On October 5, 2009, our colleague, David Lake MW passed away after a lengthy illness. We mourn the loss of a great friend, accomplished winemaker and true gentleman.
—The Management & Staff of Columbia Winery and Covey Run
David Lake, one of the most influential people in the history of the Washington wine industry, passed away Monday after a lengthy illness.
Lake, believed to be 65, collapsed Monday at his home in Issaquah, Wash., and could not be revived. Though the exact cause of death is unknown, Lake had several health issues in recent years. As the wine grape harvest began in 2000, Lake had heart troubles, which led to two separate bypass surgeries. He also battled cancer.
Lake, a Canadian by birth, worked in the British wine trade for several years before moving to the West Coast, where he worked at The Eyrie Vineyard in Dundee, Ore., before being hired as winemaker for Associated Vintners in Seattle (now Columbia Winery in Woodinville).
His first vintage was 1979, the year he met Mike Sauer of Red Willow Vineyard in the western Yakima Valley. The two would collaborate on many pioneering projects over the years, the most significant of which was planting the first Syrah grapes in Washington.
"David was a true gentleman," Sauer said. "He was a grower's winemaker and a master motivator. He was probably one of the most grower-oriented winemakers I've ever worked with."
Sauer noted that this month marks the 25th anniversary of their first discussion about planting Syrah at Red Willow, an iconic vineyard first planted in 1971. Sauer recalled that as the 1984 harvest wound down, Lake approached him with the idea of planting Syrah, a red wine grape most famous in the Rhone Valley of France. At the time, just a few of vineyards in California were growing the grape, Sauer said, so Lake made arrangements to bring cuttings from Syrah vines to Washington. In 1985, Sauer added them in his nursery until the vines were ready to plant in 1986.
Lake came from the Seattle area to help with the planting, and the two ceremoniously buried bottles of Hermitage, Côte-Rôtie and other famous Rhône wines in the vineyard as a way to inspire Washington's first Syrah, Lake said later. Sauer said he can no longer recall where those bottles are buried. "They're up there somewhere. They're aging well," he added with a laugh.
Lake's first vintage of Syrah was from the 1988 vintage. Today, Syrah is the No. 3 red wine grape in Washington, after Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot, with more than 3,000 acres planted. Lake also pioneered and promoted such grape varieties as Pinot Gris, Viognier, Merlot and Cabernet Franc.
"David brought more of a worldwide knowledge of wine to Washington," Sauer said. "He was always very European in his approach to wine."
Lake earned the rare and prestigious Master of Wine and was the first U.S. winemaker with that degree. Sauer recalled that Lake was fond of bringing fellow Masters of Wine to Red Willow for events.
Lake's health forced him to retire from Columbia in 2005. Sauer said he last talked to Lake about a month ago, just as harvest was beginning. He described him as upbeat. He and Connie, his wife of 30 years, were hoping to do a bit of regional travel. Funeral plans have not been announced.
—Howard G Goldberg in New York
David Lake MW, a pivotal pioneer in Washington State's wine industry, died Monday. He was in his mid-60s.
As head winemaker at Columbia Winery, outside Seattle, from 1979 through retirement in 2005, Lake produced Washington's first vineyard-designated wines, the state's first Syrah, Cabernet Franc and Pinot Gris, and was the first to blend Merlot and Cabernet Franc.
Born in Britain, Lake entered the wine business there in 1967 with Saccone & Speed, received his Master of Wine certificate in 1975 and spent a year studying viticulture and enology at the University of California at Davis.
After a short stint in Oregon at Eyrie, Amity and Bethel Heights, Lake joined the Associated Vintners, as the Columbia Winery (founded in 1967) was first called, in 1979 and soon became winemaker. He moved to Washington, he said, 'to explore the distinctive fruit qualities and remarkable natural balance I had noted from this state.'
Lake made the initial Syrah in 1988 from the well-known grower Mike Sauer's famed Red Willow Vineyard, in the Yakima Valley, east of the Cascade Mountains. One of Lake's signature wines was long-lived Bordeaux-style varietal Cabernet Sauvignon from the standout Otis Vineyard in the Yakima Valley.
In his 2007 book 'Washington Wines and Wineries: The Essential Guide', Paul Gregutt, a veteran Washington wine writer, characterized the soft-spoken, gentlemanly, studious Lake as a vintner with 'distinctly European tastes' who 'experimented tirelessly.'
Gregutt quotes Lake as saying he preferred wines that 'are not too high in alcohol, not overtly oaky, truly drinkable wines that work nicely at the dinner table.'
—by the Washington Wine Report
David Lake, former Columbia Winery winemaker and Washington wine industry pioneer, passed away at his home yesterday. Mr. Lake’s death was confirmed by Ascentia Wine Estates who purchased Woodinville’s Columbia Winery in 2008.
Lake was a man of many firsts in the Washington wine industry. Among them, he convinced grower Mike Sauer to plant Syrah at his Red Willow Vineyard in 1986. Lake would produce Washington’s first Syrah two years later. Syrah is now the third most planted red varietal in the state behind Cabernet and Merlot and is increasingly seen as Washington’s ‘signature varietal’.
Lake was also the first to make vineyard-designated wines in Washington. Lake produced three vineyard-designated Cabernet Sauvignons from Otis, Red Willow, and Sagemoor vineyards in 1981. Vineyard-designated wines are made from a single vineyard whose name appears on the label. Along with American Viticultural Area (AVA) designation, vineyard designation is seen as both a mark of quality and distinction.
Lake was born in England. He began his career in 1967 working for British wine shipper Saccone and Speed. In 1975, he earned the prestigious Master of Wine degree from the United Kingdom’s Institute of Masters of Wine. After stints at Oregon’s Eyrie Vineyards, Amity Vineyards, and Bethel Heights Vineyard, Lake joined Columbia Winery in 1979 taking over winemaking responsibilities from Dr. Lloyd Woodburne.
Lake would spend an astonishing twenty-six years at the winery, retiring in 2005. He was 66 years old.
—By WILLIAM GRIMES, New York Times
David Lake, a pioneering Washington winemaker who made the state’s first vineyard-designated wines and its first wines from the syrah, cabernet franc and pinot gris grapes, died on Oct. 5 at his home in Sammamish, Wash. He was 66.
His wife, Connie Sile-Lake, confirmed the death. She did not give a cause but said he had been in poor health for years.
When Mr. Lake arrived in Washington in 1979, hired as an enologist by the company that would become Columbia Winery, he was venturing into virgin territory. As few others could, he foresaw great days ahead for Washington wines, especially the syrah, which is now, largely because of his efforts, the state’s third-most-widely-planted red-wine grape, after cabernet sauvignon and merlot.
“Nobody believed syrah would do well here,” said Richard Kinssies, the director of the Seattle Wine School. “They thought it could not survive the winter, that you couldn’t ripen it and even if you ripened it you couldn’t make good wine out of it. He proved everybody wrong.”
Mr. Lake favored a French style of wine despite his American training. His cabernets, syrahs and chardonnays had a sleek, understated profile that contrasted markedly with the concentrated, oaky, high-alcohol wines of California.
“He understood and could make modern, New World wines, but the Old World was his template,” Mr. Kinssies said. “He wasn’t out to produce the biggest, baddest wine. He was interested in producing wines with elegance and a sense of place. And he did.”
David Lancelot Lake, a Canadian citizen, was born in London on March 27, 1943, and spent his childhood in Britain. After earning a degree in history and political science at McGill University in Montreal, he began working for Saccone & Speed, a wine and liquor company, in Britain. In 1975 he passed the notoriously demanding Master of Wine test.
In 1977 he came to the United States and took graduate courses in enology and viticulture at the University of California, Davis. After doing brief stints with Eyrie, Amity and Bethel Heights wineries in Oregon, he was hired as an enologist by Associated Vintners, Washington’s first winery, where he became winemaker within a year. The winery, founded in 1962 by a group of friends who made wine in a garage, changed its name to Columbia Winery in the early 1980s and in 1988 relocated to Woodinville.
In 1981 Mr. Lake released Washington’s first vineyard-designated wines, cabernet sauvignons from the Otis, Red Willow and Sagemoor vineyards. He was particularly enthusiastic about the potential of the Red Willow vineyard in the Yakima Valley and encouraged its grower, Mike Sauer, to plant syrah, the principal red-wine grape of the Rhone Valley in France.
In 1988, Columbia released Washington’s first syrah, which led to a syrah boom in the state. In 1991, again using grapes from Red Willow, Mr. Lake produced the state’s first cabernet franc.
In 1994, Mr. Lake scored another first when he introduced a pinot gris from Otis Vineyard, a white wine with a floral quality. Although red wines, especially syrah, were his passion, Mr. Lake was successful with his gewürztraminers and rieslings.
In 2006, Mr. Lake retired because of poor health. His wife is his only immediate survivor.