit different than pears,” generations of farming know-how, plus ownership of critical farm equipment eased the transition into wine grapes. As it’s turned out, grape growing is complementary to seasonal pear operations. “Grapes are a late crop on a different schedule. They balance our work and stretch out the season to offer more gainful employment,” Steve relays.
The Bickfords’ experience in fruit farming has evolved the legacy farm into a grower of exceptional wine grapes. This year’s Oregon Winery of the Year honor is an achievement and testament for Mt. Hood Winery.
To learn more about Mt. Hood Winery, visit mthoodwinery.com, or phone 541-386-8333 to book a tasting reservation. Mt. Hood Winery is located at 2882 Van Horn Drive, Hood River, OR, a few miles south of Hood River on State Highway 35. Tasting Room hours are 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. March through November.