June 29, 2011 in Food

Gorge area set to join AVA ranks

Paul Gregutt
 

After a lull of some years, since Lake Chelan and Snipes Mountain made their debuts as official Washington state American Viticultural Areas, a new burst of activity is upon us.

Ancient Lakes and Naches Heights are in the late stages of the application process to become the latest American Viticultural Areas, or AVAs. Also rumored to be in the planning process are Royal Slope and Okanogan Valley.

The much-loved outdoor amphitheatre known as The Gorge at George is in the heart of what is likely to become “The Ancient Lakes of Columbia Valley” AVA (just 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.

It encompasses about 1,400 acres of wine grape vineyards (some Concord grapes are also grown); the best known is Evergreen. This vineyard, now being expanded to include Evergreen II, III and IV, 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.

Wineries actually located within the boundaries and making wine from fruit grown there include:

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

White Heron Cellars, www.whiteheronwine.com. Offers visitors 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 just south of the concert venue that includes lodging, the excellent Tendrils restaurant and the winery itself. Freddy Arredondo took over the winemaking in 2008 and has made some welcome improvements. Try the succulent 2009 Viognier ($20).

Saint Laurent, www.saintlaurent.net. The new production facility, just south of Quincy, has an adjacent vineyard and a small tasting room. Try the 2008 Lucky White ($12), a blend of sauvignon blanc, chardonnay and riesling, grown right 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 is a tiny gem. Its 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 Milbrandts’ Ancient Lake vineyard. Contact the winery with an email to pete@beaumontcellars.com.

The Naches Heights application has been spearheaded by Paul Beveridge, the owner of Wilridge Winery, and Phil Cline, owner of Naches Heights Vineyards and Winery.

According to the official application, there are currently just 40 acres of vineyard in the proposed region, though as defined it will include more than 13,000 acres. Along with Wilridge and Naches Heights Vineyard, Harlequin Cellars owns vineyard land in the area.

In some ways similar to the Lake Chelan and Columbia Gorge AVAs, Naches Heights was not part of the massive flooding that formed most Eastern Washington vineyard land. It’s in the shadow of the Cascades, with higher elevation sites up to 2,100 feet. The soil is uniform, a combination of lava flow and wind-blown dust called Tieton loam loess. At the moment, it is poised to become the 12th AVA in Washington.

Why is an official AVA designation desirable? It becomes important when a region has meaningful boundaries and distinctive terroir, as both Ancient Lakes and Naches Heights have demonstrated.

Once an AVA has been authorized by the federal government, wineries may use the name on the labels of wines sourced from within its boundaries. The marketing value of a specific name may become apparent as more wineries produce wines specifically from these grapes. At the moment there are few Washington state AVAs that carry much weight with consumers outside of this state’s boundaries. It takes time, great wines, consistent marketing and (sometimes) just plain old good fortune to build a well-branded AVA.

The process must begin with certification, and so far, the winemakers of Washington are doing an excellent job of making the right choices.

Paul Gregutt is a freelance wine writer based in Washington state. His column appears in The Spokesman-Review on the last Wednesday of each month. He can be reached at paulgwine@me.com. Visit www.paulgregutt.com for Gregutt’s daily blog and other commentary.


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