Thursday, August 4, 2011

Lake Chelan Wine Weekend v.2.0 - Chelan & Manson, WA

BOOM! This was the soundtrack to my weekend here, as it was almost cherry harvest time, and in order to keep the birds off the fruit, the orchards have "cherry guns" that sound like cannons to scare the birds away. These go off every few minutes and never failed to catch me off guard, even though I knew it was coming... and now, moving on..

Well if you remember, I had a post from last summer on my wine tasting trip to the Lake Chelan AVA. This has become an annual trip for me, both to see some family that lives at the lake and to try the latest releases from the wineries on the banks of beautiful Lake Chelan. I set out on Saturday with my great Aunt (she's great in two ways: in that she's my Dad's aunt, and that she's just pretty great) to check out a few new stops and several favorites. Unfortunately the weather didn't cooperate much until later in the day, but who needs sun, we can drink in the rain (inside...).

Our first stop of the day was one of those that I had never visited, Wapato Point Cellars. This winery has ties to another local winery, Lake Chelan Winery, who has a great BBQ out back and throws some pretty great parties. The highlight of my trip to Wapato Point Cellars was their gift shop. I LOVED the items they carried in it and probably would have loaded up big time if not for us galavanting off to our next stop. The winery also has a good sized restaurant attached that I've been told serves up some pretty tasty dishes. We didn't to eat at this visit, but hopefully next time. We started out with the 2010 Pinot Grigio, which contains grapes from their home vineyard on the north shore of the lake. This one was dry with citrus flavors, and fairly acidic. My favorite wine here (that I left with) was the 2010 Late Harvest Riesling. This one has a high acid and sugar content and has the aging potential for 5-10 years. We'll see if it lasts that long on my wine rack, this stuff was quite tasty!

Our next stop took us to a favorite, Hard Row to Hoe Winery (@hardrow). We were lucky enough to snag owner Don Phelps to pour our tastes from amongst their busy crowds that day! Hardrow has 6 acres surrounding their winery, as well as 6 acres across the lake. At the winery vineyard they grow Cabernet Franc, Riesling & Malbec. Their 12 acres total puts out about 2000 cases annually. My favorite of this visit (and one of my favorites of the day) was their 2008 "Burning Desire" Estate Cabernet Franc. This is their first harvest from their estate vineyard, and they only produced 100 cases. I was lucky to score a bottle, I have no doubt that this one will sell out fairly quickly. Another fun one that I definitely left with was the "Ice Breaker" Ice Cider. This dessert wine is made just like ice wine, only with apples! They are only 1 of 2 wineries in the country making this, so I knew I had to take some home. The taste makes you pucker up like with a sour apple candy, but then you just want another taste. I can't explain it, but man it's tasty!

Still on the Manson side of the lake, we next headed to a newer winery, Chelan Ridge Winery. Located in a beautiful building overlooking the hillside and lake, the winery may not have many wines, but what they do have is solid. The 2007 Syrah was my favorite here, and it was dark and jammy. The 2008 Merlot was also pretty good, with deep fruit and dark cherry flavors. LOVED the sign they had on the wall near the door. How fitting is that?

BOOM! (yep, cherry gun again..)

With the rain finally letting up and the sun shining through, we headed over to Benson Vineyards Estate Winery (@bensonvineyards) , which was a favorite from my visit last year due to their amazing views and grounds, and their wide selection of wines to try. A standout this year included the 2008 Sangiovese, which was smooth, with cherry, spice and soft tannins. The 2008 Cabernet Franc also showed well. It was so wonderful to see the sun come out, and we were able to head down to Benson's beautiful patio area to enjoy some live music and snacks. The best experience here had to do with a helicopter that took off and was buzzing low over the cherry orchards. The patrons at the winery had no idea what was going on and were so confused, so I, being a non-local but traveling with a local that was definitely in the know, informed them that the helicopter was drying off the cherries since it had been raining so much. The water sits in the top dimpled area of the cherry and can rot them straight through if not dried out immediately. Since the cherry crop is a huge business in the Lake Chelan area (the cherries were here long before the grapes), people spend big bucks to make sure their harvest is what it should be (including, it seems, hiring a helicopter to fly over their orchards!). The tourists got a kick out of my knowledge of this, and I felt pretty proud that I could educate some people, having just learned this fun fact myself. Ok, back to the wine...

(see the helicopter? Dead center in the photo)

We headed through Chelan and around the other side of the lake for our last two stops, first heading into Nefarious Cellars (@NefariousWines), which was another that I really enjoyed during my 2010 Lake Chelan tasting tour. The tasting room was quite busy when we arrived, so we just hung back a bit and waited for it to clear out so we could belly up to the tasting bar to chat with Dean Neff, one of the owners and winemakers for Nefarious. I was sad to miss Heather this time around, but as Dean said "someone has to watch the kids!". True statement. My favorite of this visit was the 2009 Defiance Vineyard Estate Syrah. As their tasting notes plainly state "Syrah is the reason we make wine in Washington". This Syrah is earthy, spicy, dark, and has super-ripe berries. The nose is beautiful and the taste matches. We definitely grabbed a bottle to share for our dinner that very evening! Dean also opened up their unreleased 2009 Snipes Mountain Grenache, which was a good call on his part, because I loved it and bought a bottle!

Our final stop of the day took us to Karma Vineyards (@KarmaVineyards), where I'm a member of the "Sparkle Club" (probably my favorite wine club, just because of the name). This club provides members with two bottles of Karma's delicious Methode Champenoise twice a year. I look forward to the arrival of these bottles and always drink them for special occasions. In fact, the bridal party shared two bottles while "getting pretty" for my younger brother's wedding just this last weekend! Another thing I love about Karma is their expansive seating area and menu. After tasting all day, we were definitely ready for some snacks and their sweet potato fries just about blew any others I've ever had out of the water. Folks, these are a must try. The tasting flight for out visit this time included the 2008 Bad Karma Grenache Merlot, the 2008 Mourvedre, and the 2008 Try (a Bordeaux blend which I love year after year). Needing to take full advantage of my "Sparkle Club" perks, I also enjoyed a glass of the Methode Champenoise while we were there. Always love a visit to Karma when I visit the area!

I'd definitely say it was another exciting tasting adventure in the Lake Chelan AVA. The wineries in this area have come a long way in just a few short years of growing grapes. There's still more work to be done in the area, but in time I'm sure they'll discover their niche and stand out among the Red Mountain and Walla Walla wineries of the state. One thing these wineries do have going for them, however, is scenery, which keeps the tourists coming and the wine selling. I love the area and will continue to visit annually (if not more!).

BOOM! (and don't forget about the cherry guns..)


  1. Hi Taryn, I've been enjoying your perspective on wines from and around WA. Just curious: What are you using to take all the different pics on your site? It's a cool, retro filter effect. Keep up the good work!

  2. Hi Keith!

    Thanks! It's actually an app called "Hipstamatic" that I use on my iPod touch. It works on any iPhone too. I love the effects it gives to the photos! Who knew photos taken with your phone/iPod could turn out so great?!

    Thanks again!


  3. Hi Taryn,
    My name is Jane and I'm with Dwellable.
    I was looking for blogs about Wapato Point to share on our site and I came across your post...If you're open to it, shoot me an email at jane(at)dwellable(dot)com.
    Hope to hear from you soon!