A Washington wine vacation usually means a visit to a winemaking region that acquired some cool restaurants and high-end lodging along the way. Lake Chelan is the inverse, a vacation destination that ended up making wine. The 50.5-mile-long, glacier-carved lake centers this outdoor paradise, and makes for a stunning backdrop for the wineries that overlook its shores. That scenery means the local wine scene has a nice focus on visitor experience (read: nice tasting rooms), though with so many vacationers passing through, quality and value isn’t a guarantee. These local spots offer fun environs, but also reliable pours.
The first winery you see upon entering the area boasts commanding views of Lake Chelan. Husband-wife team Dean and Heather Neff have an unorthodox but egalitarian setup—Dean makes the reds and Heather makes the whites. One of Nefarious’s own vineyards surrounds the winery, delivering a photo-worthy backdrop and some estate-only pours.
Mike and Karen Wade first started their winery in Wenatchee before relocating to a handsome property overlooking Lake Chelan in 2014. The family’s vineyard on the Wahluke Slope contributes most of the fruit, with a focus on big, bold reds, but the winery recently added some white wines to its portfolio as well. Its Concentric Wine Project label meanwhile explores more novel varieties and techniques, including a rare (and delicious) example of gamay noir.
Most of the fruit for these wines comes from the proposed Rocky Reach appellation south of Lake Chelan. Unlike most of the rest of the Columbia Valley, which is on basalt bedrock, Rocky Reach has a granitic foundation and a vineyard strewn with cobblestones; this combination yields wines distinct from those found elsewhere in the state. Rocky Pond’s downtown Chelan tasting room offers small bites amid brick-lined walls.
One of the best experiences in Washington wine, full stop. Cairdeas dedicates itself to Rhône-style wines, poured in a new, barn-style tasting room and production facility that looks out on Lake Chelan. Owners Charlie and Lacey Lybecker source fruit from top sites across the Columbia Valley, including Boushey and Lawrence. The couple also has an estate vineyard that includes Washington-first plantings of some varieties, such as Picardan. The winery (pronounced car-dess) takes its name from the Gaelic word for friendship, and these are quite simply some of the most exciting wines coming out of Washington.
Succession was born out of the ashes of the Carlton Complex fire. When Brock and Erica Lindsay lost their home to the blaze, the couple decided to go in a new direction. The winery they subsequently built has a wide assortment of reds and whites, plus extensive outdoor seating that abuts the lake. It’s a perfect spot to while away an afternoon.
The winery’s name plays on the region’s mining history and a rowboat service that once ferried miners to the local brothel. Wine names and decor continue that cheeky schtick (look closely at the pattern of the red wallpaper), much to the joy of visiting bachelorette parties. Don Phelps tends the vines and his wife Judy makes the wines, which include some promising estate offerings. Hard Row also sources fruit from the larger Columbia Valley.