Interesting fact: Two of Washington's first wineries sprang up in Wenatchee.
According to “The Wine Project: Washington State's Winemaking History” by Ron Irvine and the late Walter Clore, the state's first winery was John Galler Winery, which began in 1874 in East Wenatchee. It operated until 1910.
Right behind Galler, in 1875, was Philip Miller in Wenatchee. It stayed open for a year. The next didn't pop up until 1938, which was short-lived Wenatchee Winery. It was nearly a half-century in between when Wenatchee Valley Vintners opened in 1987 for a single vintage.
Wenatchee has long been an agricultural region, famous around the world for its apples. When the apple industry began to splinter under competition from Asia, many orchards began to convert to wine grapes. After all, there was some history of that, along with smart farmers and plentiful water.
By the time the millennium came around, a wine industry had sprung to life in north-central Washington. Ample sunshine and outdoor recreation drew visitors, a natural audience for a growing industry. The region’s young winery alliance is called Cascade Valley Wine Country.
These days, the region, including Wenatchee, Lake Chelan and the town of Leavenworth have attracted dozens of wineries and tasting rooms. A new state law that allows wineries to open up to four tasting rooms has given wineries the tool to open satellite tasting rooms in the Wenatchee area, giving them the ability to take advantage of the region's tourism and good weather. Granted, most of the grapes are grown outside the region, though that is slowly changing. A visit to north-central Washington is now a trip to wine country, another example of a region taking advantage of a dynamic agricultural industry.
Here are a half-dozen wines made by Wenatchee-area wineries, all of which won gold medals at this year's Wenatchee Wine Festival Competition, orchestrated by the Wenatchee World newspaper, Foothills magazine and Great Northwest Wine. Ask for these wines at your favorite merchant or order directly from the winery.
Chateau Faire Le Pont Winery 2015 Provence, Columbia Valley, $43: Doug Brazil’s winery in a historic brick warehouse is near the Confluence Technology Center in Wenatchee, and he consistently crafts delicious wines, particularly red blends. The retired U.S. Navy helicopter pilot’s blend of Rhône varieties is bursting with flavor, including ripe plum, black cherries, violets and fresh bark, all backed by bright acidity and sturdy tannins. While delicious now, it will reward those with patience.
Malaga Springs Winery 2016 Cabernet Franc, Washington, $28: This picturesque winery near Wenatchee has shown remarkable consistency through the years, and with this wine reveals the greatness of Cabernet Franc in the state. Owner/winemaker Allen Mathews crafted a beautiful red that unveils a lot of complexity, with notes of black licorice, spice, red fruit with a hint of mild oak through the long finish.
Stemilt Creek Winery 2016 Ascent Cabernet Sauvignon, Columbia Valley, $50: The Mathison family relies on vines planted in 2001 on land homesteaded in 1893. This luscious Cab unveils aromas and flavors of dense and dark cherry, blackberry and blackcurrant. A hint of vanilla joins in, and it’s all backed by perfectly balanced tannins and a juicy finish.
Chateau Faire Le Pont Winery 2015 Cabernet Sauvignon, Red Mountain, $60: Red Mountain, a ridge in the eastern Yakima Valley, is renowned for high-end Cab, such as this one by Doug and Debé Brazil. Bold aromas are followed by flavors that will remind you of a Left Bank Bordeaux blend with notes of dried herbs and dried cherries backed by suave tannins.
Malaga Springs Winery 2018 Viognier, Columbia Valley, $19: This small producer near Wenatchee has crafted a tasty version of this northern Rhône white grape, with luscious aromas of white blossoms, and white peaches, followed by flavors of ripe melon, spice and just a kiss of sweetness.
Chateau Faire Le Pont Winery 2015 Malbec, Columbia Valley, $43: The juicy Bordeaux variety can be so interesting in Washington, and the Brazils have crafted a beauty with aromas and flavors of spicy blue fruit backed with full, dark flavors that give way to a long, full finish.