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David Lake, longtime Washington winemaker, dies at 66

October 8, 2009 | 10:00 am

David Lake, longtime winemaker at Columbia Winery in Washington state, died on Monday. He was 66; illness had forced Lake to step away from day-to-day winemaking duties at the winery in 2005.


He’ll be remembered as one of the pivotal wine figures of Washington state, a tireless innovator who never stopped exploring the viticultural possibilities of the Columbia Valley, his vast agricultural playground.

David Lake was born in Canada and worked in the wine trade in England, obtaining the ultimate credential, a Master of Wine, in 1975. His interest in wine took him to UC Davis, where he got his degree, and after a brief stint in Oregon, he came to Columbia Winery; his first Washington vintage was 1979. 

Lake was driven by constant experimentation in field studies, vineyard trials, and in the winery. He produced many groundbreaking bottlings, including Washington’s first vineyard designates, from Otis, Red Willow and Sagemoor vineyards; its first Pinot Gris and Cabernet Francs, and perhaps most significantly, its first Syrah. The Syrah came from Red Willow Vineyard in the Yakima Valley, a cool site for Washington,Syrah at rw within sight of the Cascade Range, a place that reminded Lake of Hermitage in the Rhône Valley. With grower Mike Sauer he brought in cuttings and planted the vineyard in 1986; its first vintage was 1988. Syrah has gone on to become the state’s third-largest variety by volume, and arguably its most impressive red wine.

David Lake was as sweet-tempered, self-effacing and articulate a winemaker as I’ve known, a man raised with a quintessentially European palate who in his wines gave deference to balance, symmetry and exceptional food affinity. In truth Lake’s wines were always a bit like the man himself – poised, quiet, polished, possessing of a tranquil energy that was revealed through subtlety and nuance.

In later years, Lake’s wines and wine style seemed to fall out of step with the tastes of the general public, outstripped by wines of a flashier, more demonstrative style, with levels of alcohol and extract that flew in the face of his sensibilities. In my last tasting with him in 2004 he seemed to acknowledge to me, with a bit of resignation, that the wine world was passing him by, but that he was unable to be anyone but himself, a fact for which I’m grateful.

– Patrick Comiskey

Photo credit: Columbia Winery (above) and Patrick Comiskey