Wineries abloom in Ancient Lakes grape-growing area

FOR THE BELLINGHAM HERALDJuly 30, 2013 

The past two weeks I covered wines from Washington's Horse Heaven Hills Appellation. This week and next, I will look at our newest appellation: Ancient Lakes of Columbia Valley.

The distinctive wine-grape growing region was granted appellation status by the federal government last October, bringing the state's total of American Viticultural appellations (AVAs) to 13.

The Ancient Lakes AVA occupies space in Kittitas, Grant and Douglas counties in Central Washington, with its westernmost border framed by the Columbia River near the Gorge Amphitheater and the towns of George and Quincy.

The area is named for the pothole lakes that were formed by the Missoula floods nearly 15,000 years ago. If you don't know anything about the floods, I recommend that you check them out. It's fascinating information that provides historical insight into how Eastern Washington geography, as well as today's wine country, became what it is today.

Sandy soils in the area have a high mineral content but are low in nutrients. Combine that with the cooling influences of the Columbia and you've got all of the components for growing potentially awesome high-acid varietals, such as riesling and pinot gris.

Only about 1,500 of the 160,000-plus acres are vineyard-planted, but what's there has already earned critical acclaim, particularly the Evergreen Vineyard planted by Butch and Jerry Milbrandt.

During an outing earlier this month, I visited the handful of wineries in the Ancient Lakes AVA.

Cameron Fries of White Heron Cellars started his vineyards there in 1991 in one of the state's more spectacular settings, overlooking the Columbia Gorge just above the nearby Crescent Bar Resort. Fries has several older wines available for tasting, but I especially liked his newly released 2010 Malbec (about $15). The extremely well-priced red features understated brambly berry flavors, a touch of minerality and gentle tannins.

Nearby, Jones of Washington has a plethora of wines available at their tasting room just west of Quincy. A few of my favorites included the 2012 Pinot Gris (about $13), with huge flavors of ripe pear, white peach and tangy citrus notes; the 2012 Sauvignon Blanc (about $15), with herbal aromas, zingy lime flavors and a bright, lively finish; and the 2008 Estate Merlot (about $15) displaying the perfect combination of sweet cedar and cherry aromatics and red plum flavors.

Next week I'll review two more Ancient Lakes wineries, including a new standout that I'll bet you've never heard of.

Dan Radil is a wine enthusiast who lives in Bellingham. Reach him at www.danthewineguy.com.

Reach DEAN KAHN at dean.kahn@bellinghamherald.com or call 715-2291.

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