Lake Chelan Wine Journey
Acres of rolling vineyards, stunning snowcapped mountains, beautiful pristine lakes, and charming shops and villages are just some of the reasons Lake Chelan, WA is a popular destination. Nestled in the heart of the North Cascades, Lake Chelan has long been an outdoor lover’s paradise. The 50 mile lake is one of the world’s deepest at 1500 ft deep. The small town hosts visitors for boating, camping, hiking, biking and more recently, WINE. The first bonded winery opened in 2000 and now, 10 years later there are nearly 20 wineries in the area experimenting and producing everything from Riesling to Tempranillo to Pinot Noir.
A quick three hour journey from Spokane or Seattle will get you to the most beautiful place in the state to sip and enjoy wine. This is an annual trip for my wife and I. This year, we were excited to share the experience with our friends who recently honeymooned in Chelan. We packed up the car, headed to the rental house overlooking the lake for a way too short, relaxing two day wine trip. Watch the video for some amazing views from our 10 winery stop that included tasting through 46 wines! We even got the chance to do some bottling at Fielding Hills winery on our way home through Wenatchee (Thanks, Karen)!
Hard Row To Hoe
I was excited to make Hard Row our first stop. I’ve grown to really love Don and Judy from our online conversations and events. Their location is stunning with views of the rolling hills, their estate vineyards, and of course the lake. When entering their tasting room, you’re greeted with the most sensual wallpaper and decor.
Highlight Wine: Very impressed with the Dry Gewürztraminer ($18). It’s slightly oaked, smooth and zesty. Fell in love with the Zinfandel (which they get from Milbrandt Vineyards). I should have bought more. This wine is huge in fruit, spice, flavor and aroma!
Must See: Oddly enough, you have to use the restroom and see the wallpaper in there.
Four Lakes Winery
Just a short drive from Hard Row, Four Lakes sits at the top of a hill where you can see all four lakes in the area. They opened in July of 2009 and grow their fruit just outside the doors of the tasting room.
Highlight Wine: While their 2008 Estate Chardonnay was very nice, we were all very impressed with their Bordeaux blend. The wine didn’t have an approved label but the naked bottle now sits in our cellar awaiting consumption.
Must See: The view. Once the vineyards mature, this will be a special place to sit on the deck and sip some award winning wine.
The cute little bird (reminds me of Twitter) greets you when you enter the tasting room. These folks were busy, so there was not so much chit-chat among the staff and everyone was getting hungry for lunch so we tasted through the wines and made our way back to the house.
Highlight Wine: The 2008 Viognier ($19) was a beautiful tropical fruit basket that had a very crisp finish. We were also very surprised by their Pinot Noir. It was big, smoky and candied cherry. Much more robust and firm than expected.
Wine Girl Wines
Probably the newest winery in the city (considering our visit was their first full day of being open). The Blending Room, as they’re calling it, is in the heart of quaint Manson (the town North West of Chelan). The owners were still piecing together their facility recently moved their facility from Seattle to Chelan to focus on their 200 case winery full time! Best wishes, Angela!
Highlight Wine: While the label for the My Derby Wife was certainly fun, we walked out with their Kamari, a 2007 Black Label Reserve from Walla Walla. Beautifully elegant Cab/Merlot/Malbec/Franc blend that oozes chocolate covered raspberries. Only 48 cases produced
Lake Chelan Winery
Pressing ahead we moved further away from Manson and headed toward Chelan for a stop at Lake Chelan Winery. Situated right off the main road, you can enjoy a lake level view and their BBQ, served nightly. The tasting room includes a huge selection of wine trinkets, local creations, and gifts.
Highlight Wine: While our travelling companions raved about the Rose and Hard Cider, we were impressed with their NV Stormy Mountain Red. A odd pairing of Pinot Noir, Cab and Zinfandel, this was a smoky bacon infused cherry with tons of campfire components. ($22)
Situated high on a hillside, Benson is a Tuscan themed winery with breathtaking views. The estate vineyards roll down the hillside below with Lake Chelan and the Cascade Mountains just beyond that. The wines tasted at Benson were the most consistent across the entire line up. The only one I wouldn’t score a 4 or higher was the Viognier.
Highlight Wine: This is a difficult choice. We bought more wine here than at any other location. The Sangiovese was a huge flavor wine with bright red fruit and baking spices ($27). Another stand out was the 07 Cabernet Sauvignon ($38)
Must See: I highly recommend going through the tasting line up, then purchasing a glass (or bottle) and enjoy it on their patio overlooking the amazing views. It will be the highlight of your trip.
Vin du Lac
The final stop of the day was at Lake Chelan’s first bonded winery and the 2010 Wine Press Northwest Winery of the Year. It seemed like every wine on their shelf was adorned with one or more gold medals. Vin du Lac is a quaint space with peek-a-boo views of the lake, just beyond the apple orchards. If you plan your day right, you can stop here for lunch and enjoy their great food too. After a long day of wine tasting, we didn’t taste through the lineup, rather we purchased a bottle of 06 Barrel Select Cabernet and relaxed before heading to dinner
Must See: Stop here for lunch! You’ll love the outdoor seating. It’s like eating among the apple trees.
More amazing views await you at Tsillan Cellars (pronounced Chelan). Tsillan is the areas second oldest winery and is on the South shore. With an Italian villa theme, the grounds are impeccable complete with stone paths, waterfalls and Koi pond. This is most definitely a premier event location suitable for outdoor concerts, weddings, banquets and more. The Italian theme continues in their wine lineup that includes Sangiovese, Barbera, and Nebbiolo. If it weren’t for the weather and the impending drive home, we would have stayed for quite a while. Tsillan is open 365 days a year and has dinner service with their Sorrento’s Ristorante.
Highlight Wine: The 06 Bellissimi Rosso was a stunning blend of Cab, Merlot and Cab Franc. It presented a creamy maple syrup, blackberry and cherry and was aged well to provide a nice long smooth finish.
Must See: Ring the old fashion bell when you leave. Also, this is one of the best places to just stop, rest and enjoy the view.
Our final Lake Chelan stop was also on the South shore at Nefarious Cellars. Heather and Dean Neff are making some fantastic wine from their estate vineyards and sourced grapes. Beyond the wine, they are just amazingly nice and genuine people who are passionate about what they do. When they release their red wines each year, you have to be quick because they sell out fast. We tasted through their standard line up of Viognier, Consequence (a Sauv Blanc / Aligote blend), The Spinner (Merlot, Syrah, Cab, and Malbec) and their Cabernet Sauvignon. Heather was gracious to also let us try their newly released Syrah, Riesling, Zinfandel, and special 08 Rx4. This was the most unique wine of the trip as a blend of Mourvedre, Syrah, Counoise, and Cinsault.
Highlight Wine: While the Rx4 was special (and come to think of it, I’m not sure why we didn’t buy it), we left with the 09 Consequence ($18) and 07 Cabernet Sauvignon ($30)
While on our trip, I was of course tweeting and Facebooking along the way. Karen Wade (no relation) from Fielding Hills Winery invited us to stop by on our way home for their annual bottling party! I love Fielding Hills wine. I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to see them again and to participate in part of the process. Fielding Hills is in Wenatchee, just 30 minutes south of Chelan. We sat down in their quaint wine making barn overlooking their hundreds of acres of fruit trees (they manage over 5000 acres in total) and bottled their 2008 Syrah. So, if you’re drinking one of the 25 cases of that special Syrah, chances are I put the cork in the bottle!
Lake Chelan is a special place and in my opinion, one of the most beautiful places in Washington State to taste wine. I hope that this trip has inspired you to visit there soon. Visit the Lake Chelan Wine Valley web site for details on all the area wineries and events.