Since buying Cascade Cliffs Vineyard & Winery near Wishram, Lorkowski has expanded its offerings with varieties including Nebbiolo and Barbera.
BOB LORKOWSKI remembers his parents loading up the family car with grapes to take home and make wine, a hobby that was out of the mainstream in Pennsylvania.
The fermentation arts came naturally to the family, dating to when his grandfather made moonshine during Prohibition. After graduating from Penn State in 1988, Lorkowski couldn’t find a job. Remembering a bottle of Leonetti Cellars wine he’d found at a state liquor store, he moved across the country, working at Pike & Western Wine Shop and Cavatappi Distributing in Seattle. He learned winemaking from the owners of Chinook Wines in Prosser and started his own small label.
He started buying grapes from Don Graves, an early grape grower in the Columbia Gorge region. He got to know the area around that time, and met Ken Adcock, who had launched Cascade Cliffs Vineyard & Winery in 1986 near the tiny community of Wishram. The vines sit just above the Columbia River and just below ancient basalt cliffs, with Mount Hood rising out of the horizon in the distance.
Three to try
These wines are available through the winery’s tasting rooms, or can be ordered directly from the winery. The logo on the label is a petroglyph found near Horsethief Lake State Park.
Cascade Cliffs Vineyard & Winery 2016 Nebbiolo, Horse Heaven Hills, $50: Lighter color belies the power of this red. It leads with notes of dried cherries, strawberries and French vanilla, backed by firm yet pliable tannins. A sturdy wine that should age beautifully.
Cascade Cliffs Vineyard & Winery 2016 Barbera, Columbia Valley, $15: Bold aromas of black cherry, black pepper and black currants. Bold flavors of ripe fruit, including back cherries and plum, with just a hint of oak.
Cascade Cliffs Vineyard & Winery 2016 Reserve Barbera, Horse Heaven Hills, $80: Bold, alluring aromas of black licorice, ripe plum and black pepper, followed by intense flavors of ripe huckleberries, blueberries, cherry and plum, backed by round and rich tannins.
Lorkowski bought the winery and 5 acres of vines in 1997, since then expanding it to 23 acres. Lorkowski enjoys making wines from out-of-the-mainstream varieties, particularly favoring those from Italy’s Piedmont region, including Nebbiolo and Barbera. His Nebbiolo, a bit of a rarity in the Northwest, is well-made and ages beautifully for those with a cellar and some patience.
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He was among the first in Washington to make petite sirah, but ultimately pulled out his half-acre of those Rhone vines because of disease. Today, he’s making nearly 10,000 cases of wine, using a combination of estate grapes and those purchased from vineyards in the Horse Heaven Hills and Wahluke Slope.
Today, Lorkowski has tasting rooms in Hood River, Oregon, 30 miles to the west. He also operates a tasting room in Woodinville and this fall is opening a location in Portland’s Pearl District. He’s also considering a tasting room in Seattle’s Georgetown neighborhood, an area that has seen a lot of those in recent years. He might even set up a production facility there, needing more wine to feed his tasting rooms.