Category Archives: Chelan AVA

Water and Wine: Exploring Lake Chelan’s bounty

There’s a colorful collection of brochures, maps and business cards piled on the desk reminding me of a brief but fantastic visit to Lake Chelan Wine Country.

The sunshine, miles of blue water views and surrounding green hillsides sprinkled with vineyards and wineries painted a pleasant setting to explore.

There were stories from winemakers and tasting room staff who shared their passion. Here are my top 5 stories about the Lake Chelan’s water and wine industries.

Story One: The brief history of the Lake Chelan wine industry.

In the years leading up to my momentous wine-cation, Lake Chelan was all apples and tourism. The hills encircling the popular 50-mile long lake was once primarily apple orchards, but now many trees have been replanted to vineyards.

The first commercial vineyards were planted in 1998. From the first bonded winery in 2001, it only took eight years for Lake Chelan to become Washington’s 11th American Viticultural Area (AVA).

Today, there are over 30 wineries and tasting rooms nestled among the 31 hillside vineyards. Almost 300 acres of vineyards are planted to a wide range of grapes – Cabernet Franc, Chardonnay, Clairette Blanche, Counoise, Gewürztraminer, Malbec, Merlot, Mourvèdre, Petite Sirah, Picardan, Pinot Gris, Pinot Noir, Riesling, Roussanne, Syrah, Tempranillo and Viognier.

Story Two: Bringing Rhône to Lake Chelan

Cairdeas (Car dis) Winery is the passion of the dynamic duo of Lacey and Charlie Lybecker. At a Taste Washington event a few years ago, they introduced me to their Rhône-styled wines with Gaelic names such as Caislean an Papa. Given my Irish heritage and love of Rhone, this is high on my favorite Washington wineries list.

How this family winery evolved from beer to Sauvignon Blanc to their Lake Chelan winery fermenting unusual- for Washington –  grapes is a remarkable story.

While living and working in west Seattle, Lacey would bring home a bottles of New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc. They would compare the different producers and learned what a difference there could be in wines even from the same area.

After years of research, their passion for Rhône wines mushroomed. They were the first Washington winery to plant Picardan, a little known white grape from southern Rhône.

Traditionally, those AOC wines such as Châteauneuf-du-Pape can be blended with up to 13 red and white varietals. Following that tradition, Clairette blanche and Syrah vines were planted in the former apple orchard surrounding their winery.

Cuttings for these little known vines came from California’s Tablas Creek Winery, a partnership between Chateau de Beaucastel’s Perrin Brothers and Haas family of Vineyard Brands. In 1989, Tablas Creek began importing vine cuttings and building a grapevine nursery in Paso Robles.

And now Cairdeas Winery has a little bit of Washington Châteauneuf-du-Pape or in Gaelic, Caislean an Papa for you to enjoy.

Story Three: Diversifying – Apples and Grapes

Fielding Hills Winery was established in 2000. Owners Mike and Karen Wade began as many wine pioneers began, in the apple and cherry business.

In 1998, in need of more grapes for their growing winery, Chateau Ste. Michelle offered apple growers a contract to plant grape vines where apple orchards stood. The Wades transplanted 10 acres near Mattawa as a trial venture.

Merlot and Cab were first, later Syrah, Cab Franc and Malbec were planted. The Wade’s Riverbend Vineyard, not far from Chateau Ste. Michelle’s Indian Wells Vineyard, now totals 23 acres of coveted grapes.

Grapes were first sold to other producers but eventually the wine bug bit. In 2016, after making Fielding Hills wines for 16 years, the Wades opened their first tasting room overlooking Lake Chelan.

Fielding Hills Winery’s production is small at 2400 cases. The predominantly rich, red Wahluke Slope wines are award winning blends from the Riverbend Vineyard planted 22 years ago.

For warmer summer months, an amazing Riverbend Rose made from 100% Cabernet Franc was added to the all red lineup. The first year it was made, it sold out in two days.

More Rosé and white wines, Chenin Blanc, Roussanne and Chardonnay are being made with the help of Tyler Armour.

The Wade’s Concentric Wine Project label is based on the idea of “Serious experiments. Fun wines.” Armour is winemaker alongside owner and winemaker Mike Wade.

The Pinot Gris Pétillant Naturel is refreshingly crisp. It’s the one to grab and enjoy while taking in the panoramic view. The wine is bottled before primary fermentation is finished, creating a natural, lightly sparkling wine.

Their other unusual but perfect summer wine is a red made from Gamay Noir. That’s the grape that Gamay Beaujolais is made from. This lighter bodied red is wonderful slightly chilled.

Story Four: New World wines from Old World tutelage

C R Sandidge’s winemaker, Ray Sandidge has much to brag about. He’s a charming storyteller and a great winemaker. Growing up in a military background, he has traveled the world.

The tales he tells of wandering around Japan as a very young child and his remarkable opportunity to make wine for an old established winery in Germany are entertaining and insightful.

This shaped his winemaking to some degree. His Sabrina White is co-fermented with 67% Riesling and 23% Gewurztraminer. The creation is dry, aromatic and perfect for a summer day. The Rosé of Syrah, another dry, crisp wine that is the palest of pink evokes the distinguished wines of Provence.

His rich, aromatic reds include Caris, a blend of Malbec, Merlot and Cab Franc; Whistle Punk Red is Syrah with a dollop of Malbec and Petite Syrah; and Tri*Umph – as in three Bordeaux grapes – is Malbec, Cab and Merlot.

Save room for dessert! The No. 18 Devil’s Smoke Stack Port, predominantly Petite Sirah with a splash of Syrah is a blend of 5 vintages.

Story Five: A vacation wonderland

Lake Chelan is a tourist’s paradise. Water sports, winter sports, hiking and biking trails, wineries, breweries and cideries abound.

The population of about 4,000 residents grows to over 25,000. Where to put all those vacationers? Hotels, motels, lodges and vacation rentals, that’s where.

In fact, Chelan County ranks an astounding 4th out of 39 Washington counties in lodging tax collected. Many knew what I finally appreciated, Lake Chelan is indeed paradise.