In the past decade, the continued influx of talented and trained winemakers is making North Central Washington a true four-season destination now branded as Cascade Valley Wine Country.
This portion of Washington state already had a waiting audience as generations of well-heeled tourists have enjoyed weekend getaways to the mountains or summer vacations at the lake.
What better playground than Lake Chelan in the summertime? An hour away, there’s Mission Ridge and the Bavarian-themed town of Leavenworth, which doubles as a gateway to the region’s hiking, cross-country skiing, rafting and fishing.
For the wine lover, there’s never been a better time to explore Cascade Valley Wine Country because of the delicious diversity of wines. And the winery association’s sporty touring guide artfully gives wine travelers a snapshot into the personality of each winery.
The association counts 68 member wineries and tasting rooms in the region that spans Lake Chelan, Leavenworth and the Wenatchee Valley. Its proximity to the Cascades prompts the group to refer to itself as "Washington’s Peak Wine Experience."
As is often the case in Washington state, a port commission stepped up to assist with infrastructure, marketing or both. Here, it is the Port of Chelan County.
For example, there’s Ivy League grad Craig Mitrakul, one of the state’s most talented, educated and soft-spoken winemakers. He’s photographed with a cycling helmet and gloves while representing his own Crayelle Cellars and also sparkling wine house Karma Vineyards in Chelan.
Boudreaux Cellars owner/winemaker Rob Newsom, among the Washington wine industry’s rock stars even though his winery is in Leavenworth rather than Walla Walla or Woodinville, is smiling behind a pair of Ray-Bans with one of his many guitars slung over his shoulder.
Angela Jacobs of WineGirl Wines in Manson is holding a pair of competition Riedell skate boots for roller derby. Tsillan Cellars winemaker Ray Sandidge, who grew up in the region and cherishes memories of fishing with his grandfather, is holding a fly rod and wearing an angler’s vest.
In hindsight, Lake Chelan, Leavenworth and the Wenatchee Valley each deserve its own 72-hour recon mission because the wines, the winemakers and their neighborhoods warrant it.
By 1891, Italian immigrant Louis Conti reportedly had established a 60-acre vineyard near Lake Chelan, yet for more than a century, orchards swallowed the ridges flanking the town of Chelan.
As the apple market collapsed in the late 1990s, the Kludt family remembered when Washington State University researcher Walter Clore told them of the potential of wine grapes at one of their sites. They began the transition in 1998 and became modern-day pioneers of the Lake Chelan wine industry with their vineyard overlooking the north shore and their aptly named Lake Chelan Winery, the valley’s first bonded winery. The family also operates Wapato Point Cellars in Manson.
The tempering influence of the glacier-carved Lake Chelan, the third-deepest lake in the country at 1,486 feet, helps provide protection for the vines in the winter, while the heat units during the growing season are similar to those of the Walla Walla Valley.
In 2009, when the federal government established the Lake Chelan American Viticulture Area, it was the 11th AVA in Washington state and remains within the Columbia Valley AVA, and there were a dozen or so wineries and about 250 acres of vines.
Both numbers have changed significantly in the past decade, and the Dufenhorst family has emerged as one of the leaders with Rocky Pond Winery. They purchased the 35-acre Clos CheValle Vineyard on the south shore of Lake Chelan, and in addition to their Woodinville tasting room, they also operate the lone tasting room in downtown Chelan. Now Seattle businessman David Dufenhorst and his wife, Michelle, are full-throttle on transforming a riverside orchard between Chelan and Wenatchee into Double D Vineyard, an extremely warm site with 165 acres managed by homegrown winemaking talent Shane Collins. Among the Cabernet Sauvignon, Malbec, Merlot, Syrah and Grenache plantings is a stunning venue for weddings that also will be accessible by boat.
But perhaps the visionary most responsible for Lake Chelan becoming a regional wine destination is Dr. Bob Jankelson, the hands-on founding owner of Tsillan Cellars. The 135-acre Italian-inspired estate he launched in 2000 above the south shore of Lake Chelan also was a former apple orchard, and it soon came to be one of the first in the Pacific Northwest to create a complete grape-to-glass-to-table experience.
His team recently launched "Life in the Vineyard," a remarkable four-seminar program that allows guests to get hands-on in the vineyard and the cellar with winemakers Ray Sandidge and Devon Griffith for bud break in April, flowering in early June, veraison in early August and harvest prep in early September. Each corner of the experience comes with a vineyard wagon tour with the viticulturist, lunch and wine pairings with the winemakers.
Getting there: It’s 183 miles east from Seattle to reach Lake Chelan, which explains why the population of Chelan swells from 4,000 to 25,000 in the summer months.
Where to stay: Perhaps no wine region in the Northwest can match the robust tourism resources offered by the Lake Chelan Chamber of Commerce, its downtown visitor center and its website LakeChelan.com. Click on "Stay" and find a wide range of options from hotels to B&Bs to lake cabin rentals.
Campbell’s Resort on Lake Chelan is a historic, multi-generation hotel downtown on the sandy beach of Lake Chelan and near the bridge spanning the Chelan River. While it caters to families, there’s also the Bellamia Spa, and the restaurant helped set the standard for wine offerings in Washington wine country.
Those wisely looking at a multi-day stay should first look at modern cottage rentals at The Lookout. Mooring is available at this family-themed resort community adjacent to Vin du Lac Winery.
The Lake House at Chelan offers an ideal location between the south and north shores along Highway 150 and it’s just a five-minute walk through a neighborhood to downtown Chelan. Don Morse Park and the lake are just across the road.
Those wanting to sleep among the vines should look at Nefarious Cellars’ guest house, the erstwhile home of owners/winemaker Dean and Heather Neff as they started their business and their family. Siren Song also books out its estate villa, which sleeps six.
Where to eat: The influence of British Columbia’s wine country, just a two-hour drive north on Highway 97, is evident in Chelan and Manson, where many of the area’s leading restaurants are at wineries. There are six on-premise restaurants counting both the north shore and south shore.
Barbecue in the Vineyard at Lake Chelan Winery opens in late spring, and open-air family-friendly dining among the vines — with wine pairings — is a quintessential Cascade Valley Wine Country experience. 18 Brix Restaurant at Karma Vineyards offers small plates served among vines and paired with the sparkling wines that Craig Mitrakul creates for the Pittsinger family.
Sorrento’s Ristorante at Tsillan Cellars continues to set the standard for Italian-themed cuisine and service around Lake Chelan, pouring wines grown a stone’s-throw away. Vin du Lac Bistro is just on the outskirts of Chelan, but it provides the feel of Provence with its focus on regional ingredients and outdoor seating. Campbell’s Pub & Veranda is well into its second decade with Troy Nesvacil as the chef, and their approachable wine list represents some of the region’s best. The Winemaker’s Grill continues to serve as the on-premise restaurant for Wapato Point Cellars. Andante Italian Style Restaurant in downtown Chelan provides a white-linen setting for a number of Lake Chelan’s top wines.
Blueberry Hills has a well-earned reputation as a family restaurant on the north shore in Manson, providing an ideal foundation for a day of wine touring with its hearty breakfasts. The Vogue in downtown Chelan serves up coffee, pastries, quiche and lunch each day, sells a nice assortment of Washington wine and is open for dinner and live music on Friday and Saturday.
Wines: About half of the tasting rooms and wineries in Cascade Valley Wine Country are near Lake Chelan, and on a map, it’s easy to divide the regions between the north and south shores. However, it’s difficult to decide where to start and how to narrow the choices to a responsible handful each day. Tasting room hours change with the season, and a number of these properties are headed up by young families, so it’s always best to call ahead.
There are more wineries and tasting rooms on the north shore. Wineries with tasting rooms along Wapato Lake Road include Four Lakes Winery, Tildio Winery, Hard Row to Hoe Vineyards, Radiance Winery, Chelan Ridge Winery, Cairdeas Winery, Lake Chelan Winery, Benson Vineyards Estate Winery, Vin du Lac Winery and Succession Wines — Wine Press Northwest’s 2018 Washington Winery to Watch.
In downtown Manson, nearly a dozen tasting rooms are within walking distance of each other, Alta Cellars, Ancestry Cellars, Cheval Cellars, CR Sandidge Wines, MVP Vintners, Napeequa Vintners, Rio Vista Wines at the Cabin, Wapato Point Cellars and WineGirl Wines. One of the best stories in downtown Manson is that of Ventimiglia Cellars, where longtime winemaker Ron Ventimiglia reopened after losing his winery to a devastating 2015 wildfire.
Retired research biologist Judy Phelps and her husband Don learned soon after opening in 2006 that they needed to rebrand their operation, so they hired a historian who suggested a reference to the 1930s legend that a Manson-based rowboat ferried patrons to a bordello near a mining camp. Hard Row to Hoe has proved to be a clever marketing tool for the Phelps’ award-winning wines, and their young dry vermouth project warrants a taste.
Drives are short between the wineries on the south shore. Those leaving from downtown Chelan should start at One Wines, which taps into acclaimed Alexandria Nicole Cellars for its wines. Working west takes in Tuscany-inspired Mellisoni Vineyards, Tsillan Cellars, Nefarious Cellars, Fielding Hills Winery, Siren Song Wines, Chelan Estate and Karma Vineyards.
South of Chelan along the highway, the Kelley family offers guests the chance to "zip and sip" their estate Grüner Veltliner at Castle Vineyards and Tunnel Zip Line just north of the Knapp’s Hill Tunnel. And a few minutes to the east along the Columbia River is Rio Vista Wines, home to the state’s first boat-accessible winery and the Little family’s original tasting room. Farther south in Entiat, there’s the farmhouse operation of Snowgrass Winery.
Other activities: Perhaps the best way to experience the 50 miles of Lake Chelan is aboard Lady of the Lake, a daylong voyage to the North Cascades National Park community of Stehekin, however, there are myriad ways to enjoy the water.
Want to a bird’s-eye view? Lake Chelan Helicopters and affable homegrown pilot Dale England can whisk your party of 500 pounds (three or fewer people) for his aerial Lake Chelan Wine Valley tour and drop-in at two wineries. Those who suffer from airsickness should leave the driving to Lakeside Limousine.
Serious golfers have their pick of several championship golf course within an hour’s drive of Chelan, including renowned Gamble Sands, designed by Bandon Dunes architect David McLay Kidd. Gambling beyond the golf course is OK with the Colville Confederated Tribes, which operate Mill Bay Casino in Manson, where the all-season Wapato Point Resort has a long-term land lease with the tribe.
A number of orchards continue to thrive, and the multi-generation Koenig family at Root Wood Cider Co. has reinvented itself by training family members to craft delicious estate ciders above the north shore in Manson. Their hop-infused cider is fascinating.
Getting there: It’s 120 miles from Seattle to Leavenworth or 55 miles from Chelan to Leavenworth, and one of the many attractions to staying here is the European walkability of the town. That culture, the convenience and the proximity to Seattle — less than 2½ hours if the traffic is right — blends into an ideal getaway. Leavenworth now features more than two-dozen tasting rooms and a growing list of restaurants with talented chefs, many of them lured to the town by the mountainous beauty, fishing and outdoor recreation.
Where to stay: The adult-only Posthotel Leavenworth, a 55-room spa resort, transports its guests to a high-end mountain lodge in the Alps, and the wine community embraced it immediately since its October 2017 opening. Highly acclaimed Mountain Home Lodge south of town is a romantic setting and includes a complimentary wine hour before dinner. Bavarian Lodge with its 90 rooms ranks No. 2 in the area on TripAdvisor. Family-owned Hotel Pension Anna comes with the feel of a European B&B with its 16 rooms, including a German-style breakfast. The Bavarian Ritz Hotel in the historic Tyrol Building overlooks Front Street, is dog-friendly and provides private parking — a prized amenity year-round. For active families, the Enzian Inn ranks among the Northwest's best, particularly in the winter. Sleeping Lady Mountain Resort off Icicle Road outside of Leavenworth is the Cascade equivalent to The Allison Inn & Spa in Oregon and is Seattle philanthropist Harriet Bullitt's gift to the region.
Where to eat: With tourism nearly year-round, Leavenworth has become a culinary destination, particularly for those with an appetite for German-inspired fare. Popular spots include Andreas Keller Restaurant, Gustav's, King Ludwig, Munchen Haus and Pavz Creperie. Daniel and Candy Carr continue to enjoy success here with Visconti's Ristorante Italiano and their popular outdoors Leavenworth Sausage Garden. For a gastro pub, there's Icicle Brewing Co. Watershed Cafe and Sulla Vita continue to earn acclaim, as does Mozart's Steakhouse and Rudloof's Pizza and Brats. The Kingfisher Restaurant & Wine Bar at Sleeping Lady Resort pulls from its own 2-acre organic garden, and local wines are presented as peers to a number of the world's best.
Wines: Despite the Bavarian theme in Leavenworth, the impact of the Washington wine industry here is substantial, and access to an audience is of growing importance. For example, boutique producer Kasia Kim, a rising star who focuses her program on Red Mountain vineyards, left Woodinville to open a satellite tasting room along iconic Front Street overlooking the town square. Among the Lake Chelan wineries that also pour in Leavenworth are Hard Row to Hoe and WineGirl Wines.
The Tumwater Building on Ninth Street now houses tasting rooms for Basel Cellars, Isenhower Cellars, Napeequa Vintners, Obelisco Estate, Patterson Cellars and Sigillo Cellars. Other tasting rooms include Baroness Cellars, Bergdorf Cellars, Goose Ridge Estate Winery, Kestrel Vintners, Ryan Patrick Wines, Pasek Cellars of Mount Vernon, Stemilt Creek Winery of Wenatchee, Swakane Winery and Willow Crest of Prosser. Villa Monaco Winery is a part of Monaco's Corner Store on Front Street.
For the more traditional winery experience, options around town include cult producer Boudreaux Cellars in Icicle Canyon, 37 Cellars, Icicle Ridge Winery in Peshastin (which also pours on Front Street), D’Vinery-Eagle Creek Winery, Plain Cellars (which also pours in Leavenworth), Silvara Vineyards above Smallwood Farm near Peshastin and Wedge Mountain Winery.
Other activities: It’s a paradise for lovers of the outdoors, and Leavenworth also is a mecca for shoppers. If muscles get fatigued, there are a handful of wellness spas and yoga studios. There are more than 20 annual festivals set in Leavenworth, including its Spring Wine Walk in early June and Summer Wine Walk in early September. Craft beverage producers include Blewett Brewing Co., Doghaus Brewery, Icicle Brewing Co., and Blue Spirits Distilling. For families, tours are available at the Leavenworth National Fish Hatchery and the Leavenworth Reindeer Farm. Front Street is home of the Leavenworth Nutcracker Museum, the nation’s largest collection of 6,000 pieces.
For the second straight year, Forbes magazine named Wenatchee, population 33,000, to its top 25 "Best Places to Retire." Available water and an appealing climate were key factors in the ranking, and they’ve been a natural draw for more than a century.
Historians credit the Wenatchee Valley for Washington state’s first two wineries. German immigrant "Dutch John" Galler in East Wenatchee is viewed as No. 1 in 1874, and his business enjoyed a 36-year run. A century later, local winemaker George Valison paid tribute to Galler by launching Dutch John Wines in Cashmere, where Valison, a retired educator, was the town’s mayor. Post-Prohibition, there were short-lived brands Wenatchee Winery and Wenatchee Valley Vintners.
There’s rich history surrounding Pangborn Memorial Airport in East Wenatchee (EAT), where Clyde Pangborn and co-pilot Hugh Herndon touched down to complete the first nonstop flight across the Pacific in 1931. Decades later, Alaska Airlines Mileage Plan members departing from EAT can check a case of regional wine for free.
Where to stay: Warm Springs Inn & Winery operates as a B&B, and proprietors Julie and Ludger Szmania work in tandem to provide a delicious and inviting experience within the 1917 mansion. The couple owned two popular restaurants in the Puget Sound area, where Ludger served as executive chef of the Four Seasons Olympic Hotel. After preparing your sumptuous breakfast, expect to see Ludger heading out to work his Brender Canyon Vineyard, where there’s also lodging available. John Patterson of Patterson Cellars in Woodinville works with Ludger on those wines.
In town, Apple Country Inn and the IvyWild Inn are outstanding B&Bs. Beyond that, however, Wenatchee is serviced primarily by franchises, with Coast Wenatchee Center Hotel perhaps the most comfortable, convenient and quiet.
Where to eat: Five years ago, the Washington State Wine Commission named Visconti’s as its Restaurant of the Year, and this second-generation operation remains an institution and an oasis along Wenatchee Avenue. Visconti’s Restaurant Group now spans seven locations throughout the Wenatchee Valley, including Fire at the fun Pybus Public Market.
For on-premise dining, there’s Chateau Grill within Chateau Faire Le Pont Winery. Wild Huckleberry on Mission Street is acclaimed for breakfast and brunch. Inna’s Cuisine spotlights Eastern European fare with a flair, and McGlinn’s Public House offers a vibrant and fun pub feel. South at Pybus Market and La Fuente rank as the highest in the region among Mexican restaurants. Those driving Highway 2 between Wenatchee and Leavenworth must leave time and room for a visit to Anjou Bakery.
Wines: Jones of Washington, Wine Press Northwest’s 2012 Washington Winery of the Year, pours its estate wines at the popular Pybus Public Market near the Columbia River. Chateau Faire Le Pont Winery, led by retired Navy officer Doug Brazil, has been producing some of the state’s best reds since moving into a historic train depot along what is now Vineyard Way.
Mike and Judi Scott at Martin-Scott Winery offer a familial tasting room experience and stunning view of the Columbia River from their estate vineyard, which features Tempranillo and the rare Italian red variety Montepulciano. Across the river valley, retired commercial fisherman Al Mathews at Malaga Springs Winery earned a pair of 2017 Platinums from Wine Press Northwest.
The historic fruit-growing family behind Stemilt Creek Winery is beginning to shine with its estate vineyard, among the highest elevation plantings in the state. In Cashmere’s Mission District, sommelier-turned winemaker Dennis Dobbs has family-focused Horan Estates Winery nicely into its second decade.
The Wenatchee Valley Chamber of Commerce on Wenatchee Avenue also operates The Chamber Tasting Room, pouring tastes for nearly a dozen area wineries.
Activities: Since opening 2013, Pybus Public Market has provided delectable entertainment 362 days a year, ranging from restaurants, wine sales and food stands, which includes D’Olivo oils and vinegars. The market, with a red neon sign not unlike that of the Pike Place Market, is along the walkable and bikeable 10-mile Apple Capital Loop Trail.
Known for decades as "The Apple Capital of the World and Buckle of the Power Belt of the Great Northwest," the Wenatchee Valley is home to Rock Island Dam — the first powerhouse on the Columbia River in 1933. Upriver, the Rocky Reach Dam Discovery Center includes The Museum of the Columbia.
Baby Boomers should enjoy a trip to the Aplets & Cotlets Candy Store in downtown Cashmere, which offers tours and free samples. There’s also the Cashmere Cider Mill, and a number of antique malls that include espresso bars.
In late April and early May, there’s the Washington State Apple Blossom Festival, the state’s oldest at 99 years and counting. In August, the Town Toyota Center is the venue for the annual Wenatchee Wine and Food Festival. During the winter, it’s home to the Wenatchee Wild, which won the British Columbia Junior Hockey League title in 2018.
This region’s handy pocket-sized wine touring guide can be requested through the Cascade Valley Wine Country website. There’s also the Lake Chelan Wine Valley Association site, and every Chelan-area winery is a member of the Lake Chelan Chamber of Commerce, which is at LakeChelan.com.
Other valuable sites for tourism research include the Leavenworth Chamber of Commerce, the Wenatchee Valley Chamber of Commerce and the Port of Chelan County.
ERIC DEGERMAN is co-founder and CEO of Great Northwest Wine. Learn more about wine at www.greathorthwestwine.com.
This story was originally published May 25, 2018 6:05 PM.