Vines and Fine Wines
EXPLORE LAKE CHELAN, WASHINGTON’S HOT NEW AVA
Distance from downtown Seattle: 180 miles; 3 hours, 15 minutes
Back in 1998, independent apple grower Steve Kludt was up to his sun leathered elbows in debt and about to lose his sloping orchard overlooking Lake Chelan. Kludt, an energetic baby boomer partial to silky golf shirts and lace-up comfort shoes, started thinking back to a pioneering viticulturist he’d met years earlier who had explained to him that his apple fields would be ideal for growing grapes. In a Hail Mary move, Kludt pulled up his trees and planted vines and, in 2001, he bottled the region’s first wine under the name Lake Chelan Winery. Today more than a dozen wineries dot the 55-mile-long lake, with over 260 acres of farmland devoted to wine grapes—enough to convince the federal government, in April 2009, that Chelan merited status as an independent AVA (American Viticultural Area). If you plan to visit several in a day, consider hiring a limo. Harvest season is a time for celebration at Lake Chelan, and there is no shame in leaving the driving to someone else (Lakeside Limousine Tours, chelanlimo.com).
Housed in a terra-cotta-roofed replica of a Mediterranean villa, complete with a fountain in front and twin wrought-iron lanterns flanking the entrance, Benson Vineyards Estate Winery (754 Winesap Ave, Manson, 509-687-0313; bensonvineyards.com) is the place to begin a Chelan tasting tour. After you sip through the current releases, linger on the terrace to take in the long rows of vines leading down the hillside to the glistening glacier-fed lake.
Just a short drive down winding Winesap Avenue is Lake Chelan Winery (3519 State Route 150, Chelan, 509-687-9463; lakechelanwinery.com) where Steve Kludt gives guests a great little tour, weaving a rich and folksy narrative of Chelan as he guides you through field and factory.
Heading back toward town, stop at Vin Du Lac Winery (105 State Route 150, Chelan, 866-455-9463; vindulac.com) for an afternoon snack—the buttery yellow bistro there charms via platters of cheese and charcuterie, fresh salads, crepes, and panini, all designed to be washed down with the house’s gentle whites and meticulously blended reds.
Along the southern side of the lake Nefarious Cellars (495 S Lakeshore Rd, Chelan, 509-682-9505; nefariouscellars.com), run by young winemaking couple Dean and Heather Neff, contrasts notably with the country-kitsch aesthetic of the older wineries. Here customers leave with chilled whites (the aromatic viognier is a winner) and hunks of Beecher’s Flagship instead of wine cozies and custom-labeled jars of chutney.
The hospitality industry is still catching up with Chelan’s wine tourist trade, but the best bet in town is Campbell’s Resort (104 W Woodin Ave, Chelan, 800-553-8225; campbellsresort.com), boasting a private lakefront beach (complete with a piña colada station where the bartender bops around to Bob Marley), clean, comfortable rooms, and an in-house spa.
Cross the resort parking lot to the Veranda Bistro and Bar, where a breakfast of heaping scrambles and honey-laced bacon clear up any cloudiness caused from yesterday’s sipfest. In town, The Vogue Liquid Lounge (117 E Woodin Ave, Chelan, 509-888-5282; thevoguelounge.com) is the spot for cappuccino or a fresh sandwich and a belt of local wine. Serving up a fancier feast, Winemaker’s Grill at Wapato Point Cellars (200 Quetilquasoon Rd, Manson, 509-687-4000; wapatopointcellars.com) will remind Seattleites, not unpleasantly, of a time when fine dining meant a hunk of rib-eye and an oversize chalice of some densely concentrated merlot.