In opening, Columbia Winery practically represents ancient history, as far as domestic wines go. Founded in 1962, it is Washington State’s oldest premium winery. Home winemaking buff Professor Lloyd Woodbourne of the University of Washington, in concert with a few similarly inclined colleagues, set up a “cooperative” winery in his garage. They called it “Associated Vintners”. This name was changed to Columbia Winery eight years ago. As Washington’s fifth largest winery, it produces more than 100,000 cases per year. Over the years people were added, and various refinements were made, including selling off all of its own vineyards. But the greatest impact on overall quality was achieved in 1979 when Columbia engaged oenologist David Lake to be its winemaker.
Mr. Lake, a Canadian by birth, had worked for ten years as a wholesale wine merchant in England. There he had refined his palate to such a degree that in 1975 he earned the coveted and rare Master of Wine Certificate. He followed this with an intensive wine-making course at U.C. Davis in 1977. He worked for three Oregon wineries before taking over for Dr. Woodbourne who was about to retire.
Lake’s main thrust is to capitalize upon Washington’s unique viticultural conditions. West of the Cascade Mountain chain (Seattle) it rains. To the East is arid. Without attempting to imitate France or California, Lake produces unique, polished wines which exhibit crisp acidity and refined flavors.
The big G (Gewürztraminer, not Gallo) came west originally from France’s Alsace district, which borders Germany. There this pink-skinned grape produces the very finest white wines of the district — both dry and sweet — distinguished by their distinctively “spicy” aroma. (Gewürz is German for “spice”.) Transplants often successfully follow suit.
This outstanding edition has a pale green/gold color. The citrus/grapefruit/spice nose fairly leaps out of the glass in warm, friendly salutation. Round, full, smooth, tangy and fruity in the mouth, this “Gewurz” shows no sign of the bitterness which so often mars examples of this varietal. The fruity, citrusy aftertaste lingers on. Both seasoned wine buffs as well as neophytes will want to gulp this one with reckless abandon: moderation advised.
Serve chilled with fresh fruit or as a spa-time sipper.
Cellaring Notes: Drink now through 1993.
Reviewed by Larry Tepper