Cascade Valley Wine Country: Lake Chelan

By Kori ~ October 13th, 2010.

Located in central Washington State halfway between Seattle and Spokane, Cascade Valley Wine Country is home to around 50 wineries and tasting rooms in Wenatchee, Chelan, and Leavenworth. The oldest wineries in the Cascade Valley Wine Country have only been in existence about a decade. However, in that short time, they have capitalized on the tourist-appeal of the area and have established a thriving wine community. Lake Chelan has been a popular tourist destination for years especially during the summer months when visitors flock there to enjoy the sunshine and recreation around the lake. In May 2009, Lake Chelan was established as Washington State’s 11th AVA (American Viticultural Area). Today, Lake Chelan is home to 15 wineries.

While both Colby and I had both vacationed in Chelan during college, our first trip to visit the wineries in the area was in the summer of 2009. We enjoyed visiting the area again during our recent trip touring the Cascade Valley Wine Country.

In my opinion, Nefarious Cellars is producing the best wines overall in Lake Chelan. Founded in 2004 by the husband-wife winemaking team of Dean and Heather Neff, Nefarious currently produces about 2,000 cases per year and plans to maintain that level. The Neffs are extremely nice folks, and their winery and estate vineyard boast gorgeous views of the lake.

Several other wineries worth visiting in the area include: Hard Row to Hoe, Rio Vista, Four Lakes, Benson, and Tsillan.

Don and Judy Phelps at Hard Row to Hoe love to tell stories and are producing some very good wines. In 2008, the Phelps rebranded their winery, which was formerly known as Balsamroot. The new Hard Row to Hoe name has a bit of a “naughty” story behind it, and they are more than happy to share it with visitors.

John and Jan Little founded Rio Vista in 2008 and currently produce about 600 cases per year. Rio Vista is a little off the beaten path but is a great find along the Columbia River. In fact, they get as much boat traffic as they get car traffic.

Four Lakes Winery sits high up on a hill overlooking, what else, four lakes. The view is amazing. Founded in 2003 by owner Don Koester, Four Lakes’ new tasting room opened last year.

Benson Vineyards Estate Winery, founded by Paul and Kathy Benson and their sons, Scott and Jeff, is located on 30 vineyard acres with a spectacular view of Lake Chelan. They bought the land in 1998, ripped out the existing apple orchard, and began planting their vineyard in 2002. Their first harvest was in 2004, and they released their first wines in 2005. Currently, they produce about 5,000 cases per year using 100 percent estate fruit. Benson boasts a stunning new facility, which opened last year.

Founded in 2000, Tsillan Cellars is a beautiful Tuscan-style winery located on a slope overlooking Lake Chelan. Tsillan is owned by dentist/inventor Bob Jankleson and produces about 5,000-6,000 cases per year. As of 2008, Tsillan uses fruit exclusively from their 135 acre estate. Tsillan Cellars also features a Summer Concert Series.

If you live in Washington or have plans to visit, I highly encourage you to include Lake Chelan in your travel itinerary. The gorgeous lake, which offers a host of recreational opportunities, as well as the 15 wineries in the area make Chelan a fabulous Washington wine country destination. As was the case during our entire trip to the Cascade Valley Wine Country, we found the people of Lake Chelan to be very friendly and welcoming. They seemed to truly love where they live and what they do. While the wine quality really runs the gamut, there are more than enough good wines and wine country experiences to be had. Given the gorgeous scenery and recreational opportunities, Lake Chelan is a fun destination for the whole family. For more information about planning a trip to the area, visit the websites for Cascade Valley Wine Country, Lake Chelan Wine Valley, and the Lake Chelan Chamber of Commerce.

Filed under: American Wine, Washington State Wine, Wine Travel

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