ancient lakes and ancient hills

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Cameron Fries, owner/vintner at White Heron Cellars, passed along this note a couple of days ago. It’s from Karen Thornton, of the TTB Regulations and Rulings Division. “I have some good news! The final rule for the Ancient Lakes of Columbia Valley AVA was signed Friday and will publish in the Federal Register on Thursday, October 18. The effective date will be Monday, November 19 [sic], which means that date will be the first date anyone can apply to TTB for a COLA for a label with the Ancient Lakes of Columbia Valley AVA name on it. Looks like 2012 will be a particularly special vintage for winemakers in your area! Congratulations!”

I toured the region in the spring of 2011, and wrote about it here on the blog on April 25, 2011. To recap: “I spent two extremely busy and fascinating days last week touring a region known as the Ancient Lakes. 

If you can locate the world famous concert venue known as the Gorge at George on a map, you are in the Ancient Lakes region. The Columbia river, at one of its most spectacular passages, defines the western edge. Both southern and northern boundaries are ridges of hills, folds in the earth, caused by tectonic movement in Oregon. These ridges run east/west and occur in sequence throughout much of eastern Washington.

“

If the new AVA is certified – public comment is scheduled for June, with approval expected to follow shortly – it will fill in a big hole in the Columbia valley map. To the south is a region known as the Royal Slope, which will probably have its own AVA in the not-too-distant future. Just south of that is the Wahluke Slope, site of many of this state's most important vineyard holdings.”

Therein lies the difference between this newly-minted AVA, and recent entries such as Lake Chelan and Naches Heights. Though both of those newcomers have vineyards planted, they are new vineyards just now entering a time when wines grown and made there can be evaluated for both quality and character. Ancient Lakes has more history, more vineyard, and more clearcut terroir – at least at this point in time.

The marketing value of an AVA designation is always debatable, and many wineries even today choose to ignore using some of the lesser-known AVAs on their labels, though they are entitled to do so. But Ancient Lakes, apart from its viticultural assets, possesses a memorable name and at least a few well-established growers and wineries. It’s a welcome addition to the state’s growing legion of distinct and distinctive grape-growing regions.

Meanwhile, on the other side of the pond, the island of Sicily (where my maternal grandparents were born) now has its own DOC (the Italian equivalent of an AVA). An article in the Drinks Business online quoted Diego Planeta, whose daughter founded the winery of the same name, as saying that “With the new toy of DOC Sicilia we will be able to put together group of people who will row in the right direction.”

What is that direction? Well, it’s easy to surmise that it has a lot to do with defining a viable regional identity, and marketing that identity to customers around the world. Sicily, by all accounts, has made tremendous strides in its production of quality wines. I’ve tasted quite a few that were very impressive. The region is at the top of my personal bucket list of places to visit on my next European travels. As with the Ancient Lakes, this is one denomination that makes especially good sense.

Sicily DOC

2 comments:

Anonymous said...

You write:"The Columbia river, at one of its most spectacular passages, defines the western edge. Both southern and northern boundaries are ridges of hills, folds in the earth, caused by tectonic movement in Oregon. These ridges run east/west and occur in sequence throughout much of eastern Washington."

One can make an argument that in those places, the boundary follows legitimate topographic features that might somehow influence terroir - but what about the perfectly straight north-south line that forms the eastern boundary? How do the physical criteria that define terroir differ on either side of this line? Yes, I know, it's really all about marketing....

PaulG said...

Anon, a perfectly straight line is not uncommon when defining AVAs. It can be a simple matter of finding a place of agreement among all the different interested parties. I was not involved in developing the Ancient Lakes proposal, but perhaps someone familiar with that process can answer your question.

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