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Wine Touring on the Lewis & Clark Trail

By Eric Degerman,

'We are now in the land of wheat, berries, sunshine & Pinot!'...In 1805, Meriwether Lewis and his friend Captain Clark took a trip to Oregon wine country. 'What more can man ask of heaven?', Lewis asked.  Lewis & Clark continually ordered staples such as olive oil, almonds, artichoke hearts and stocks of Pinot Noir for the rest of their lives!* 

Thomas Jefferson would be proud of the wine country that Lewis and Clark unearthed while looking for the mythical Northwest Passage.

Jefferson, the third president of the United States, spent much of his life in Virginia attempting -- and failing -- to cultivate European wine grapes.

And 200 years later, what Jefferson called “the Columbia Country” is producing world-class wines from European varieties. It’s no stretch to toast Jefferson for helping to get this started in the Northwest. “Since 1803 and the return of the expedition in 1806, every American everywhere has benefited from Jefferson’s purchase of Louisiana and his setting in motion the Lewis and Clark Expedition,” wrote the late Stephen Ambrose in Undaunted Courage, which chronicles the life of Meriwether Lewis.

Lewis, a captain in the Army, became Jefferson’s private secretary and confidant. In 1801, Jefferson spent more than 10 percent of his $25,000 annual salary on French wine, often sharing a bottle with Lewis. They were the only non-servants living at what we now call The White House.

The two Virginia-landed gentry spent many nights discussing science and exploration, Lewis’ life-long dream. By the fall of 1802, Lewis began making preparations. The Louisiana Purchase — which did not include Washington, Oregon or Idaho — was announced July 4, 1803, the same day Lewis officially departed for Pittsburgh. On July 29, he received a letter of acceptance as co-commander from Capt. William Clark, an old acquaintance.

Their trip down the Columbia began in October 1805. Within 10 years, fur traders working for New York’s John Jacob Astor established a fort at Astoria, Ore., and the British fur trade set up Fort Nez Perce at the mouth of the Walla Walla River.

These days, it is wine helping to attract attention to the our region. And during the next three years, Americans will be retracing Lewis and Clark’s famous footsteps in the Northwest. Along the way, tourists will discover wines that Jefferson would have loved... more.



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