Wine is driving Lake Chelan's tourism economy

The Lake Chelan Valley is dotted with 275 acres of Vineyards

Back in 1998, some 7,000 years after the first wine was estimated to be produced in what is now Georgia (the country, not the state), Steve and Bobbi Kludt and Bob Christopher planted their first vineyards in the Lake Chelan Valley.

In 2000, the Kludts' licensed and bonded Lake Chelan Winery in the old Harding Apple Shed on the Manson Highway. It wasn't until 2001 that the Kludt Family bottled their first estate wine from grapes grown in the valley. The first bottle was sold in 2002.

Ready for the crush

The rest is history

Following quickly in the Kludt's footsteps was Bob Jankelson, a dentist/college professor who did a lot of teaching in Italy.

Jankelson saw the Lake Chelan Valley as reminiscent to the beauty of the Italian landscape and decided to emulate that look with his stunning Tuscan style winery on the south shore of Lake Chelan between Pat and Mikes and Lakeside. Surrounded by vineyards, Tsillan Cellars, has been highlighted in many articles about the Valley's boutique and growing wine industry. 2009 saw the designation of the Lake Chelan Valley as an official American Viticulture Area (AVA) which has only served to bolster our growth. Soon veteran winemakers and confident vineyardists made their way to the valley and saw the obvious, the long growing season with sun-drenched days and lake-cooled nights were perfect for growing wine grapes.

32 wineries

Today, there are 32 wineries and many tasting rooms in the Lake Chelan Valley, all vying for the wine lovers business. The industry has made a name for itself by producing many award-winning wines and one winery, Vin du Lac, was even named "Northwest Winery of the Year" in 2010 by Northwest Wine Press Magazine.

Many of the local wineries have added food to the winery experience. Tsillan Cellars has a full-blown excellent Italian restaurant called Sorrentos. Wapato Point Cellars Winemaker's Grill has become a favorite romantic getaway for locals and visitors alike.

Lake Chelan Valley is an official American Viticulture Area

While wine has driven the new economy in the Lake Chelan Valley, it was apples that made the Valley famous. For years, Chelan grown apples were regarded as the best in the world, and the world market gobbled them up at a terrific pace.


Vin du Lac Winery has a great bistro featuring farm to table cuisine sourced from its garden and other local sources. Karma Vineyards 18 Brix Bistro features some fabulous creations. Siren Song not only has a great European style menu but offers cooking classes for those wanting to learn European style cuisine. And during the late Spring to Fall months when the weather is warm, Lake Chelan Winery offers a great BBQ.

Music has also found a place in the Valley with Vin duLac offering music, usually jazz, every Saturday afternoon from 5 to 8 p.m. It's a great place to kick back with a bottle of wine and enjoy the vibes that go with the good music.

Last summer, the Lake Chelan Valley also hosted its first Jazz Festival. It was such a great success that the second annual festival will be back in 2019 with some very talented and well-known jazz musicians playing the various wineries.

While wine has driven the new economy in the Lake Chelan Valley, it was apples that made the Valley famous. For years, Chelan grown apples were regarded as the best in the world, and the world market gobbled them up at a terrific pace.

Sixty-five percent of Lake Chelan apples were exported, primarily to the Far East. In those days it was common thinking that all you had to do was plant an apple tree and the money would follow ... kind of the closest thing to money growing on trees. The orchardists were happy, and the bankers gladly lent grow money for the next crop which fueled Chelan's economy.

Because of the lake, tourism was a far second to the economy, but growing as more and more people discovered the Valley's quiet beauty.

While tree fruit is still a significant economic driver in the valley, tourism is being driven by a growing wine industry that is having a major impact on the Lake Chelan Valley making it a major premiere destination for travelers.

Events for your calendar

Fall Barrel Tasting

Fall Barrel Testing is on November 24 through November 26. It's a great time to visit the Valley, tour the wineries and taste the new offerings right out of the barrel, aned to discuss the wines with the winemakers.

Spring Releases

April 20-21 and 27-28 is the annual Spring releases in the Valley.

Red Wine & Chocolate

February 8-10 and February 16-17 is Red Wine & Chocolate in the Valley. It's a time to tour the various wineries and taste some great Reds paired with a variety Chocolates from different chocolatiers.

Spring Barrel Tasting

May 18-19 brings Spring barrel tasting to the Valley.

Lake Chelan Winery was the first winery to begin operations in the Lake Chelan Valley. Situated between Manson and Chelan, the winery is located in an old apple shed. The winery enjoys the second largest wine club in the State and offers a full gift shop, cheese shop. Outside Barbeque and is also the home of Washington Gold Apple Cider. 

The Lake Chelan Wine Valley is situated among world famous apple orchards and estate vineyards. With over 500 acres of wine grapes growing in the American Viticultural Area (AVA) the Valley is growing as a must visit winery region in the State.

Article and photographs by Richard Uhlhorn