QUINCY, Wash. — One of the most fascinating sources of Washington wine is known as the Ancient Lakes of Columbia Valley, a region that has a long history with agriculture, but only in recent years began gaining a reputation for growing wine grapes.
It is in Central Washington and surrounds the Columbia Basin towns of George and Quincy. It was Washington’s 13th American Viticultural Area, approved by the federal government in 2012. The Ancient Lakes spans nearly 170,000 acres in size, but is home to about 2,000 acres of vineyards.
While much of Washington has a reputation for red wine grapes, the Ancient Lakes is best known for having a cooler climate and ideally suited for white varieties such as riesling, chardonnay and sauvignon blanc. In fact, the wines coming from the Ancient Lakes are among the most distinctive in the Northwest. Not unlike Burgundy’s Chablis region, home to several of the world’s most acclaimed white wines.
Some of the earliest grapes were planted in the region in 1980 by a winery called Champs de Brionne, a property that eventually became the Gorge Amphitheater. The vines are still there, now part of Cave B, a stunning destination estate winery between the Columbia River and I-90 near George.
The Ancient Lakes take their name from a series of 35 lakes that are remnants of floods that swept through the Columbia Basin at the end of the last ice age more than 10,000 years ago. The resulting soils are varied and perfect for growing world-class wine grapes, and high-end producers crave grapes from the region for crafting distinctive wines.
Here are examples of top wines using Ancient Lakes grapes, all of which earned a gold medal or better at this year’s Cascadia International Wine Competition. Ask for the wines at your favorite wine shop or order directly from the winery.
Jones of Washington 2017 Sauvignon Blanc, Ancient Lakes of Columbia Valley $15: The stellar white grapes that the Jones family grows includes with this continual award-winning sauvignon blanc. Classic grapefruit and lime with a hint of dried sweet grass start things off on the right note. The palate is easy with acidity in check but giving the fruit flavors perkiness. Passion fruit joins the citrus, green apple and dried tarragon for a tasty combo. Chicken, pork chops and clams would be happy to share the table.
Cave B Estate Winery 2016 Estate Malbec, Ancient Lakes of Columbia Valley $38: The vineyards of Ancient Lakes AVA also are producing some beautiful reds, including this malbec grown by the Bryan family and crafted into wine by their son-in-law, Freddy Arredondo. Raspberry, sweet cherries and crushed flowers perfume the air above the glass. The palate is bright with pretty flavors of blueberry, raspberry, vanilla, dried florals and spice. Its bright structure would love the company of duck confit or pate.
Milbrandt Vineyards 2018 Evergreen Vineyard Estate Riesling, Ancient Lakes $13: The Milbrandt family’s Evergreen Vineyard provided the fruit for this off-dry riesling, making for a highly aromatic wine that leads off with lime and lemon aromas and minerality. It delivers more lemon, lime, a bit of Mandarin orange. Its beautifully crisp acidity will make you wonder just how “off dry” it really is. This past spring, Wine Press Northwest magazine named Milbrandt Vineyards as its Washington Winery of Year for 2019.
Andy Perdue and Eric Degerman operate Great Northwest Wine, an award-winning media company. Learn more about wine at www.greatnorthwestwine.com.