We tend to think of Wenatchee, Lake Chelan and the rest of North Central Washington as an emerging wine region. And we're not wrong about that. But it just goes to prove that what's old is new again.
According to Ron Irvine's 1997 book "The Wine Project," Washington's oldest winery was started by one "Dutch John" Galler, a German immigrant who settled in East Wenatchee and opened a winery in 1874 and stayed in business until 1910.
In 1875, Philip Miller opened a winery across the Columbia River in Wenatchee.
Meanwhile, north of Wenatchee along the banks of Lake Chelan — the third-deepest lake in the United States — a thriving wine grape industry seemed to be taking place. By 1891, a local newspaper featured Louis Conti, an Italian immigrant, and his 60-acre wine grape vineyard.
But the burgeoning industry was not to be. By the time Prohibition all but closed the American wine industry, no wineries were left in North Central Washington.
And even after Repeal in 1933, the industry had a difficult time starting back up. Wenatchee Winery opened and closed in 1938. Five decades later, Wenatchee Valley Vintners came — and quickly went — in 1987.
All the action, it seemed was happening in the Yakima and Walla Walla valleys to the southeast and Seattle to the west.
But today, North Central Washington is enjoying a surge of interest in the wine industry, and the region has enough enthusiasm, tourism and momentum to keep growing well into the foreseeable future.
Now is the time to consider a visit to North Central Washington for something besides outdoor activities. It's time to go for the wine.
We have broken down the region into three full days of wine tasting, food and other great activities. Let's go on a 72-hour journey.
There are a number of ways to look at North Central Washington. We'll do it by spending two days in Lake Chelan and one day in and around Wenatchee and Leavenworth.
Lake Chelan is more than 50 miles long, but from a wine-touring standpoint, all the action is happening at the southern end, not far from Highway 97. We will divide the region into the north and south shores.
The Lake Chelan American Viticultural Area was approved by the federal government in 2009, making it Washington's 11th AVA (two more have been approved since, and now a 14th is in the approval pipeline). Nearly all of the Lake Chelan AVA is within the giant Columbia Valley AVA, an 11-million-acre region that stretch from Lake Chelan to the Idaho border.
Here along the shores of Lake Chelan, the soils are quite different from most of the rest of the Columbia Valley. While much of Eastern Washington was shaped by massive floods 15,000 years ago near the end of the last ice age (known as the Missoula Floods), Lake Chelan was carved out by glaciers in the North Cascades.
Alan Busacca, a retired Washington State University geology professor who wrote the petition for the Lake Chelan AVA, describes the soils here as still quite young. Unlike most of the Columbia Plateau, which has a bedrock of basalt, the region in and around Lake Chelan is granite. Atop that is pumice from the eruption of Glacier Peak about 12,000 years ago, followed by Mount Mazama (now Crater Lake in Oregon) nearly 10,000 years ago. So the entire area's soil is a mix of volcanic ash and crushed granite.
The town of Chelan is a good place to launch your tour of the region, as it is in the southeastern corner of the massive lake. From here, you can travel along either the north or south shores to find wineries, all of which are within a 30-minute drive.
South shore of Lake Chelan
The wineries along the south shore are easy to get to and are just a few minutes' drive from downtown Chelan.
One of the highlights on either side of the lake is Tsillan Cellars, which looks like an Italian villa and is surrounded by 40 acres of estate vineyards. Not far away is Karma Vineyards, which specializes in delicious sparkling wine. Tunnel Hill is owned by the Evans family, which has been farming in the Wenatchee and Chelan areas for decades.
Nefarious Cellars is as close to a cult winery as there is in Lake Chelan. It is run by Dean and Heather Neff, who use estate grapes for their acclaimed wines. Also in that category is Fielding Hills, a winery based in East Wenatchee that has a tasting room on the south shore.
Chelan Estate Winery makes most of its wines from grapes along the shores of Lake Chelan, with a focus on Pinot Noir. Bob and Mary Broderick planted an experimental vineyard in the early 1990s, then planted 8 acres in 2000 and soon after began making wine. And Mellisoni is run by Rob and Donna Mellison. Their focus is on white wines from estate grapes and red wines from nearby regions.
North shore of Lake Chelan
Along the north shore are more than a dozen wineries. They are a bit more scattered than those on the south shore, though they all surround the community of Manson.
From downtown Chelan, the first winery you'll encounter is Vin du Lac, which has a long reputation as one of Washington's top producers. It also offers stunning views of the southern end of the lake from its bistro-style restaurant.
Looking for a good time? Hard Row to Hoe near Manson styled its tasting room after a local legend about miners, a rowboat taxi service and a house of ill repute — all in the name of fun and great wines.
If you want food with your wine touring, Lake Chelan Winery runs a fun outdoor restaurant that focuses on barbecued food and live music, while Wapato Point Cellars offers a more formal setting for its tasting room and restaurant.
Near Lake Chelan
There are three wineries not on either side of the lake but are nearby and should be considered. Ventimiglia Cellars is just east of Chelan. It makes small amounts of artisan wine and ciders. Rio Vista Wines is along the Columbia River, north of the cutoff to Lake Chelan. It is crafting some of the top wines in Washington in a tranquil setting. And south of Chelan on the way to Wenatchee is Snowgrass Winery near the small community of Entiat.
Several wineries are in and around the communities of Wenatchee, East Wenatchee, Cashmere, Leavenworth and Peshastin. Frankly, you'll want to focus a day in Wenatchee and another day in Leavenworth, so you'll want to save some of these for another visit.
Wenatchee and East Wenatchee are separated by the Columbia River and are in different counties, but it is quick and easy to go back and forth between the two communities.
On the Wenatchee side of the river, you'll find such wineries as Stemilt Creek, Bella Terrazza and Chateau Faire le Pont. The latter also features a superb restaurant on site. And inside the stunning Pybus Public Market, award-winning Jones of Washington has a tasting room.
In East Wenatchee, Martin-Scott Winery is crafting many superb and unusual wines that make it well worth exploring.
If you head west from Wenatchee on Highway 2, you will find no shortage of wineries. The first town you'll encounter is Cashmere, home to such wineries as Voilà, Crayelle and Horan. Continuing toward Leavenworth, the tiny community of Peshastin has two wineries: Icicle Ridge and Wedge Mountain.
And in the Bavarian-themed town, there is no shortage of wine tasting, with at least a dozen wineries and tasting rooms. They include Swakane, Eagle Creek, Baroness, Boudreaux, Napeequa, Bella Terrazza, Plain and Silvara. The latter, owned by LPGA touring pro Cindy Rarick, is just outside of town. And four wineries that are established elsewhere in the state but have tasting rooms in Leavenworth include Kestrel Vintners, Hard Row to Hoe, Pasek Cellars and Willow Crest Winery.
Where to stay
Lodging is plentiful throughout North Central Washington, regardless of whether you are seeking high-end accommodations, B&Bs, budget motels or anything in between.
In Chelan, the most famous place to stay is Campbell's Resort, which has been operating since 1901. It's right on the lake in downtown Chelan, and its beautiful restaurant includes one of the best wine lists in Washington.
In Leavenworth, strap on your lederhosen and stay at the Bavarian Lodge or another one of dozens of hotels, lodges and other accommodations.
And in Wenatchee, your choices are many. Coast Wenatchee is a hotel that is centrally located and offers a restaurant and lounge that provides stunning views of the Columbia River and surrounding mountains. And the Warm Springs Inn is an amazing B&B just minutes from downtown Wenatchee. This beautiful property abuts the Wenatchee River and is truly tranquil.
Where to eat
There is no shortage of restaurants in the region, thanks in large part to the fact that this was a tourist destination long before it became a bonafide wine-touring area.
Visconti's is a top Italian restaurant with locations in Wenatchee and Leavenworth. Owner Dan Carr is famous for his cured meats, too. Bella Bistro, Saddle Rock Pub & Brewery and Shakti's Steakhouse also are local favorites.
Looking to prep your palate before a long day of wine touring? Head to Tastebuds Coffee & Wine in Wenatchee (also a great stop for lunch).
In Leavenworth, Icicle Brewing Co. provides refreshing beer and food, while Milepost 111 Brewing Co. in Cashmere does the same.
In Chelan, the top restaurant is at Campbell's Resort, but for an amazing breakfast, head to Blueberry Hills Farm on the north shore in Manson. And if you're looking for dinner that is fun and casual, check out Local Myth Pizza in Chelan.
While your focus for being in North Central Washington might focus on the wine, if you are looking to break up your activities a bit — or if a member of your party isn't into the wine scene — here are a few ideas.
In Chelan, consider catching a ride with Chelan Seaplanes. It will take you on an aerial tour of the lake and the surrounding environs.
There are plenty of golf courses in the region, and one of the best is Bear Mountain Ranch Golf Course high above the south shore of Lake Chelan and nearby Karma.
As long as you're in Chelan, there are plenty of water activities, including the Lady of the Lake, a large boat that heads back and forth from Chelan in the south to Stehekin in the north.
In Wenatchee, you'll do yourself a disservice if you do not visit the Pybus Public Market, an amazing indoor operation near the Columbia River. Inside are restaurants, produce stands and many, many other merchants. It is a site to behold.
Looking to put a little more zen in your life? Ohme Gardens above Wenatchee is one of the most tranquil spots in the state. Three terrific parks along the Columbia River include Riverfront Park, Walla Walla Point Park and Confluence State Park. The latter provides hiking trails and more and requires a Discover Pass.
Liberty Orchards in Cashmere is home to the world-famous Aplets & Cotlets treats that have been famous around these parts for nearly a century.
As you can see, North Central Washington has grown into a bonafide wine-touring region, with plenty of tasting rooms and a mature tourism infrastructure. Now is the time to plan your next trip there.