David Lake, who made the first vineyard-designated wines in Washington, as well as the state's first Syrah, Cabernet Franc and Pinot Gris, has announced his retirement as winemaker of Columbia winery. He had been making the wines since 1979 when he took leave in November 2005 due to health concerns.
A fourth-generation Canadian, Lake, 63, was born in England and began working in the wholesale wine trade there in 1969. He earned his Master of Wine certification in 1975 before coming to the United States to study winemaking at the University of California, Davis. He worked briefly with several Oregon wine pioneers in 1978 before accepting a job with Columbia winery, then known as Associated Vintners. He started as an enologist and became chief winemaker within a year.
In 1981, he released Washington's first vineyard-designated wines, a trio of Cabernets from Otis, Red Willow and Sagemoor vineyards. Lake resisted a trend toward bigger, riper wines, which resulted in wines of modest, sometimes disappointing scale. But in better vintages, the wines could be elegant, and they aged well. Lake's 1999 Otis Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon made the Wine Spectator Top 100 in 2004. Columbia's Chardonnay Woodburne Cuvée consistently rates as one of the best buys among white wines.
Early on, Lake took a special fancy to Red Willow Vineyard, planted by Mike Sauer in Yakima Valley, and urged the grower to plant Syrah. "The vineyard so much reminded me of La Chapelle," Lake told Wine Spectator in a 2004 interview, referring to the site in Hermitage used by the French producer Jaboulet for its legendary Syrah-based wines.
The 1988 Columbia Syrah, made from Red Willow grapes, was Washington's first. It wasn't until the late 1990s that the grape experienced a planting boom; now Syrah covers more acres in Washington than any red grape except Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot. Lake's 1991 Red Willow Cabernet Franc and his 1994 Otis Vineyard Pinot Gris were the state's first bottlings of those varieties, as well.
When Lake joined the winery, its annual production was less than 10,000 cases. The winery grew during Lake's tenure, and was bought by international wine giant Constellation Brands (then known as Canandaigua) as part of a larger acquisition of several wineries in 2001. Today Columbia makes some 160,000 cases per year.
Lake was unavailable for comment, as he is recovering from major back surgery. Longtime assistant winemakers Erik Hoins and Robert Takahashi will make Columbia's 2006 wines while Constellation searches for a permanent chief winemaker.