Lake Chelan, a 50.5-mile narrow lake in North Central Washington, has long been a popular vacation destination. Located in pristine wilderness, Lake Chelan attracts visitors year-round for boating, hiking, skiing, and golf. Now it’s also attracting wine lovers. As a growing wine region with more than 30 wineries, visitors have many winery choices in Lake Chelan.
Lake Chelan Wine Region
One of Washington’s youngest grape-growing regions, Lake Chelan is quickly making a name for itself thanks to its outstanding wines. The lake formed more than 12,000 years ago, carved out by a valley glacier. The glacier extended from the crests of Cascade Mountain to the Columbia River. Grape growing in this region benefits from the “lake effect.” This means more moderate temperatures exist than in the surrounding areas, putting the region’s wine grapes at less risk for frost. In addition, the volcanic pumice-rich soils, combined with high-elevation and temperate conditions, provide ideal growing conditions. The most planted grapes are Pinot Noir, Riesling, and Syrah.
Many of the region’s tasting rooms hug the shores and hillsides of this breathtaking lake. Several provide stunning panoramic views of the water. However, others border the lake-side towns of Chelan and Manson, with a handful of the tasting rooms tucked away in these two town centers.
A hillside winery loop runs from the south shore of Chelan to its north shore, providing opportunities to see the lake and taste wine. Here is a guide to five Lake Chelan tasting rooms you won’t want to miss.
When you walk into Tsillan Cellars on the South Shore of Lake Chelan, you’ll feel as though you’ve been transported to a Tuscan villa. Owner Dr. Bob Jankelson designed Tsillan Cellars to replicate an Italian country retreat. This exquisite 135-acre estate is surrounded by cascading waterfalls, expansive grassy areas, dramatic gardens, and vineyards.
Rich, hand-carved doors at the entry to the tasting room open into a cathedral-like room. A curved marble bar with stone-arched wine racks adds a dramatic look to one entire side of the room. Custom cabernet-colored tiles cover the walls. Ornate stone pillars, Italian marble, an enormous open beam ceiling, and a large fireplace create a rich and beautiful atmosphere.
Spectacular views of the lake below from the outside tasting area add to the beauty of this stunning winery. A koi pond, fed by a waterfall, sits next to the patio. A trellised portico on two sides of the patio provides shade from the summer sun.
Meet Tsillan Cellars’ Dr. Bob Jankelson
Owner Dr. Bob Jankelson says, “From the beginning, I wanted to create a venue where you could escape to Italy without the plane ride. I wanted guests to experience La Dolce Vita, or the sweet life, with great food, great wine, and friends and family.”
Sorrento’s, the onsite restaurant, features the finest in Italian cuisine. Named one of the Top Scenic Views Restaurants in America by Open Table Diners, this elegant bistro truly provides a world-class venue. The Baked Feta Mediterranean Olive Plate and Duck Confit Risotto we dined on confirmed the restaurant’s reputation for excellent food.
Tastings include five wines. The Sinistra, a red blend, remains a favorite, and the Malbec, Tsillan’s signature wine, consistently scores in the 95 – 97-point range.
Friendly, knowledgeable wine servers provide excellent table service both inside and out. Dr. Jankelson says, “Great wine is a result of soil, sunshine, and geography playing a symphony in the vineyard. It’s my job to find the music and instruments to play a symphony in the tasting room.” The experience truly reflects a harmony of excellent wines, gourmet food, and genuine hospitality.
When owners Lacey and Charlie Lybecker visited France, they fell in love with Rhone wines. Now in Lake Chelan, they focus on making classic Northern and Southern Rhone wines. Cairdeas produces blends using varietals like Syrah, Grenache, Mourvèdre, Viognier, Carignane, and Cinsault.
Inside their tasting room on Lake Chelan’s north shore, photos of Lacey and Charlie and their family cover the walls. It makes it feel like you’ve walked into their living room. Brown leather furniture adds to the warmth of the room. Outside, on the expansive outdoor seating area, sweeping views of Lake Chelan are everywhere. Umbrella shaded tables provide comfortable seating.
Flights include four wines, but wine club members receive a bonus pour. A favorite, the 2020 Nellie Mae, a blend of Viognier and Roussanne, is named after Charlie’s grandmother. The 2018 Caislean an Papa, a red blend of five varietals, was inspired by wine made in Châteauneuf-du-Pape. Charlie says, “We fell in love with Rhone Syrah that’s aged in concrete, and we wanted to make one here.” Now they have two concrete eggs, and one concrete cone for aging.
Cairdeas offers a family-friendly environment, so naturally children are welcome here. Dogs are welcome, too. And don’t be surprised if Avi, the winery dog, pays you a visit during your time here.
Charcuterie boards with cheese, olives, crackers, and nuts are sold in the tasting room. However, guests can provide their own picnic, too.
A large two-story barn next door, currently under construction, will soon replace the existing tasting room. The barn’s large windows overlook the lake, providing guests with dramatic views of the water from the warmth of the indoor tasting room.
Succession Wines sits right next door to Cairdeas Winery. This casual tasting room offers equally majestic views of the lake. Tasting takes place inside the tasting room, outside on the expansive, shaded patio, or the lawn. A tent over the patio and umbrellas on the lawn provide shade for guests. Additionally, several heaters scattered about on the patio keep guests warm during the winter months.
For owners Erica and Brock Lindsay, the ashes of disaster lead to their successful wine-business. When a wildfire tragically destroyed their home, they gained a new perspective on life and a fresh start. That enabled them to transform a humble hobby into a thriving wine making business.
Attentive to the little touches that make people feel special and welcome, Erica and Brock want your wine tasting experience here to feel like being a guest in their home. Kid-friendly and dog-friendly, Succession Wines is a lovely place to spend the afternoon.
Experienced, knowledgeable servers pour tastings at your table by the glass. Five wines are served daily from a rotating menu of two whites and three reds. Or you can select a flight tailored to your palate. Brock says, “We think of anyone that comes to our tasting room as a guest, so if they want to tailor their tasting, we’re happy to accommodate them.”
Charcuterie boards are available for purchase, or you can bring your own food. Hospitality and customer accommodation make wine tasting here relaxed and even uplifting.
Rio Vista Wines
Housed in an authentic log cabin built alongside the main highway in Manson, Rio Vista’s wine tasting room is a friendly gathering place. The moment you walk inside, you’ll feel right at home. Kelsey Chavez, operations manager, says, “All are welcome,” and the atmosphere is unpretentious and genuine.
Outside patio seating around a sheltered fire pit and inside seating in front of the stone fireplace provide comfortable options to stay and taste. In addition, the tasting room is kid friendly. Its second-story loft contains board games and playing tables.
Multiple generations run this family-owned winery, from Grandfather John Little to his son John Jr. and granddaughter Kelsey. Grandpa John Little founded the winery. John, Jr. is the winemaker, and Kelsey runs the day-to-day operations. Kelsey says, “Our blood bleeds wine. Every aspect of what we do shows our family in it, and people love us for it.”
Wines come in flights of four on a paddle board. The Sunset Over the River, a Rosé, proves popular with customers. In addition, food is available for purchase. Be sure to try the excellent smoked salmon caught and prepared by the winemaker. It comes complete with cheese, crackers, and chocolates to make a great pairing with your flight.
Rio Vista also maintains a wine tasting room on the sparkling Columbia River, where the winery operates. Wide expanses of grassy areas with plenty of outdoor seating attract guests on the weekends who often spend the entire afternoon there. In addition, the winery property reaches down to the river, providing guests with access to the water.
Rocky Pond Winery
Tasting is available by appointment at Rocky Pond’s Columbia River vineyard. However, the sleek, modern tasting room in downtown Chelan is where the action is. In this expansive bar and lounge you can sample Rocky Pond’s award-winning Bordeaux and Rhone styled wines as well as their whites, roses, and sparkling varietals in an elegant setting.
Alexa, the tasting room manager, pours and delivers wines to your table in five glasses stacked in a “wine tree.” And Chef Austin Harmon is only too happy to prepare something from the kitchen to accompany your wine. Our goat cheese-filled tortellini, on a bed of stinging nettle and toasted walnut pesto, was a perfect pairing with our tasting.
By luck, we were joined by Rocky Pond’s winemaker, Shane Collins. The most sought-after wine is their 2017 Double D Cabernet Sauvignon. What makes the Rocky Pond tasting room so popular Shane says, “We’re the only downtown Chelan tasting room. And our reputation has people seeking out our wines.” He added that guests are also seeking out the culinary dishes prepared by Chef Austin.
Where to Stay in Lake Chelan:
Grand View on the Lake features studio, one-bedroom, and two-bedroom condos on Lake Chelan. And most come with spectacular views. Just across the bridge from downtown restaurants and shops, the Grand View provides an ideal location to stay in Chelan. The resort includes private waterfront, lake view hot tub and outdoor swimming pool, poolside snack bar, and swimming area with dock.
Where to Eat in Lake Chelan:
The Bistro, at 303 East Wapato Avenue in Chelan, serves European-inspired dishes prepared by Todd Miller, a former member of the Microsoft Culinary team. Housed in a historic building, it’s now decorated to look like a French bistro. You’ll find delicious choices on the menu like salade nicoise, croque monsieur, and steak frites. Cocktails and local wines are also available.
Campbell’s Pub and Veranda at Campbell’s Resort at 104 W. Woodin Avenue in Chelan, is a long-time favorite for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Happy Hour from 3:00 to 5:00 pm offers small bites.
This story was co-written with Gary Baker.