QUINCY — Wine made from grapes grown in the Quincy area now has name to call its own. Ancient Lakes of Columbia Valley will officially become Washington’s 13th American Viticultural Area this week. Documents approving a petition were published in the Federal Register today.
The AVA is a big deal to the six major grape growers in the area and to all those involved in producing and selling wine made from those grapes. It can also be an economic boon to the area in general as it brings added interest in the region’s unique qualities. The appellation is significant to connoisseurs of fine wine and also tourists. Some regions — including Burgundy, Bordeaux, Chardonnay and Champagne in France, and Napa in California — have become world famous because of their wines. The Lake Chelan area with its 15 wineries was approved in 2009.
“The primary reason I started the petition is to get us on the map,” said Cameron Fries, owner of White Heron Winery, located above Crescent Bar west of Quincy. “This area is not known as wine country. I want people to come here for the wine.”
Situated close to the Columbia River gorge between the Beezley Hills and Babcock Ridge near Quincy and Frenchman Hills just north of Royal City, the area is one of the state’s most desolate but scenic landscapes. Fries often compares it to the Grand Canyon for its spectacular beauty. The area includes about 35 small lakes that have collectively become known as “Ancient Lakes.”
But the glacier and ancient flood-carved land — thanks to water from the Columbia Basin Irrigation Project — has also proven itself to be one of the most fertile, productive crop growing areas in the nation. The Quincy and George area is known for its high yields of potatoes, beans, wheat, alfalfa, seed crops, apples and many other crops.
A few growers planted grapes after the water arrived from Grand Coulee Dam in the mid 1950s. The earliest still surviving vineyard was planted in the 1980s by the Vince and Carol Bryan family that also created what is now The Gorge amphitheater. Fries was hired as winemaker for their Champs de Brionne Winery. He purchased land for his own vineyard a few miles away in 1990. Champs de Brionne later became the Cave B Estate Winery, still owned by the Bryans. Their son-in-law, Freddy Arredondo is the winemaker. He and Joan Davenport, a Washington State University soil scientist, helped Fries complete the complex application process, which took nearly seven years to be approved.
Fries said the region’s sandy and mineral soils, cool climate and Columbia River-propelled air flow offer a unique character to the grapes that results in wines that are more crisp and acidic than wines made from grapes grown in other areas. Local vineyards have developed a reputation for excellent riesling, chardonnay and pinot gris white wines. Fries believes the area will also become known for its tannic, long lasting reds, particularly syrah and malbec.
“The caliche soils really gives our white wines that minerality we like,” said Allan Williams, marketing director for Jones of Washington wines. Wines from the area have been winning awards in state and national competitions. The AVA can only help local wineries create a sense of place for people who try wines with an Ancient Lakes label, he said.
“Once people realize the difference that comes from Ancient Lakes it will create a buzz for the wines,” said Williams.
The 162,762-acre area lies within the huge Columbia Valley AVA, as do six other Washington viticultural areas. Only about 1,500 acres are currently planted in grapes, mostly owned by Milbrandt Vineyards and Jones of Washington with several hundred acres each. Smaller vineyards are owned by Cave B, White Heron, Ryan-Patrick Vineyards and Beaumont Vineyards. There are four wineries active the area, including Cave B, White Heron, Beaumont and Saint Laurent Estate Winery. Jones has a tasting room in Quincy. Jones, Milbrandt and Ryan-Patrick wines are all made in Mattawa.
Any so far unlabeled wine made from at least 85 percent grapes grown in the area can apply for label approval to include the Ancient Lakes appellation beginning Nov. 19.
Rick Steigmeyer: 664-7151