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Originally published June 4, 2011 at 7:01 PM | Page modified June 6, 2011 at 11:02 AM

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Wine Adviser

A taste of Washington's Ancient Lakes wines

Poised to become Washington's next certified American Viticultural Area, named "The Ancient Lakes of Columbia Valley" (Ancient Lakes for short), the region is bounded by the Columbia River on the west, the Frenchman Hills to the south, the Beezley Hills on the north, and the Winchester Wasteway, a drainage canal, on the east.

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CONCERTGOERS who plan a visit to the Gorge at George this summer will find themselves in the heart of what is poised to become Washington's next certified American Viticultural Area. Named "The Ancient Lakes of Columbia Valley" (Ancient Lakes for short), the region is bounded by the Columbia River on the west, the Frenchman Hills to the south, the Beezley Hills on the north, and the Winchester Wasteway, a drainage canal, on the east.

If geology is your passion, this region is of particular interest. The Missoula floods of the Pleistocene epoch carved out some of the lakes. Miocene-epoch lava flows created lakes whose mineral deposits can be seen from Silica Road as it runs from Interstate 90 to the concert venue.

Why is an official AVA designation desirable? It becomes important if the region has meaningful boundaries and distinctive terroir, as this one does. Once the feds have authorized it, wineries there may place the name Ancient Lakes on the label of wines sourced from within. The value of Ancient Lakes will become apparent as more wineries produce wines specifically from these grapes.

About 1,400 acres of wine-grape vineyards are in the region, the best known being Evergreen. This vineyard, now being expanded, is owned by Butch and Jerry Milbrandt, whose considerable holdings extend farther south into the Wahluke Slope AVA.

Evergreen is particularly admired by winemakers around the state for its rieslings and pinot gris (both Kungfu Girl Riesling and Vino Pinot Grigio are sourced exclusively from here). Another major grower in the Ancient Lakes region is Jack Jones, whose Jones of Washington winery is anchored in the farming community of Quincy.

Back at the Gorge, the old vines (now purely decorative) date back to the Champs de Brionne winery, founded in the early 1980s. Just to the south is the Cave B winery, with some vines equally old. It is one of just a few wineries that are actually within the Ancient Lakes AVA. Here are tasting highlights from those I visited briefly this spring.

Jones of Washington (www.jonesofwashington.com). Clean, well-crafted, value-priced wines. Try the 2010 Sauvignon Blanc ($15) or 2008 Riesling ($12).

White Heron Cellars (www.whiteheronwine.com). Offers a spectacular view down the river from the tasting room high on the bluff. Be sure to taste the Roussanne, from the oldest vines in the state.

Cave B (www.caveb.com). Part of a complex that includes lodging, the excellent Tendrils restaurant and the winery itself. Freddy Arredondo took over the winemaking in 2008 and made some welcome improvements. Try the succulent 2009 Viognier ($20).

Saint Laurent (www.saintlaurent.net). The new production facility near Quincy has an adjacent vineyard and small tasting room. Try the 2008 Lucky White ($12), a blend of sauv blanc, chardonnay and riesling, grown next door. Winemaker Craig Mitrakul also bottles a tiny amount of wine under his own Crayelle Cellars label (www.crayellecellars.com). The 2009 Dry Riesling ($15) is exceptional.

Ryan Patrick Vineyards (www.ryanpatrickvineyards.com) wines are also made by Mitrakul. Both the Bishops and Homestead vineyards are part of the Ryan Patrick portfolio. Try the 2008 Reserve Chardonnay ($18) or the 2008 Rock Island Red.

Beaumont Cellars (pete@beaumontcellars.com) is a tiny gem whose red wines — most sourced outside the region — bear a startling resemblance to the wines of Walla Walla Vintners. Try the 2008 Pinot Grigio ($16) from the Milbrandt Ancient Lakes vineyard.

The revised second edition of Paul Gregutt's "Washington Wines & Wineries" is now in print. His blog is www.paulgregutt.com. Email: paulgwine@me.com.

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About Wine Adviser

My column is all about sharing the joy of exploring all the world of wine. I want to guide people to make inspired choices, and encourage them to try as many different styles of wine as they can. I will always seek out the best wines at the best prices. Wine Adviser runs on Sunday in Pacific Northwest Magazine.
paulgwine@me.com

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