David Lake, legendary Washington winemaker, and I

The news was not unexpected just unwelcome. David Lake died. Why did I cry when I heard the news? I did not know the winemaker personally. I had not even known about David Lake as a Washington wine maker until fairly recently. My conversion to a wine geek came during the last few years of Lake’s 27 year tenure at Columbia Winery.  By the time I knew enough to ask anything halfway intelligent, Lake was retired and inaccessible to a neophyte such as I.

As a wine geek, I saved the placemat from the David Lake seminar.

As a wine geek, I saved the placemat from the David Lake seminar.

Instead of interacting with Lake personally as a winemaker, my life interacted with his wine. Two very memorable occasions come to mind.  The first was a seminar held at Taste Washington in April 2008 honoring David Lake.  A distinguished panel led us through a tasting of a multi-flight of Lake wines from Columbia Winery. All were representative of his style through the decades and gave glimpses of how his wines can age. I sat at a table towards the back. Next to me was an empty chair. Next to the empty chair were Dick Boushey of Boushey Vineyards and Doug McCrea of McCrea Cellars.  The last wine tasted and discussed was a 1982 Cellarmaster’s Riesling. For this event the winery poured its last four bottles.  Upon the first sip the rest of the world fell away and all I could see, smell, and taste was this heavenly nectar. This was the definition of golden ambrosia.  This was the wine and the vintage that launched Cellarmaster’s Riesling. And I was drinking some of the very last available.  At the end of the seminar I reached over to the empty place next to me, smiled at Boushey and McCrea and snatched the unclaimed pour of the golden Riesling.

Just a month ago I fixed dinner for friends, a simple roasted chicken with lemon and rosemary. The dinner was special because two sets of very, very busy parents, their four children and myself made a point to gather at a designated time and place and actually sit down together and share dinner. If you are a busy person you know that this is nothing short of a miracle. To mark the occasion, I chose a 2003 Columbia Winery David Lake Signature Series Otis Vineyard Block 6 Chardonnay.  With the first sip I was once again removed from the world and only able to see, smell and taste the light gold, smooth chardonnay. The chatter around me disappeared.

David Lake's Signature Otis Vineyard Chard enjoyed with friends.

David Lake's Signature Otis Vineyard Chard enjoyed with friends.

The wine stood by itself and was amazing with the roasted chicken. Even those at dinner who do not usually reach for chardonnay took notice. I claimed the first and last pour from the bottle.

Why did I cry when I heard the news? I felt overwhelming sadness for his family, but also sadness for myself and everyone who enjoys wine. I cried for the conversation I would never have with Lake and the people who would miss out on the wine he made.  After a couple of days the sadness subsided and the reflecting began.  There is so much for the wine world to celebrate.  The local, national and international press covering his death list his many accomplishments so there is no need for me to repeat them here.  Just let me say – Thank you David Lake!  Thank you for rocking my wine world!


If you would like to learn about David Lake in his own words there is a great source that the press missed.  Washington’s Museum of History & Industry has an oral history program. In 2004 David Lake was interviewed and the transcribed oral history is available on the web. In addition, there is a transcribed interview of Mike Sauer, owner of Red Willow Vineyard and David Lake’s trusted grower. Together they planted the first Syrah in Washington.

6 Responses to “David Lake, legendary Washington winemaker, and I”

  1. Bean says:

    Thanks for sharing your memories with us Vivian. I could almost taste that Riesling through your words.
    When I heard the news, I really wished that I had a bottle of David Lake wine in my library. Instead, I raised a glass of Washington Syrah in his honor.

    • Vivian says:

      At that seminar I was learning about the wines created by the first person to plan syrah in the state of WA while sitting next to the second person to plan syrah in the state. Pretty amazing!

  2. Amber says:

    Hello Vivian. Thanks for the great article. I was lucky enough to work with David — an all around fantastic person. I was sad to hear the news myself.

    Here is a link to another article if you or your readers are interested:

    • Vivian says:

      Thanks for the pointer, Amber. You were indeed lucky. What piece of wine knowledge (or knowledge not related to wine) did you gain from David Lake that has stayed with you?

  3. Christopher Bingham says:

    I worked at Columbia when they were still in Bellevue. They would do Thursday blind tastings during lunch and all the employees were welcome. Interesting days indeed. David was a nice guy work with for even a lowly warehouse guy.

    It was an odd place to work for back then – but I learned what I know about wine from those tastings.

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