Washington’s Lake Chelan Wine Country

Washington’s Lake Chelan wine country offers exceptional food, wine, and accommodations. It is approachable and relaxed in a stunning setting.

When I first heard about Lake Chelan, I honestly had no idea where it was and had no clue it is a wine region—and a very good one at that.

Lake Chelan wine country is centered around one huge lake, one of the deepest in the US. It is beautiful and cold, yet full of people enjoying water activities like boating, paddleboarding, and kayaking. It is one of those gorgeous mountain lakes like Lake Como in Italy or Queenstown in New Zealand, that is ringed with mountains and beauty wherever you look.

The stunning, natural beauty of the area draws you in. Discovering Lake Chelan wines will enhance your experience as you explore this magical area. 

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View of Lake Chelan from Mellisoni Vineyards

50-mile-long Lake Chelan is home to nature, water sports, and wineries. View from Mellisoni Vineyards. Photo by Barbara Barielle

Lake Chelan is a Year-Round Outdoor Paradise and World-Class Wine Region

In Lake Chelan, everything is about the lake. That body of water and the terroir it influences produce significant wines from a huge variety of grapes. Unlike many areas that are known for one or two grapes that do very well, Lake Chelan seems to be a ripe growing area for just about every wine varietal.

The sleepy lake towns have a long history of agriculture, primarily apple and stone fruit orchards. However, the recent infusion of tech money from Seattle woke up the area. The influx of wealth has transformed the farming area into vineyards and homes into spectacular lake-facing vacation mansions. Lake Chelan vacation homes serve as second, third, or fourth homes to some of the wealthiest people in the Pacific Northwest.

Washington's Lake Chelan wine country offers exceptional food, wine, and accommodations. It is approachable and relaxed in a stunning setting.

Another beautiful blue sky spring day on the Lakeshore Trail, Lake Chelan, Washington. Photo by Bill Kingman via iStock by Getty Images

Yet, even with the infusion of new money and new faces, Lake Chelan retains much of its charm. The area honors its history as a remote farming area. Generations of families still prosper here, although now they may be developing vineyards or high-end homes.

How to Get to Lake Chelan

Getting to Lake Chelan is kind of the million-dollar question, or multi-million as the case may be. The closest major airport is Seattle, 90 minutes away. However, driving from Seattle can sometimes take 3 to 4 hours. This is similar to the time it takes to get from the Bay Area to Lake Tahoe and just about as beautiful along the Columbia River.

On your way to Lake Chelan, you’ll wind through small towns that are throwbacks to a simpler time in Washington state. Be sure to stop for coffee or a great burger along the way. Entering Lake Chelan is magical as you wind around the last curve, and the stunning 50-mile narrow swath of blue water lays before you. Surrounding the lake are a few quaint small towns, with lakefront lodges and vineyards rolling down the hills from mountain to lakeside.

The Towns of Lake Chelan

There are three villages around Lake Chelan. Each has a bit of a different feel.

Explore Chelan

The largest is Chelan, with a year-round population of 4,000 that swells to 25,000 in the summer months. Chelan has a protected historic district and vibrant restaurants, bars, and boutiques.

Smack in the middle of Chelan is Campbell’s Resort. The original Lake Chelan playground is still family-owned but has been expanded and modernized, boasting creative restaurants and a conference center. Nearby, find Lakeside Lodge, Peterson’s Waterfront Resort, and Darnell’s Resort. All three resorts are on the lake and offer recreational amenities to enjoy the water in summer. In winter, nordic skiing provides a popular way to work up a sweat before wine tasting.

Explore Manson

Manson is another small town on Lake Chelan. While much smaller than Chelan, Manson prides itself as agri-artisan and provides a place to incubate ideas and grow. There are a few shops and restaurants in town, and a tennis center nearby, built to be one of the best in the world. Harmony Meadows is an impeccable tennis center with courts designed for pro play. The inn and lodge rooms, as well as the kitchen, restaurant, and outdoor dining, make the resort a comprehensive, active getaway.

Harmony Meadows tennis club

Although a tennis-focused club, Harmony Meadows has something for everyone on its gorgeous property. Photo by Barbara Barielle

Explore Remote Stehekin

The third town can barely be referred to as a destination given its status as one of the most remote places in the Pacific Northwest. Stehekin, with its 90 residents, offers a small lodge and a few services, including a bakery considered worth the trip. The classic way to get to Stehekin is the Lady of the Lake small ferry boat, which takes several hours but winds through stunning scenery. Also arrive there by personal boat, small plane, hiking trail, or even horseback.

Washington's Lake Chelan wine country offers exceptional food, wine, and accommodations. It is approachable and relaxed in a stunning setting.

Lake Chelan at sunrise from Stehekin, Washington. Photo by JMacArthur via iStock by Getty Images

The Wineries of Lake Chelan

While Washington wines are amazing, you’ll find the Lake Chelan wines unique. Lake Chelan is the eleventh registered American Viticultural Area (AVA) in Washington State. Area wineries have been putting their geographic designation on labels since 2009 when the region slowly started developing their unique vineyards sloping toward the lake. Here are a few notable Lake Chelan wineries.

Tsillan Cellars

One of the earliest wineries, Tsillan Cellars, takes its name from the Native American word for Lake Chelan but is pronounced exactly the same. This stunning property on the south shore of Lake Chelan offers something for every wine drinker. The winery is also great for those who have a wedding or other occasion to celebrate. Tsillan is home to Sorrento’s Ristorante, named one of the top scenic view restaurants in America by the OpenTable Diners’ Choice Awards. The views, cuisine, and all-around ambiance truly feel like you found Lake Como in Washington State.

Tsillan Cellars

One of the oldest wineries in Lake Chelan, Tsillan Winery uses the Native American spelling of the lake’s name. Photo by Barbara Barielle

Karma Wines

Karma Wines and their full-service restaurant, 18 Brix, present wines paired with local cuisine in a jovial, casual environment. Whether you are outdoors around the koi pond or inside by the fireplace, enjoy a glass of the first methode champenoise sparkling wine from the Lake Chelan AVA. The winery also offers a variety of excellent still wines. Check out the art on the walls for a giggle; this Lake Chelan winery wants visitors to dine well and have fun.

Sparkling wine from Karma Winery, Lake Chelan

Bubbles at Karma Winery. Photo by Barbara Barielle

Fielding Hills

Also one of the earliest wineries established in Lake Chelan, Fielding Hills winery started as a garage project for winemaker Mike Wade. Wade has a long history in farming and the traditional agriculture of the area. Taking his commitment to farming into the winery means Wade plays with Rhône varietals like Roussanne and Syrah, as well as traditional Bordeaux blends.

Hard Row to Hoe

The Hard Row to Hoe Winery is a tribute to the tough northern Washington agricultural life. Many of the wines sport irreverent labels with slight sexual references, a nod to the local brothel that “served” the remote mining towns in the 1930s.

Mellisoni Winery

The first winery I visited in Lake Chelan was Mellisoni Winery. I was hooked from the first look out over the lake while sipping Italian varietals. I enjoyed listening to the story of how Mellisoni came to be. Vintner Rob Mellison tells of the many adventures in Italy, while he was there on a job exporting Italian kitchen cabinets. The experience inspired him and his wife to open a winery back home in Lake Chelan. The agriturismo spirit of Italy is evident as you sip wines made from grapes up the hill and gaze at the beauty of glistening Lake Chelan. In case you’re wondering, the Mellisons added “i” to their name to better reflect their adopted Italian spirit. Mellisoni was named 2021 Washington Winery of the Year.

Bottles of Mellisoni Wine, Lake Chelan

Overlooking the lake, spend a couple of hours at Mellisoni and soak up their Italian spirit. Photo by Barbara Barielle

Succession Wines and Alta Cellars

One of the most exciting families to come to Lake Chelan are the Lindsays, who started Succession Wines. They worked to enhance the quality and reputation of the wines produced in the area. Erica and Brock Lindsay were 9-to-5ers with winemaking as a hobby, until fate stepped in when their home and everything in it burned to the ground in 2014. The family of four had great experiences vacationing and wine tasting in Lake Chelan and dreamed of opening a winery. The tragedy pushed them one step closer to their dream and a more balanced life around the Lake.

Brock Lindsay, owner and winemaker at Succession Wines

Brock Lindsay, owner and winemaker at Succession Wines, exudes enthusiasm about the area….and his wines are great. Photo by Barbara Barielle

The Lindsays recently bought Manson’s long-popular Alta Cellars with a tasting room on the town’s main street. In just a few short years, Succession, Alta, and the Lindsays have become integrated into the community and renowned for their extensive range of fine Lake Chelan wines.

Alta Cellars, Lake Chelan

Alta Cellars has a cool, casual vibe and is a sister winery to Succession. Photo by Barbara Brielle

Nefarious Cellars

Considered the most collectible of Lake Chelan wines, Nefarious Cellars wines have become sought after for their small production. Arrange a visit, then wait to get on their extensive list of those who want to add Nefarious to their collections. Winemakers are Dean and Heather Neff. He makes the reds and she makes the whites. Interestingly, the winery’s name comes from a play on their last name—Neff. 

Other wineries with history and extensive followings include Rocky Pond Estate Winery, Lake Chelan Winery, Cairdeas Wines, Amos Rome Vineyards, Benson Vineyards, and Sigillo Cellars. The ambiance in Lake Chelan is relaxed and casual, yet the commitment to excellent wines and the foods they pair with is evident.

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Let the Charm and Natural Beauty of Lake Chelan Win You Over

Lake Chelan is a breath of fresh air any time of year. Truly clear, beautiful skies with 300 days of sunshine keep the residents happy and the visitors coming back. The quality of the food, wine, and accommodation, while being approachable and relaxed, means you can sit back and sip and laugh in comfort, while surrounded by incredible natural beauty. So, whether you enjoy discovering the area and Lake Chelan wines as a couple, for a girls’ trip, part of a bachelor party, or with the whole family—dogs included—you’ll enjoy exploring this magical part of Washington

Be sure to let Wander help you discover other wine country destinations, in the Pacific Northwest and beyond.

Lake Chelan is a breath of fresh air any time of year. The quality of the food, wine, and accommodation, while being approachable and relaxed, means you can sit back and sip and laugh in comfort, while surrounded by incredible natural beauty. So, whether you enjoy discovering the area and Lake Chelan wines as a couple, for a girls' trip, part of a bachelor party, or with the whole family—dogs included—you'll enjoy exploring this magical part of Washington. 

Washington’s Lake Chelan Wine Country

    Written by Barbara Barrielle

    Barbara is a long-time publicist who began travel and wine writing several years ago and has been roaming the world since. Barbara also acts and produces films and has a feature film "Break Night" out on Amazon Prime and a documentary on the California wildfires called "Crushed." Her favorite destination is the Cook Islands and spends time learning wine and languages in Europe. At home in Healdsburg, CA, Barbara manages a small vineyard and Airbnb and dotes on her Corgi puppy Pickles.

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