Of Washington state’s 14 federally approved American Viticultural Areas, one stands out as the most distinctive and perhaps the most fascinating.
The Ancient Lakes of Columbia Valley is in the Columbia Basin near the towns of George and Quincy. Approved in 2012, the region is known as relatively cool compared with the surrounding Columbia Valley, known for its arid setting and soil types.
It is part of the Channeled Scablands, an area carved and shaped by the ancient Ice Age floods some 12,000 years ago. There are about 30 lakes in the area, hence the name. Very little precipitation falls here each year, about six inches, and the AVA boundaries range from 570 feet elevation along the Columbia River to 1,912 feet in the Frenchman Hills to the south.
This cool region and caliche soils allow for grapes that result in distinctive wines. Riesling, Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc from the Ancient Lakes are particularly interesting, just as Riesling from Germany’s Rheingau, Chardonnay from Chablis in the Burgundy region of France or New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc from the South Island.
Many of Washington’s top winemakers reach into the Ancient Lakes for these grapes. As much as any other region in the state, savvy wine consumers know exactly what they are getting in the bottle when they see “Ancient Lakes” on the label.
This proves on one hand that the AVA system in America works because it helps highlight a region because of its unique characteristics. As interest increases, more wineries will broaden their portfolio by investing in Ancient Lakes fruit. And we as consumers will want to try these wines when we see them on merchant shelves.
Six wines from the Ancient Lakes of Columbia Valley won gold medals this spring at the Cascadia International Wine Competition, and here are several examples we have tried recently from the region. Ask for them at your favorite wine shop or contact the wineries directly.
Cave B Estate Winery 2017 Cave B Vineyards Viognier, Ancient Lakes of Columbia Valley, $27: Freddy Arredondo, who trained at Walla Walla Community College’s vaunted winemaking program, works with his family’s plantings to produce classic Viognier aromas of peach, nectarine and pear, with flavors to match. This wine shows off bright ripe fruit which creates the perception of sweetness in this dry wine, with a delightfully full mouth feel and spot-on acid to balance.
Succession Wines 2015 Familigia Vineyard Cabernet Franc, Ancient Lakes of Columbia Valley, $39: We don’t usually associate the cool Ancient Lakes region around the Columbia Basin town of Quincy with red wines, but fruit from Familigia Vineyard is an exception. This Cab Franc is a classic with notes of Rainier cherries, pencil shavings and hints of sweet herbs followed by flavors of ripe black cherry and ripe plum on the palate. It’s all backed by nicely managed tannins that are smooth through the lingering finish.
L’Ecole No. 41 2017 Evergreen Vineyard Chardonnay, Ancient Lakes of Columbia Valley, $35: Perhaps the most precious gem in the Milbrandts’ collection of vineyards is Evergreen, a caliche-laden site in the young appellation that is the Ancient Lakes of Columbia Valley. While it forms the baseline of Marty Clubb’s large-scale Columbia Valley Chardonnay, he and Mike Sharon produced an Evergreen Vineyard Chardonnay for the fourth straight vintage. Its expressive nose of coriander, starfruit, Red Delicious apple and lemon zest leads to a smooth and creamy entry of pear butter with nuttiness and toastiness from 25 percent new French oak and surlie aging in 100 percent barrel fermentation.
Milbrandt Vineyards 2016 Evergreen Vineyard The Estates Chardonnay, Ancient Lakes of the Columbia Valley, $22: Butch Milbrandt and his winemaking team shows remarkable consistency with their reserve-style Chardonnay produced in 100 percent oak, with 20 percent of it in new barrels from France. That oak shows marvelous integration, offering a theme of sweet lime, lemon bars, backed by mango and fresh pineapple. On the midpalate, there’s complexity to its crispness that yields to almond paste for a deliciously rounded finish.
Jones of Washington 2017 Rosé of Syrah, Ancient Lakes of Columbia Valley, $14: Each year, this ranks as one of the most consistently delicious pink wines coming out of Washington, thanks to the deft touch of winemaker Victor Palencia. Opening with alluring aromas of black raspberry and cherry, leading to flavors of plum, red currants and blackberry, backed by bright acidity, a touch of tannin and highlighted by purity of fruit.
Jones of Washington 2016 Sauvignon Blanc, Ancient Lakes of Columbia Valley, $15: There may be no surer thing than a Sauvignon Blanc made by winemaker Victor Palencia, who shines with this white Bordeaux grape for the Jones family as well as his Vino La Monarcha brand. This steely example reveals aromas of crisp minerality, freshly mowed grass, pear and apple, followed by crisp flavors of Asian pear, Golden Delicious apple and a hint of pineapple in the finish, all backed by superb acidity. A perfect wine with fresh seafood.