QUINCY, Wash. -- Washington wine country's newest official grape-growing region will be approved this week by the federal government, and at least one winery will begin using it on labels this winter.
The Ancient Lakes of Columbia Valley will become Washington's 13th American Viticultural Area on Thursday, according to the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau, or TTB.
It is a 162,672-acre region around the Columbia Basin towns of Quincy and George, and grapes from Ancient Lakes play a key role at Washington's oldest winery.
"As we develop Washington viticulture, the great thing we're finding is the better areas for specific varieties and styles," said Bob Bertheau, head winemaker for Chateau Ste. Michelle in Woodinville, which started in 1934. "In the Ancient Lakes, you won't see much Cabernet Sauvignon. But it is a really good region for great aromatic whites."
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Bertheau, whose winery makes about 1 million cases of Riesling, relies heavily on Evergreen Vineyard near Quincy. Bertheau said grapes from Evergreen always play a major role in Eroica, a Riesling he makes with famed German winemaker Ernst Loosen.
Evergreen was planted by brothers Butch and Jerry Milbrandt, who own Wahluke Wine Co. in Mattawa and Milbrandt Vineyards, an 80,000-case winery in Prosser. They planted Evergreen in 1997, and it now is nearly 1,000 acres in size. Not far away, they also own Ancient Lakes Vineyard, which is 147 acres. There are about 1,500 acres planted in the new AVA.
Butch Milbrandt said Evergreen is almost exclusively white wine grapes, with just a few acres of Pinot Noir. About half of Evergreen's grapes go to Ste. Michelle.
He said the Ancient Lakes area was an outlet point for the Ice Age floods, which took place about 15,000 years ago. The floods, which occurred after an ice dam in northern Idaho released the water from Glacial Lake Missoula across Eastern Washington, eroded the soil to barren scabland.
Today, a thin layer of soil sits atop basalt. In some places, it's 3 feet deep; in others, it's 3 inches, Milbrandt said.
"It's not easy to irrigate," he said.
Jones of Washington, a Mattawa winery with a tasting room in Quincy, has three vineyards in the new AVA, and winemaker Victor Palencia is excited about the federal approval. He said that while mostly white varieties are grown there, he does have a bit of Syrah, which he uses to make an award-winning ros.
"It is a white wine region," Palencia said. "The wines from this region are distinctive, that's for sure."
To use "Ancient Lakes of Columbia Valley" on the label, at least 85 percent of the grapes for a wine must come from within the AVA's boundaries, according to the federal government. Wineries will be able to use the new AVA on labels as soon as Nov. 19, and Jones of Washington plans to do so when it begins bottling wines from the 2012 vintage in February.
An AVA is a federally recognized wine grape growing area. It is used by wineries to indicate to consumers where the grapes for a particular bottle of wine were grown. Ancient Lakes is within the Columbia Valley AVA, which is about 11 million acres in size and stretches from Lake Chelan past Milton-Freewater.
Much of the research for the Ancient Lakes AVA was completed by Joan Davenport, a soil scientist for Washington State University in Prosser. She also worked on the Snipes Mountain AVA, which was approved in 2009. She and her husband, Gordon Taylor, own Daven Lore Winery in Prosser.