Tucked away on the Washington side of the Columbia River Gorge, up the hill from a little town called Lyle, is COR Cellars, an estate winery with a whole lot of heart. COR was launched in 2004 by Luke Bradford, as he combined his knowledge and experience from Tuscany and Sicily, and even from his neighbors just down the road.
With a stunning tasting room, complete with an indoor fireplace, a cozy outdoor patio and gorgeous views, COR is a must-visit spot while touring the Gorge. From COR’s devotion to celebrating the area to the meaning behind the winery’s name, we sat down with Luke to find out a bit more.
1) What’s behind the name COR?
COR is the Latin translation for heart, body and mind. COR lies in the valley between two active volcanoes, the heart of the PNW and of the earth. Wine is at the heart of human’s agricultural and artistic history, and COR celebrates that connection.
2) You once worked for your neighbors, Syncline. Why were drawn to winemaking and how did you get your start?
James and Poppie [Mantone] at Syncline encouraged me to come to Lyle, and they have been a huge influence and help to COR all along the way. They are the most supportive and wonderful friends and neighbors. Prior to coming to the Gorge, I worked for Andrea Franchetti at Tenuta di Trinoro in Tuscany and Passopsiciaro on Mount Etna in Sicily. He is a wild man and a philosopher-farmer of the greatest kind. He taught me to look outside the regular confines of the wine world and to forge my own path. I came to the Gorge looking for adventure and found a likeminded crew of experimenters, all dedicated to their farms, their wines and the community we have woven into our lives.
3) What makes the Gorge a special growing area?
The Gorge is a place where no two days are alike, change is a constant and we are reminded why farming is a life’s work. We lie at the confluence of many mesoclimates, never limited by style but by the larger forces of wind and weather. To grow wine grapes in a “new” region with no limitations or prescription is a great way to produce the refreshing beverage you’ve dreamed of. The growers and producers here are all blazing our own paths from what we’ve discovered and what we want to become.
4) Your 2017 Pinot Noir with grapes from your Mosier, Oregon, vineyards had what some might describe as “smoke taint” but you embraced it. Why was it important to you to release the now sold-out vintage following the Eagle Creek Fire?
Smoke taint is amorphous and not well understood. In light levels it can be pleasant, in the way of your favorite bar, and add a strangely interesting component to wines. However, in higher concentrations it is akin to someone blowing a cigar in your face; not pleasant to anyone except Churchill’s biographers. On the West Coast of the U.S., all of us winegrowers have felt its wrath at one point or the other. The 2017 Pinot Noir from Mosier rode the line between exceptional and excommunicated. It is a reminder of the fragility of our ecosystems and of our life’s work.