Nouveau Lake Chelan wines suprisingly good
November 24, 2008 · Updated 6:04 PM
The last time our family visited the Lake Chelan area was in the late 1980s. We were there for a summer vacation of swimming and boating. So when I heard about a Lake Chelan winery, I rather discounted it as a tourist snare. However, the Lake Chelan wine industry has matured dramatically from its modest beginnings six years ago. Today, there are 14 wineries and several more scheduled to open. Initially, the grapes were mostly from the nearby Columbia Valley. Now, as the newly planted vines around Lake Chelan mature, the grapes are sourced from their actual namesake.
The planting of grapes around Lake Chelan took place as early as 1881. A newspaper article in the Chelan Valley Mirror in May 1947 recounted that John and Peter Wapato were Native Americans who were taught by Jesuit Father DeGrassi to grow potatoes, wheat, vegetables and fruit. The Wapatos later added cherries and grapes. The Wapatos have descendants who still reside in the Chelan Valley.
Ten years later, another article discusses a group of Italians: “Already, a colony of Italians have taken up eight homesteads on the south, sunny side of the lake, across from town, [on land] which had been considered worthless by the original settlers on the lake. These Italians are skilled vineyardists and are now engaged in stocking their claims with vines brought from California. Afterward, I met Louis Conti, the head of the colony. He was trained from childhood in the vineyards of Italy and now has a 60-acre vineyard in California where the young vines are being brought from for the Chelan vineyards. He says he will show the people how to grow grapes here without irrigation, which only destroys the best quality of the fruit. He is confident that grapes and wines equal to those of Italy and California can be grown here with profit and proposes this fall to bring in 15 or 20 more of his countrymen.”
While there was initial interest in grape-growing, apples became the main crop for the Lake Chelan area. However, rising production costs and low apple prices — coupled with high land prices primarily driven by escalating residential and vacation homes — had farmers looking toward another crop. The first bottle of wine from the Lake Chelan Winery was sold in 2002. Even with this very recent start of the modern history of grape production and winemaking at Lake Chelan, more than 300 acres will be planted within the next year.
Virtually every wine is found at the Lake Chelan wineries — all the conventional varieties from chardonnay to cabernet sauvignon. However, one that caught my attention is Balsamroot’s Edelzwicker, a blend of riesling and gew