Fall Crush brings Chelan wineries into focusWith North Central Washington long known for its superb soil and climate for growing fruit, it was only a matter of time before someone figured out that grapes would grow well here, too. At Lake Chelan, that magic moment came in 1998 when Bob Christopher and Steve Kludt opened the first production vineyards in this already popular tourist area.
When those initial vineyards proved viable, other growers followed suit with more vineyards, which begat wineries which begat even more tourists which begat even more tourist dollars.
And the local chamber of commerce saw that it was good.
Fast forward to 2014 and there are 21 wineries that are now part of the Lake Chelan Wine Alliance, a trade organization created to market the lake region's wineries to the rest of the state and indeed the world. An entire industry has risen up where there was none before, a delectable combination of wineries, tasting rooms, restaurants and events including frequent dinners, parties and concerts. Apples, cherries and pears were never this much fun.
Altogether there are now 250 acres of vineyards in the Lake Chelan Valley and, since 2009, the area has been designated an American Viticultural Area – meaning it's a grape-growing region capable of producing darn good wine. The designation is not just given to anybody, you know – you have to prove you've got the goods. It actually took four years for the federal government to proclaim the Lake Chelan AVA (meaning, of course, anybody else could have done it in two weeks).
To date, no big corporations have built wineries in the area and most of the wineries tend to be locally owned, modified mom-and-pop operations that vary quite a bit in size. There are the small wineries that aren't much bigger than the tasting room, and then there are the elaborate winery estates that have tasting rooms and facilities rivaling the Big Boys (and Girls).
Many have added food – even fine dining – and several offer outdoor concerts. Benson Vineyards, for example, has built a spectacular stage overlooking the vineyards and lake. During warmer months, Lake Chelan Winery packs them in every week at its extremely well attended outdoor barbecue with live rock music. Other wineries like Vin Du Lac may feature smaller musical presentations of jazz or folk or easy listening music.
Fall is a busy time for the wineries of Lake Chelan because of two big events – the Fall Crush, and the Fall Barrel Tasting. Yes, both of these are quite good at attracting additional tourists, but they're both real events and not just the tourist industry equivalent of a photo-op.
During Fall Crush, the weekends of October 4-5 and October 11-12, visitors will be able to see the grapes harvested and “crushed”. No, you don't have to do like Lucy Ricardo and jump in and stomp the grapes with your feet; the wine producers will do that, or some facsimile. You just grab a glass of wine and watch while the experts tell you how they're getting the juices, where the juices are going, and what they are doing with them.
Fall Barrel Tasting is Nov. 28-30, and that's when you get to taste wine from the barrel – not just this year's vintage, but other past years that are still in the process of fermenting. Again, wine experts will be on hand to teach you just enough to impress the Wine Snobs in your circle of friends, or that first date who's not quite sure yet whether you've graduated from Three-buck Chuck.
For more information, please phone (509) 679-2124 or visit www.lakechelanwinevalley.com
RECOMMENDED LODGING: Lake Chelan lodging