Skip away to the sunny shores of Lake Chelan where a vibrant wine culture is unfolding.
Lake Chelan became an official AVA (American Viticultural Area) in 2009—and rightly so. Ever since the first winery was licensed here in 2000, an exciting wine culture has been emerging. As of this writing, there are 16 wineries close to the shores of this crystal clear lake. Estate vineyards have cropped up on the hillsides once dominated by apple and cherry orchards.
Treat yourself to a stay at Campbell’s Resort, a fifth generation family-run resort on the banks of the lake where they’ve been perfecting the art of leisure time since they opened to tourists back in 1901. The wine list is eight pages long and longtime wine director George Van Over is not shy about pointing out his local favorites. “The only mouth the wine has to please is your own,” he says with a smile. “Wine lists should be fun to read, not intimidating.”
For quieter accommodations (adults only), try the luxuriously-appointed boutique Lakeview Hotel just steps from the water. If wine touring isn’t enough to fill one’s itinerary, there’s golfing, fishing, hiking, and boating galore.
Join us for an unhurried getaway under the sun as we explore lakeside wineries, tasty eats, and magnificent scenery.
11am Tunnel Hill Winery
As you drive into the Chelan Valley from the south shore on Hwy. 97A, Tunnel Hill is the first winery to greet you. Surrounded by a terraced waterfall garden and estate vineyards, the tasting room is located inside a quaint historic stone cottage with the ambiance of a wine cellar. Guy and Rachel Evans manage the winery and fourth-generation family farm. Try a side-by-side tasting of the 2008 and 2009 Riesling; the former is crisp with grapefruit and citrus fruits, the latter is a smooth wine made in an off-dry style with heavy peach and apricot aromas.
Grab a snack next door at The Sunshine Farm Market. Once a simple roadside apple stand, the bustling market now serves up fresh fruit, organic vegetables, homemade salsas, artisan bread and specialty cheeses. Mental note: Return and fill up at the U-Pick on your way home for apples, pumpkins and peaches.
12 Noon Nefarious Cellars
Half a mile away on South Lakeshore Road is Nefarious Cellars, an exciting newer winery on the scene. Dean and Heather Neff share equally in the acclaim for their seductive wines: Dean makes the reds, Heather the whites.
Taste the 2009 Syrah Defiance Vineyard Lake Chelan AVA—grown on estate vineyards right at the winery—with blackberry, graham and spice on the nose, leading to intense dark fruit and vanilla. The off-dry 2010 Riesling from Stone’s Throw Vineyard has a tangerine fruit nose, and hints of honeysuckle, lemon zest. Take a zen moment to linger in the cozy Adirondack chairs overlooking the lake.
Four miles more and you’re in the compact town of Chelan. Tuck into the Veranda Grill Pub at Campbell’s for a hearty lunch.
3pm Soar like a bird
Get a bird’s-eye view of the 50-mile long lake from a float plane flying over orchards and vineyards with Chelan Seaplanes. For a group of four, it’s $65 per person for an exhilarating half hour ride.
Check into your room and head back out for wine tasting along the rural northern shore.
5pm Lake Chelan Winery & BBQ
There’s no charge for the wine tasting or the grand lake vistas at Lake Chelan Winery on State Route 150 about ten minutes outside of town. Owner Steve Kludt is a farmer with a passionate vision for the valley. As the apple industry nearly ground to a halt in 1998, he and Bob Christopher began planting vineyards as an alternative crop in order to survive. In 2000, the Kludt family licensed the first official winery in Chelan County.
The homey tasting room was converted from an apple packing shed and includes an amazing 3,000 square foot gift shop.
Surrounded by vineyards on three sides, the outdoor wine garden is prime real estate on which to sip a glass of Stormy Mountain Red and savor the best barbecued pulled-pork rib sandwiches in the valley. The Barbecue in the Vineyard grills an assortment of hearty fare every day during May through October from 4pm to 8pm.
Watch the sunset from the lake. Stroll into Campbell’s Bistro for a glass of wine and appetizer or dessert. Take a swim in the pool, soak in the hot tub, or stretch out in a chaise lounge by the lake.
9am Breakfast and Spa
After your espresso, for a home-style breakfast hit the Apple Cup Cafe a few blocks away. Always bustling, the staff does a good job seating customers swiftly. Try their hearty skillet breakfast or choose from every kind of omelet imaginable.
Start your morning with a massage at Campbell’s River Room Spa. Other treatments include body wraps, bronzing treatments and manicures.
If you’re seeking a designated driver, Lakeside Limousine will tour you around the lake in style and comfort. Before hitting the road, pack a picnic. A number of wineries encourage visitors to stay and enjoy a bite while taking in the lakeside views. Several also offer food on-site.
12 Noon Tildio Winery
Tildio Winery is a distance of nine miles heading towards Manson. Accomplished winemaker Katy Perry and husband Milum planted estate vineyards in 2002 and added a tasting room a few years later. Perry worked with the notable Dr. Ernst Loosen making the Chateau Ste. Michelle Eroica Riesling until she tired of the corporate winemaker’s life and opened her own winery.
The tasting room is friendly and inviting, meticulously gardened, and has postcard-perfect views of Roses Lake and the North Cascades Wilderness. Try the Estate Tempranillo, spicy and bold with lovely streaks of graphite, or the Estate Viognier bursting with flavors of orange blossom and citrus fruits. Loiter over a glass on the covered outdoor patio deck and bask in the panoramic grandeur.
1pm Hard Row To Hoe
Doubling back towards Chelan, follow the directional signs of a hand-pointing-the-way to Hard Row to Hoe, a small boutique winery named for a tantalizingly true story. It pays tribute to the struggles and success of a Manson resident who, in the 1930’s, ran a rowboat taxi service which ferried miners across the waters to a brothel at Point Lovely. The colorful story is playfully carried out in the names of their wines, as well as decor and merchandise found at the fun, if not somewhat mischievous, tasting room.
At the heart of the winery are gregarious owners Judy and Don Phelps. Judy makes the wine and Don manages the vineyard, and in their spare time they raise Norwegian Draft horses. They originally bought the 25-acre orchard farm in 2004 and have since planted Cabernet Franc, Gewürztraminer, Riesling, Semillon, Sauvignon Blanc, and Malbec.
Be sure to try their Shameless Hussy line-up including the Syrah, Barbera and Dry Rosé. They also offer a wonderful Primitivo, which is big and bold with exotic spices and a long finish.
2pm Benson Vineyards
The grand Mediterranean-inspired Benson Vineyards Estate Winery offers a commanding view of vineyards sloping down to the glistening Lake Chelan.
Paul and Kathy Benson are proud of the family’s wines for good reason. Rather unique is the fact that all the wines here are made with grapes from the winery’s own estate vineyards and all are grown within the Lake Chelan AVA.
Standouts include the Sangiovese with notes of Rainier cherries, clover, herbs and a rich, balanced flavor. The Pinot Noir is classic old-world style with an earthy mouthfeel and flavors of coffee and cherry. They also grow a dozen other varietals, including Pinot Gris, Nebbiolo, Syrah, and Cabernet Sauvignon.
The grounds are impressive. Chill out on the deck overlooking the lake or on the patio next to a European-style bubbling water fountain. The winery hosts live music and private events. The surroundings beg one to slow down and daydream of life in Tuscany.
3pm Vin du Lac
Just minutes outside of Chelan is Vin du Lac. Larry Lehmbecker purchased an old orchard and farmhouse in 2001 where he planted a number of acres to vineyards. Inspired by his trips to Paris and Provence, he transformed the farmhouse into a French-style bistro.
At the funky outdoor wine bar, you can taste the LEHM label, a lineup of white wines crafted exclusively from Lake Chelan AVA grapes. They also offer barrel select limited production wines, Red Café label reds, and fresh crisp dry whites.
If you’re in the mood for an afternoon meal, dine al fresco on the patio or inside the bistro. Sip to live music every Saturday through mid-October with great vistas of the lake.
6pm Dinner at Campbell’s Bistro
Browse Chelan’s shops or go for a walk along the one-mile paved loop trail at Riverwalk Park before dining at Campbell’s Bistro. Start with a glass from their award-winning wine list and an appetizer of grilled beefsteak tomatoes topped with goat cheese and drizzled with Balsamic port reduction. Perfection!
Afterwards, stare at the star-filled evening sky while sitting on your balcony, listening to the gentle lapping of waves on the silver shore of the lake. And start planning your next visit.
Written by John Vitale
Getting to Lake Chelan
From Seattle: 3.5 hours
From Spokane: 3 hours
Lake Chelan wineries