The Ancient Lakes of Columbia Valley is Washingtons newest American Viticultural Area.
Recently approved by the U.S. government as the states 13th AVA, wineries may begin using it on wine labels in mid-November.
An AVA, commonly referred to as an appellation, is a federally approved grape-growing region that is regulated by the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and trade Bureau (TTB), a division of the U.S. Department of the Treasury.
The United States began the AVA system in 1980, and today there are more than 200 across the United States. In the Northwest, the first AVA approved was the Yakima Valley in 1983. A year later, the Columbia Valley and its 11 million acres of space became the largest in the state. Today, Washington contains 10 AVAs within the Columbia Valley.
AVAs help wine growing regions market themselves. They also alert savvy wine consumers to distinguish grape-growing areas.
In the case of Ancient Lakes, making an argument that it should be singled out is not difficult. Ancient Lakes is a 162,762-acre area in Grant, Douglas and Kittitas counties. The primary towns are Quincy and George, and the region is named for the pothole lakes formed by the Ice Age floods more than 12,000 years ago.
The canyons of the Ancient Lakes were outlet points in the Quincy Valley for the floodwaters, which essentially stripped away the soil to barren scabland.
Over centuries, wind has blown in sand that has created the soil in the Ancient Lakes and elsewhere in the Columbia Valley. This low-nutrient, fast-draining soil is perfect for growing wine grapes because the vines must struggle to survive and thus focus their energy on producing high-quality fruit.
Butch and Jerry Milbrandt recognized the potential of Ancient Lakes more than 15 years ago, when they planted Evergreen Vineyard near Quincy. The 969-acre vineyard is a key area for growing Riesling, Chardonnay, Pinot Gris, Gewürztraminer and other white varieties.
You wont see much Cabernet, lets put it that way, said Bob Bertheau, head winemaker for Chateau Ste. Michelle, which buys about half the grapes from Evergreen each year. It seems to be really good at holding acidity for great aromatic whites.
In fact, Evergreen fruit plays a key role in Eroica, a high-end Riesling that Chateau Ste. Michelle makes each year with top German Riesling producer Ernst Loosen.
While Evergreen is the largest vineyard in the new AVA, it is not the only player. Jones of Washington, which has a tasting room in Quincy, owns three vineyards in the new AVA, led by Two Guns with 136 acres and Lozier with 125 acres.
Other Ancient Lakes wineries include Cave B near the Gorge Amphitheater (it has some of the oldest vines in the region) and White Heron, whose owner Cameron Fries has been working with grapes from Ancient Lakes since the mid-1980s, longer than anyone else in the state.
Andy Perdue and Eric Degerman are the editors of Wine Press Northwest. For more information, go to www.winepressnw.com.