When Ancient Lakes became the state’s 13th AVA in late 2012, the designation served as official notice that this region along the cliffs of the Columbia River in Eastern Washington is one special grape-growing area. One can point to the Ancient Lakes’ unique soils, elevations and cooler climate as the reason behind that distinction.
The soil is full of minerals, and coupled with air flow from the mighty Columbia River, produces grapes with a character found nowhere else. That, in turn, results in wines that are crisper with natural acids than wines made from grapes grown in other areas. Other factors are the elevation levels of the vineyards as well as the northern latitude location of this unique growing area. This makes for a cooler site, which allows the grapes to retain their natural acids.
Jones of Washington is one of just a handful of wineries that harvest grapes from vineyards in Ancient Lakes, a scenic and sprawling 162,762-acre area in Grant, Douglas and Kittitas counties. Jones’ award-winning Riesling, Pinot Gris, Rosé of Syrah, and Sauvignon Blanc all come from grapes grown in this AVA.
As for the name, the Ancient Lakes title comes from a series of small lakes, 35 in all, that were formed by the infamous series of cataclysmic events known as the Missoula Floods. The flood waters stripped away the soil, leaving just scablands behind. Over the ensuing centuries, however, wind deposited sand in the area and soil began accumulating. When water from the Columbia Basin Irrigation Project became reality in the early 1950s, farms quickly popped up and the region became known as one of the most fertile, productive crop growing areas in the nation. Today, it continues to produce large quantities of potatoes, beans, onions, apples, wheat, alfalfa and many other crops.
The climate on the ridges along the Columbia River also varies. Average temperature change between the high and low spots is typically two degrees, which is a big difference during a long growing season. As a result, many grape varieties can be grown in the AVA.
That same spectacular scenery — cliffs jutting straight out of the Columbia, desolate scablands and basalt rock outcroppings above — often evokes comparisons to the Grand Canyon, and provides another attraction for visitors, already drawn by the region’s great wines.
While various grapes can be grown at Ancient Lakes, the area is best known for its white grapes — in particular its Riesling, Chardonnay and Pinot Gris. Indeed, many connoisseurs say no one produces a better, crisper Riesling than the Ancient Lakes area.