Lake Chelan AVA

I’ve lived in Washington my entire life and yet I can count on a whopping two fingers the number of times that I’ve visited Lake Chelan – one of the most popular vacation destinations in the state. Both of these visits have been during the “offseason” of late October / early November. Granted, some wineries weren’t open during this time of year and it’s not nearly as enjoyable to sit outside and admire the gorgeous lake views when it’s 40 degrees as opposed to 80. But on the flip side, visiting during the offseason means far fewer crowds and shorter tasting room lines as the population plummets to 1/10th of the peak summer months.

The draw of Lake Chelan by the summer tourists is easily understood, with lots to see and do – and drink! Only a three hour car ride from Seattle to the west or Spokane from the east, it is easily accessible and makes for a (relatively) affordable weekend getaway. However, unlike other Washington AVAs that have built their tourism around an already thriving wine industry, Lake Chelan has done the opposite. Here, tourism was the area’s initial draw and wine has only recently been added as part of the region’s “to do” list. Likely much to the relief of summering parents watching Little Johnny cannonball off the dock yet again.

Lake Chelan is very new AVA (established in 2009) and is wholly contained within the larger Columbia Valley AVA.  Although grapes have been grown in this area since the late 1800s, the first truly modern, production vineyard unbelievably wasn’t planted until 1998 (ironically making this particular AVA too young to enjoy its own wines).  So really, “serious” grape growing in this region is still in its infancy – although I imagine that some old-timers might strenuously disagree with me on this point.

The lake itself is the AVA’s most unique attribute and is a major factor as to why wines from this area are unlike any others from Washington. Lake Chelan is the 3rd deepest lake in the United States (after Crater Lake and Lake Tahoe) and is a whopping 52 miles long! Which helps explain why the driving time between winery visits can seem like an eternity.

The lake moderates temperatures year-round: helping the region stay much cooler in the summer months than the rest of the Columbia Valley AVA (preserving acidity in its zippy whites), yet also extending the growing season so as to encourage ripening of its red varieties. Speaking as someone who spent her entire childhood in the Columbia Valley AVA, the heat of the summer months can be unbearable.

My most recent visit to Lake Chelan was in early November 2016 and I was thoroughly impressed with the whites of the area (especially Viognier). They’re bright and fruity, but maintain a weight and complexity that make them more than mere porch pounders to enjoy by the lake.

Unfortunately, the reds of Chelan left me underwhelmed, which I fully admit is a gross generalization based on a small sample size. Many I found to be altered too much by oak – with loads of mocha and toasty vanilla flavors that overpowered any varietal characteristics. Other reds were too thin, watery and lacking flavor and interest. Yes, I realize I sound like Goldilocks with my “too much” or “too little” whining. However, I have found over the years that young wine regions come along slowly (see in particular the Okanagan Valley region in British Columbia) and improve in an almost Darwinian fashion of winemaker trial and error as to what works and what doesn’t.  Chelan Estate Winery

With all of that said, I have an immense amount of respect for those in the region who are willing to experiment with different varieties and clones in Lake Chelan AVA. For instance, Pinot Noir doesn’t grow particularly well in Eastern Washington, and I just don’t know if my beloved home state has it in us to produce a great Pinot. But some winemakers (I’m looking at you Bob Broderick from Chelan Estate Winery) aren’t willing to accept this as gospel and are out to prove me wrong. Bob and others continue to work toward a grape that rivals its much celebrated Oregon brethren. Of course, I’d love nothing more than to be proven wrong and would happily eat crow in so doing….I’ve heard it pairs very well with Pinot!

But until that time, here’s the outline on Lake Chelan.

Red Mountain AVA

Back when I was growing up in Richland, Washington, Red Mountain was a place where we high school kids would occasionally drive out to for a kegger. It was also where I got my parents’ car stuck in the desert trying to find said kegger. Who knew that a 1983 Volvo sedan wasn’t an off-road vehicle?

Today, Red Mountain is home to some of the top vineyards and wineries in the state of Washington . . . and some might argue the country.

Kiona vineyard
View of Kiona Vineyards – some of the first planted in the AVA

Red Mountain produces powerful, structured, intensely flavorful and tannic wines. Often with a big price tag to match. This might have to do with the fact that the cost of doing business in the area has increased exponentially from its inception. Back when the “pioneers” of the area, Jim Holmes and John Williams, bought land to try their hands at viticulture, they were able to purchase at around $200/acre. Fast forward almost 40 years – at a land auction a few years ago, the price point was over $12K/acre. And some prized acres have sold at over $30K/acre.

Ah, if only I’d spent my allowance money during the 1980s and 90s on real estate instead of clothes at Jay Jacobs. 😉

Red Mountain AVA has an incredible following with loyal (sometimes bordering on rabid) fans. My customers tend to go gaga over Red Mountain wines – they like a bold, in-your-face, red wine. But even though it’s located around the corner from where I grew up, and I DO have an affinity for the area, it doesn’t produce my favorite Washington wines. Unlike my customers, I don’t like to be slapped upside the head by my wine. I prefer something more subtle, with less heat and ripeness (Walla Walla Valley and Horse Heaven Hills come to mind).

Nonetheless, I’m proud of this AVA and the fact that its recognized by wine lovers outside the borders of Washington. And I’m looking forward to drinking the Red Mountain wines that are tucked away in my cellar . . . in a couple decades when they’ve had a chance to mellow out and mature. They’ll be 25+ years old by then, and no longer the loud and aggressive teenagers driving around boldly looking for the kegger.

Here’s the outline on Red Mountain.

Ancient Lakes AVA

It’s the waning weeks of summer, but we’ve (thankfully!) still had plenty of sunny and toasty days here in the PNW. Although I drink whites consistently year-round, it’s during this time of year that I often reach for them to refresh and cool down. I don’t want anything heavy or serious. Just pour me a crisp, uncomplicated porch pounder and I’m good to sit on the deck (or in my bedroom with A/C) for hours.

I love acid bomb whites. Gramercy Cellars’ Picpoul (which appropriately translates to “lip stinger”) is one of my favorite summer staples. Both wines below are reminiscent of this wine, but both really push the boundaries of acidity. They’re on the edge of being too much.

Since I had these wines back to back, and noticed that they were both from the same region, I was curious as to why these had such high acidity. What is it about Ancient Lakes that produces such bright & zesty white wines? What else does this region produce? What makes this region special and unique?

Ancient Lake AVA boundaries

Palencia Albariño 2016, Ancient Lakes AVA. 12.5% abv. Pale lemon. Aromas of lemon, chalk, and wet stones. Lighter bodied, high acidity with flavors of lemon, tart yellow pear and lime zest. This is a super easy to drink wine, but not necessarily one to sit and ponder. It’s fairly simple. Zippy and refreshing.


Efeste ‘Feral’ Evergreen Vineyard Sauvignon Blanc 2016, Ancient Lakes AVA. 12.5% abv. More of a pale lemon-green hue on this wine. On the nose, grapefruit, grass, lime zest and herbal notes. Same on the palate, but with a touch of salinity. And holy acidity!

Here’s my outline on the Ancient Lakes AVA – an area you definitely want to check out if you like crisp whites, and reds with a good dose of acidity as well.