Friday, November 8, 2013
LAKE CHELAN WINE COUNTRY
The southern shore of Lake Chelan
I attended the 2013 Wine Bloggers Convention in Pentictin British Columbia. The day prior to the start of the convention a group of about 40 visited the Lake Chelan wine region of Washington. It was a real eye opener with respect to landscape and observing the early growth of wine cultivation in Northern Washington. As you can see from the picture above taken at the Campbell Resort Inn, there is beautiful Lake Chelan and the hillsides which are being groomed for vineyards.
WHAT HAS CHANGED?
Lake Chelan has been a recreation and farming area for many many years. In the past 20 years the idea of growing grapes and not the famous Chelan apples has taken over. The total acreage of Lake Chelan viticultural region is 247 acres! Also, much of the land near the border of the lake has been converted to housing. Imagine having a home on lake front property with vineyards in the neighborhood. From this visit it is obvious that white grapes, Gewurztraminer, Riesling, Gruner Veltner, Sauvignon Blanc and Viognier to name a few, are the highlights of Chelan. Each of these varietals shows bright clean fruit with solid acidity providing a mouth watering and refreshing drink. The production facilities in the region range from small producers of two to three barrels per varietal to larger ones which produce a few thousand cases.
LACK OF RAIN AND LOTS OF WATER?
Eastern Washington has about 10 to 12 inches of rain a year. There is snow and a lot of recreational winter sports in the fall. The water source for vineyard and other agricultural ventures comes from the lake which is a 50 mile glacier-fed lake which is 1.5 miles at its widest and more than 1,400 feet at its deepest point. Vineyards can get measured amounts of water when most needed in the middle of their hot summers. Another growth advantage is the diurnal shift of temperature from day to night. Highs in the 90's are followed by cool evenings in the 60's and lower. This combination of heat allows fruit to ripen and gain flavor and sugar. The cool evenings support the retention of acidity and keep the fruit in balance. This combination is also found in Argentina where the Andes provide a water source and altitude to what is essentially a desert, and the cool nights retain acidity.
CHELAN WINE MARKET
Due to the limited size of established vineyards (247 acres) the vast majority of wine produced is sold in the physical area of the lake. Quality is at a very high level and it appears that more land will be planted in the future as word of the wines spreads across the wine reading public. After our visit it makes good sense to incorporate a vacation and explore the wineries of Lake Chelan. Water sports, hiking and fresh air allow the visitor an opportunity to visit life at a slower pace and people who are intent on providing the public with a fresh perspective of life in Eastern Washington.
WHO TO VISIT
KARMA VINEYARDS AND CAVE making one of the few sparkling wines in the area. They only make a few thousand cases but devote total attention to vineyard health and their desire to make high quality sparkling wine. Wine Spectator has rated their sparkling wines: '09 Estate Rose 89 pts, '09 Brut de Brut 88 pts.
NEFARIOUS CELLARS make a limited amount of very high quality wine. They are an example of a group of people who have found their niche and are producing reds with a sense of place and white wines that sing true to their varietal. Wine Enthusiast has rated their '09 Rocky Mother Syrah 95pts, Defiance Syrah 92 pts and Stone's Throw Riesling top 100.
TSILLAN CELLARS is one of the largest producers of wine in the lake area. They have a range of red and whites which are crafted by a Shane Collins who has a wide range of experience in wine production. The winery is home to one of the stellar restaurants at the lake side. Their Estate Sangiovese, Syrah and Sempre Amore were all double gold winners at the Seattle wine awards in 2013.
HARD ROW TO HOE VINEYARDS Judy Phelps crafts a wide array of wines which all show strong varietal character and clean aromatics. My favorite red wine was their award winning Cabernet Franc and their Primitivo was also top class. They make a rich Rose as well as a Sparkling Rose that has a berry rose aroma. They also produce a very fine Riesling. A fun winery and place to visit.
MELLISONI VINEYARDS This is a must stop for anyone visiting the area. They produce a top quality line of both red and white wines. Their Syrah, Merlot and Cabernet sourced from other Washington AVA's are well extracted and quite rich. White wines may be the top of their list for consistent quality and price. Their Riesling and white blend are Double Gold winners in recent competitions. Pinot Grigio and Gewurtztraminer also crash the palate with fresh fruit and a clean finish. This is one of the top producers in Lake Chelan.
Should you visit or vacation in the Lake Chelan area the above wineries will provide you with ample opportunity to taste wines which will only mature and gain more complexity as the years go on. Most of the wineries will ship to locals in the United States. This is a trip well worth you time if you enjoy the outdoors and water recreation. You might even find some of the famous Chelan Apples as part of your adventure.