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Originally published Sunday, October 11, 2009 at 12:46 AM

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Washington wine pioneer Lake dies at 66

David Lake, one of the most influential people in the history of the Washington wine industry, died last week after a lengthy illness.

Wine Press Northwest

David Lake, one of the most influential people in the history of the Washington wine industry, died Monday after a lengthy illness.

Mr. Lake, 66, collapsed Monday (Oct. 5) at his home in Issaquah.

Mr. Lake had several health issues in recent years, including heart trouble and cancer.

Born in Canada, Mr. Lake worked in the British wine trade for several years before moving to the U.S. West Coast. After a stint at The Eyrie Vineyard in Dundee, Ore., he became a 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 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."

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, Mr. 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 vineyards in California were growing the grape, Sauer said, so Mr. 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.

Mr. Lake helped with the planting, and the two ceremoniously buried bottles of Hermitage, Côte-Rôtie and other famous Rhone wines in the vineyard as a way to inspire Washington's first syrah, Mr. 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.

Mr. Lake's first 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.

Mr. Lake also pioneered and promoted such grape varieties as pinot gris, viognier, merlot and cabernet franc.

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"David brought more of a worldwide knowledge of wine to Washington," Sauer said. "He was always very European in his approach to wine."

Mr. Lake was the first U.S. winemaker to earn the rare and prestigious Master of Wine certification from the Institute of Masters of Wine in London. Sauer recalled that Mr. Lake was fond of bringing fellow Masters of Wine to Red Willow for events.

He retired from Columbia in 2005 due to ill health.

He is survived by his wife of 30 years, Connie.

Andy Perdue is editorof Wine Press Northwest,a quarterly wine magazineowned by the Tri-City Herald.

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