Via magazine
Via magazine - Your AAA Magazine

Lake Chelan: Washington Wine

Visit eastern Washington for the apples? So passé. Go for the chardonnays, rieslings, and merlots.

Wine tasters at Nefarious Cellars in Chelan, Washington, above Lake Chelan, image
Photo caption
At Nefarious Cellars above Lake Chelan, five winemakers gather for an informal tasting.


“Back when I was dreaming we’d become a wine destination, people thought I was crazy,” says Steve Kludt, a Chelan County apple grower since 1974 and among the first in the area to replace his trees with grape vines. “And here we are—Napa meets Lake Tahoe.”

Up through the 1990s, visitors to Lake Chelan, east of the Cascade Range between Seattle and Spokane, were happy to simply drink in the scenery, most often while boating, waterskiing, or hiking. Today, you can still head for the shore and savor the sights—snowcapped Glacier Peak, the dun-colored Cascade foothills, and the narrow, 55-mile-long lake—but the agricultural landscape has been transformed.

Over glasses of his silky, pear-scented Tsillan Cellars Winery chardonnay, Bob Jankelson, a retired dentist, breezily recalls how he ripped up 135 acres of Red Delicious apple trees to plant chardonnay, gewürztraminer, riesling, and other wine grapes. Jankelson’s winery stands out—its 35-foot-tall bell tower mimics a Tuscan campanile—at the lake’s southeastern end. Down the road, at Steve Kludt’s Lake Chelan Winery, the tasting room fills a former apple-packing shed amid six acres of grapes. Dinner, served alfresco May through October, features ribs, chicken, barbecued salmon, and bratwurst. At Nefarious Cellars, Dean and Heather Neff keep everything—winery, tasting room, and two sons—under one roof in the middle of their vineyard, a casual setup that in this area is par for the course. “Wine doesn’t have to come with a side of pretension,” says Jonathan Kludt, Steve’s son and the winemaker at Wapato Point Cellars in Manson.

In fact, no fewer than 14 wineries in and around Chelan and Manson—8 miles apart along a lakeshore highway—now invite you to stop and sample what they’ve made: lovely white wines, of course, and also pinot noir, syrah, merlot, cabernet franc, and more.

But motoring between tasting rooms is hardly the sole diversion. Chelan Seaplanes offers flights over the water to the village of Stehekin (no roads go there), tucked against Lake Chelan National Recreation Area and North Cascades National Park. Two thousand feet up, stunned by the vineyard and mountain views, you wonder why you even considered taking the ferry. And then, 25 minutes after takeoff, the plane touches down and taxis to shore. A short walk from the dock, you’ll come to Discovery Bikes, a log cabin–based business that for $4 an hour ($20 a day) will rent you some wheels. Set off on Stehekin’s agreeable roads to find 312-foot Rainbow Falls and a 1921 one-room schoolhouse where the three Rs held sway through 1988.

Though you could fill up on the Frisbee-size cinnamon rolls at Stehekin Pastry Company, it’s worth saving room for dinner back downlake—chicken marsala or sockeye salmon at Sorrento’s in Chelan, or four-cheese ravioli at Tanti Baci in Manson. Café Manson draws fans for its slow-braised pork sliders, while Winemaker’s Grill, at Wapato Point Cellars, serves slabs of Nebraska beef every night and on most summer evenings offers free live music. As you cut into your dry-aged steak, sip an estate merlot, and drink in the vineyard view, you can smile inwardly at the thought of the crowded Napa Valley 900 miles south.

Photography by Andréa Johnson


This article was first published in July 2011. Some facts may have aged gracelessly. Please call ahead to verify information.