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David Lake, Dean of Washington Winemakers, Dies

Pioneered Syrah and single-vineyard wines in the state

Tim Fish
Posted: October 7, 2009

David Lake, a pioneer in Washington state winemaking, died Monday after a lengthy illness. He was 66.

As the winemaker for Columbia Winery for 26 years, Lake made the first vineyard-designated wines in Washington, as well as the state's first Syrah, Cabernet Franc and Pinot Gris.

“He was a seminal figure in understanding what Washington wine could be,” said Bob Betz, winemaker of Betz Family Vineyards and a longtime friend. “He had a vision in the early 1970s that very few people had, and he helped bring that vision to a reality.”

A fourth-generation Canadian, Lake was born in England and began working in the wholesale wine trade there in 1969. He earned his Master of Wine certification in 1975, then came to the United States to study winemaking at the University of California at Davis. After working briefly in Oregon, Lake took at job as enologist at Columbia winery in 1978, then known as Associated Vintners, before becoming chief winemaker the following year.

In 1981, he released Washington's first vineyard-designated wines, a trio of Cabernets from Otis, Red Willow and Sagemoor vineyards. Soon after, Lake recognized the potential of Red Willow Vineyard, planted by Mike Sauer in Yakima Valley, and urged the grower to plant Syrah. The 1988 Columbia Syrah, made from Red Willow grapes, was Washington's first. A planting boom of Syrah in the state followed a decade later.

His role in making Syrah one of Washington’s most popular varietals “can’t be understated,” Betz said. While Lake resisted a trend toward bigger, riper Syrahs and other reds, in better vintages his wines could be elegant, and they aged well.

Lake had a quiet, gentle demeanor, but was not timid. “He was humble and generous and the real McCoy,” Betz said. “What you saw with David is what you got.” Before health problems lead to his taking leave in 2005 and retiring in 2006, Lake was an avid outdoorsman. Hiking and kayaking were favorite pastimes.

Lake reportedly collapsed Monday at his home in Issaquah, Wash. He had numerous health issues in recent years, including heart problems and a bout with cancer.

Lake is survived by his wife of 30 years, Connie.

Maryann Worobiec
Napa, CA —  October 7, 2009 7:12pm ET
I had the pleasure of meeting David when I was first falling in love with wine many years ago, working in wine shops in Columbus, Ohio. He was a gentleman and an inspiration, and will be missed.
Tim Mc Donald
Napa,CA —  October 8, 2009 12:24pm ET
I met David in 1989 and was lucky to know him the past several years. I was a wine judge for the Westin Wine Program and later he was Chief Judge in San Diego Competition. David was #1 always the classy gentlemanly winemaker. always a treat to be around. Had the pleasure of siting on a wine panel with him for 3 days, truly a favorite of mine. he was a humble icon & is missed.

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