Grape-growing and winemaking in the Chelan Valley date back more than 100 years. But commercial winemaking really took off in the early 2000s, when falling apple prices left area orchardists looking for new crops. Thankfully, they chose wine grapes. The region earned its own AVA destination in 2009. And the area’s 30 or so wineries have turned wine-tasting into one of Lake Chelan’s most popular recreational pursuits.
As a young wine region, the area’s growers and winemakers are still finding themselves, so to speak. At last check, syrah was listed as the most widely planted varietal, followed by pinot noir, chardonnay, merlot and riesling. But growers have also planted blocks of aglianico and dolcetto in small numbers. And more than a few producers are doing great things with malbec. In technical terms, Lake Chelan is a subregion of the massive Columbia Valley AVA. But the lake and the area’s elevation keep days slightly cooler and nights slightly warmer than surrounding regions. They also keep frost at bay and allow for a longer, more-even growing season. Many of the area’s winemakers supplement locally grown grapes with those sourced from other parts of the state to round out their portfolios.
Lake Chelan has been a recreational playground for decades. The 55-mile, glacier-carved lake is the third deepest in the U.S. (after Crater Lake and Lake Tahoe). And, combined with its pristine surroundings, it is a natural wonder in its own right. Summer is peak season, while spring and fall offer pleasant weather and smaller crowds. Winter offers quiet serenity—and cool temperatures that justify time by a fireplace.
The towns of Chelan and Manson, on the lake’s southern and southeastern shores, offer the most, in terms of restaurants, hotels, shops and activities. Heading north along either side of the mile-wide lake puts you in state or national parks. Many offer primitive or semi-primitive campgrounds, including some only accessible by boat.
Watersports on the lake include paddling, boating and fishing. In winter, cross-country skiers head to the trails at nearby Echo Ridge. These same trails are popular among mountain bikers in summer.
The town of Chelan is about 175 miles east of Seattle. And Manson is about 8 miles north. Chelan is also about an hour away from Leavenworth, whose Bavarian-themed downtown anchors another fun year-round getaway destination. Map it.
Photo: Courtesy of Campbell’s Resort.