Viento Breaks Ground
By Stuart Watson
Hood River winemaker Rich Cushman buys most of his grapes from others. For his Riesling, however, he turns first to his only vineyard, the one tucked neatly between traffic moving east on I-84 and water flowing east in Phelps Creek.
By the first of the year, Cushman hopes to welcome wine explorers to his first estate tasting room, perched on a low rise near the intersections of Country Club and Frankton roads just west of Hood River. The site overlooks what he says is “the oldest continuously producing Riesling vineyard in the Gorge.”
Recent county approval of building plans is a watershed moment for the veteran Oregon winemaker, who over the last three decades has left his impressive influence on several Oregon labels.
Currently, Cushman makes wine not just for his own Viento Wines label, but also for three other local brands: Phelps Creek on the west side of the Hood River Valley, Ziegler Vineyards across the Columbia River in Washington, and wine consultant Dr. Alan Bussaca’s new Heart Catcher label, using fruit from a vineyard in The Dalles.
Until the new tasting room is complete, Cushman will continue to feature his wines in a tasting room near the Gorge White House, south of Hood River along Oregon 35. Even after his Viento label moves north to the new facility, he will use the White House facility to feature wines for which he provides consultation.
Cushman, who was born to the late Judge John Cushman and his wife, Ann — who still lives west of Hood River — did the boomerang career trajectory familiar to many Hood River natives. After graduating from Oregon State University in 1975, he attended grad school in Indiana, returned to the winemaking program at UC-Davis, did a one-year apprenticeship in Germany and went to work with Oregon Pinot Noir pioneer Dick Erath in 1981.
“Then I got a job as the winemaker at Chateau Benoit (now Anne Amie Vineyards) and started my own label in 1986,” Cushman recalled. “I put that label to bed for six years in 1993, then brought it back in 1999 with a new label, and we moved out here in 2007.”
The winery has become somewhat of a family affair; their son Peter recently returned to the fold and is working in the business, and Cushman’s brother-in-law, Joe McRitchie, is the tasting room’s architect.
The new facility’s design resembles a beautiful, modern barn. It will have 1,600 square feet on the ground floor, with a loft for office space. He will reserve 300 square feet on the ground floor for barrel fermentation. Plans also include solar panels on the roof to help power the operation. The tasting room and its patio will face southwest at the creek and 8.5-acre vineyard.
Viento’s production totals about 1,500 cases a year, and Cushman hopes to sell 75 percent of it from the tasting room. Beyond that, he has a little Portland distribution, but likes to focus other retail at Gorge restaurants.