A group of winegrowers, chefs, and farmers in Hood River, Oregon have turned their backs on the “tired and true” approach to tasting rooms. This is Hiyu Wine Farm, a vineyard and working organic farm lead by Nate Ready and China Tresemer, and filled with exotic cultivars of fruits, vegetables, and animals. Ready, a Master Sommelier, and Tresemer, an artist and chef, have used their two decades’ worth of experience at top restaurants, including The French Laundry and New York City’s La Cuisine Sans Peur, to create a food and wine oasis in the Columbia River Gorge.
Hiyu Wine Farm’s approach to the tasting room is inspired by the small farmhouse restaurants Ready visited a decade ago when he took time off from the sommelier game to work a harvest in northern Italy. “There were all these beautiful little places where you could sit down and eat food that came from the owner’s farm, all served with their wines or those made by a neighboring winemaker,” Ready explained. “They weren’t like a typical restaurant in America. You shared your table with strangers and the setting and pace were more casual.”
Anxious to see how Ready’s memories were taking shape in Hood River, I pushed through the doors of the Hiyu Wine Farm tasting room on a recent visit to discover an open kitchen, two tasting bars, a fireplace, and a rustic dining table large enough to seat the starting lineups of two baseball teams. When I turned around, the close-up look at Mt. Hood through the tasting room windows was so pristine it reminded me of a View-Master slide. A beautifully appointed room with a view was hardly what I expected to find at the end of a gravel road in rural Hood River County.
For the past 10 months Ready and Tresemer, joined by assistant winemaker Graham Markel and Head Chef Jason Barwikowski (formerly of The Woodsman Tavern and Olympia Provisions Southeast in Portland, Oregon) have opened their doors five days a week to share their twist on the traditional tasting room. Visitors have their choice of two wine tasting flights, one for 25.00 and another for 65.00. But these aren’t your average flights.
The 25.00 dollar flight features six Smockshop Band wines that range in price from 30.00 to 42.00 a bottle. Smockshop Band is Hiyu Wine Farm’s “second label,” named in honor of a group of Native Americans that once lived nearby. Smockshop Band wines showcase the grapes of four different vineyards in the Columbia Gorge, including Hiyu’s estate vineyard.
The 65.00 flight includes four wines from the Hiyu label that are made exclusively with estate fruit. To round the flight up to six wines, they add to the lineup grower Champagnes and other European wines the Hiyu crew find inspirational. The estate wines, which run from 75.00 to 95.00 a bottle, take their name from the Chinook word hiyu, which roughly translates to “big party.” All of the Smockshop Band and Hiyu wines are made naturally, without adding yeasts, nutrients, enzymes, sugar, acid, or water. Ready will, however, add a tiny amount of sulfur (less than 10ppm) prior to bottling.
No matter which flight you choose, what makes this tasting room unique is the fact that each of your wines will be paired with a small plate offering made with organic crops and proteins that, with one or two exceptions, come from Hiyu Wine Farm. It all feels like a high-end Spanish tapas bar and thanks to Barwikowski and Tresemer, the food is as good as anything you’ll find in the best “big city” restaurants. The tasting flights and accompanying “mini-meal” are also likely to get you jonesing for the full-blown wine dinners they host every Saturday night at their communal dining table.
I decided on the 25.00 flight and while I enjoyed every pairing, there were two combinations I wanted to have again and again. The first was a pickled Chanterelle mushroom resting on a pillow of thyme-infused whipped cream, topped with grated filberts and a touch of sea salt. Markel served this earthy morsel with the 2014 Smockshop Band White Wine, a blend of Chardonnay and Pinot Gris that tasted like a well-made Mâcon-Villages. When I put the wine and pickled Chanterelle into my mouth there was an explosion of smoke worthy of a Doug Henning escape. That was followed by a wave of nuttiness and a tart saline note that made me momentarily forget I was 150 miles away from the ocean.
The other pairing was Hiyu’s take on the classic prosciutto and melon. Instead of prosciutto, Markel used a Snaidero slicer from Friuli to cut the Jambon de Bayonne so thin I could see the titles of nearby cookbooks through them. The jambon was then wrapped around slices of Charentais melon, which Tresemer grows in Hiyu’s extensive gardens. The dish was paired with the 2016 Smockshop Band “Spring Ephemeral,” a light and delicate Pinot Noir whose elevated acidity easily cut through the fat of the cured French ham. The combination made my mouth feel like it was coated with black cherry butter and traces of chalk and orange peel.
Other wineries typically offer a handful of their wines and, if you are lucky, a few crackers. Because many people choose to drink their wine with meals, Team Hiyu decided it was important to present their wines with food. “And besides,” Markel remarked while opening a jar of pickled blackberries, “we have so much great food within a few hundred feet of our kitchen, it would be criminal not to share.” If you’re ready to get out of your tasting rut and experience some caring and sharing Hiyu-style, it’s time to hop in your car and take it down on the farm.
Michael Alberty is a wine writer based in Portland, Oregon, writing for the Oregon Wine Press, Wine & Spirits Magazine, and JancisRobinson.com. Read more Michael Alberty on Sprudge Wine.
Photos by Stephen Smith unless otherwise noted.