Within Pacific Northwest Wine Country, the American Viticultural Areas (AVAs) of Washington and Oregon stretch over thousands and thousands of highly regarded wine-producing acres, but there is no need to trek across both states to experience each nuanced terrior. The elegant American Empress brings this world, the winemakers and cellar masters and their luscious wines to those aboard its “Vineyards, Vintages and Varietals” excursions.
Scheduled for Nov. 12-20 and Nov. 19-27, roundtrip from Vancouver, WA (Portland), the nine-day cruises pair the extraordinary wines of Washington and Oregon with an itinerary that dips into historic waterfront towns, glides along spectacular and dramatic canyons, volcanic formations and cloud-skimming mountains, and ushers appreciative oenophiles into the flavor profiles of an array of traditionally made Pacific Northwest wines.
I experienced this cruise in the fall of 2016 and sampled so many delicious wines while enjoying the breathtaking scenery of the Pacific Northwest.
One day passengers learn about the red wines of the Columbia Valley through sampling wines from Pendulum Winery, Primarius Winery and Browne Family Vineyards – merlot, cabernet sauvignon, syrah varietals, pinot gris and pinot noir, perhaps a Bordeaux red blend. Another day they enjoy not only a wine tasting but a wine and dinner event with special menus created by American Empress’ chef. Menus showcase regional foods of the Pacific Northwest and are thoughtfully paired with wines from Canoe Ridge Vineyard and Waterbrook Winery.
The former, located in Washington’s Horse Heaven Hills AVA in a region named in 1805 by explorers Lewis and Clark because it looked like an overturned canoe, is known for its award-winning merlot, cabernet sauvignon and chardonnay. The latter is in the Walla Walla Valley AVA and esteemed for its proliferation of wines scoring 90-plus and included in Wine Enthusiast’s 100 Best Buy wines. The wines of Waterbrook will also be exclusively showcased during another wine and dinner event.
“Our guests for the wine cruises tend to be very knowledgeable about this subject,” said Cruise Director Greg Pendzick, who will be onboard for these excursions. “Some produce their own wine at home and are interested in learning tips from the professionals. Some have even been licensed sommeliers themselves. But you don’t have to be a pro or even a semi-pro to enjoy the cruise.
“Learning about the different factors that go into the growing and fermenting process can help wine lovers hone in on their favorite varieties and to discover similar types that they might never have thought to try,” he added. “Many people think of California as ‘Wine Country’ and are unaware of the many different vintages produced right here in the Willamette Valley.”
Other onboard wine tastings will feature Desert Wind Winery, known for handcrafted wines from estate-grown vineyards in the Wahluke Slope of WA including big reds, and Mercer Estates, the first winery to plant wine grapes in the Horse Heaven Hills. That was in 1972 and today, Mercer has three tiers of estate wines plus a single label dedicated to charity.
Besides bringing wines onboard, American Empress features visits to several wineries on included shore tours and brings Portland Roasting aboard for a coffee tasting that is not to be missed.
Fares for American Empress’ “Vineyards, Vintages and Varietals” excursions are from $2,699 and include the cruise; a pre-cruise hotel stay with transfers to the ship; included shore tours; complimentary wine and beer with dinner; complimentary cappuccino, espresso, bottled water and soft drinks; daily lectures by the Riverlorian, evening entertainment and more.
American Empress is operated by the American Queen Steamboat Company which also operates the American Queen and the new American Duchess, the first all-suite paddlewheel boat on the U.S. inland waterways.
By: Kathy Witt