washington’s "smallest" ava

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Continuing a pre-blogger conference stroll through some of Washington’s more unusual AVA’s, here’s a bullet point overview of this state’s newest and smallest (in terms of total cultivated vineyard land) – Lake Chelan. The salient facts:

• Lake Chelan AVA is Washington’s 11th
• The AVA is a subset of the all-encompassing Columbia Valley AVA
• About 265 acres of vineyards are under cultivation (as of 2009)
• It includes the southern portion of the largest natural lake in the Cascade Range
• Unique soils with layers of glacial debris, sediment from stream erosion, and airborne volcanic loess
• The “lake effect” moderates temperatures year round, so that the number of over 95 degree summer days (which shut down photosynthesis) and the severity of deep winter freezes (which kill vines) is significantly less than in most other eastern Washington AVAs
• 14 wineries, divided about equally between the north and south shore benchlands
• The north shore vineyards face south and west, most suitable for red grapes
• The south shore vineyards face north and east, suggesting that here is where white wine grapes will prosper

Tourism has historically been the main draw to the region, which was apple orchard country until a decade ago, when the bottom fell out of the apple market. Now vineyards have taken up where apples once grew. As Bob Jankelson (owner of the largest Chelan winery, Tsillan Cellars) explained to me, if land can grow good apples, it can grow good wine grapes. He likens Chelan to “Mendoza with a big lake. It’s at 1100 feet. Stormy mountain, six miles west, is 8000 feet high. Syrah and malbec are the only two reds I want to deal with.”

These days, Chelan is bustling with new vineyards, wineries, tasting rooms and restaurants. Certainly one of the most beautiful wine country destinations in a state (rather surprisingly) full of them, what is special here is the scale (family-owned), the variety (much like the Okanagan in Canada, everything from syrah to pinot noir to chardonnay to riesling seems to have a place to grow here), the amenities (many well-stocked winery gift shops, cafés, full-on restaurants, and special events such as outdoor concerts and barbeques.

The Lake Chelan Wine Valley website has excellent winery and vineyard information. Note that the weekends of April 17-18 and April 24-25 are celebrating “Chelan Nouveau” – lots of new releases.

For an overview of lodging, dining and non-wine recreational activities, try Lakechelan or Come to the Lake. For some of the best flavors that Lake Chelan vineyards have to offer, look for the wines of Hard Row to Hoe, Nefarious Cellars, Tsillan Cellars and Vin du Lac.


Anonymous said...

My wife and I visited Chelan last May and have since decided to make it an annual trip. You're right in suggesting it to be the most beautiful place to taste wine in the state. As the vineyards mature, I'll think we'll see a marked increase in quality that is already very good.

Some of my favorites are Hard Row To Hoe, Nefarious, and Vin du Lac.

We already have our plans booked for a return trip this May.

Thanks for showcasing this new and small AVA

Josh @nectarwine on Twitter

Anonymous said...

I agree we've visited frequently since the wineries began producing and our favorites include Nefarious, Tsillan,Hard Roe to How, and Vin Du Lac. Try them all while you are visiting and you won't be disappointed.
Dick @chelanwine on twitter

Anonymous said...

Don't miss out on Tildio Winery - one of the best in the area!

Anonymous said...

In terms of acreage, the Red Mountain American Viticultural Area is the smallest at 4,040, followed by Snipes Mountain at 4,145. Officially, the government recognizes the Lake Chelan AVA as 24,040 acres.

Also, Benson Vineyards Estate Winery, on the north side of the lake, might be the most beautiful vineyard property in the region. All of its fruit is estate, including its delicious Sangiovese.

PaulG said...

The "official" acreage does not reflect actual vine acreage, so my comments are oriented to vineyard acreage rather than the total included within the AVA. But the comment above is accurate as far as officially designated acreage within the AVAs mentioned.

Wendi said...

Paul - Thank you for validating the information posted by Anonymous.

Red Mountain is technically Washington's smallest AVA, and this information is often promoted in the market and shared with visitors to Red Mountain - including media, trade and consumers.

I appreciate the clarification so that people who are familiar with the Red Mountain AVA are not confused by the title of this piece.

PS - - we're planning some great things for the summer - keep an eye on our FB fan page :-)

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