What were mostly new vineyard plantings a few years ago are now in production. With 20 wineries in the region, it is more and more common to see at least some wines sourced from local grapes.
ABOUT 3 ½ YEARS ago, the Lake Chelan AVA received government approval. It was the 11th officially designated wine region in this state, and at that time, the smallest.
When certified, just 265 acres of vineyards were under cultivation on the southernmost part of the lake. Among its assets were the so-called “lake effect” that moderates temperatures year ’round. The advantage here is that the number of over-95-degree summer days (which shut down photosynthesis) and the severity of deep winter freezes (which can kill vines) is significantly smaller than in most parts of Eastern Washington.
The new region could also claim unique soils built on layers of glacial debris, sediment from stream erosion and airborne volcanic loess (loamy deposits). Historically the region was a center of apple orchards and tourism, but an apple-sales slump — and the discovery that wine grapes thrive where apples do — initiated the sudden interest and development of both wineries and vineyards about 12 years ago.
Nonetheless, the great majority of wines from Lake Chelan wineries, even after the AVA had been confirmed, were made with grapes from outside the region.
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It seems self-evident that for any wine region to establish its authenticity, it must grow grapes and make good wines from those grapes. In Lake Chelan, what were mostly new vineyard plantings a few years ago are now in production. With 20 wineries in the region, it is more and more common to see at least some wines sourced from local grapes. On balance, the white wines outshine the reds, though there are exceptions. Here’s a look at some interesting, recent releases:
Nefarious Cellars 2011 Defiance Vineyard Viognier; $19. This is a juicy, perfect melding of citrus and light tropical fruit flavors. With impeccable balance, this thrilling, all-stainless viognier persists well into a graceful finish.
Wapato Point Cellars 2011 Pinot Grigio; $22. Though listed at a rather potent 13.8 percent alcohol, this can only be called delicate, with flavors reminiscent of pinot blanc as much as pinot gris. Pleasing apple and pear fruit shows excellent concentration and balance, with just a tinge of finishing heat.
Hard Row To Hoe 2009 Burning Desire Cabernet Franc; $35. A firm, focused cabernet franc, with just 5 percent merlot in the blend, this spent 18 months in 50 percent new American oak. It’s a straight-ahead style, with red berry flavors and polished, proportionate tannins.