Although the trip to the North Cascades Lodge in Stehekin was my “big birthday splurge,” it fell a few days short of my actual birthday. So when my brother Don asked, “How would you like to celebrate your special day?” the first thing that came to mind was all the beautiful vineyards we had floated by on our boat tour up Lake Chelan.
The Methow Valley region was once famous for what were reported to be some of the best apples in the world. Still today, the rolling hills from Winthrop to Chelan are lined with apple orchards, laden with ripe red fruit. The temperate shores of Lake Chelan with its glacially rich soil made the perfect growing environment. But costs to produce apples has exceeded the income generated, so apple orchards are slowly being replanted with grapes and cherries. Great news for the wine drinker, but I hope they strike a balance with continuing to produce these delicious apples!
It just so happens that my birthday weekend coincided with Lake Chelan’s “Crush,” an annual event to celebrate the harvest. Many of the wineries had some special offering for this weekend, from the opportunity to taste the grapes, to an I-Love-Lucy-style grape stomp. While I was momentarily intrigued at the thought of feeling the slippery skins between my toes, it was just not something I was up for on this chilly autumn day. So instead, we decided to visit the wineries that were recommended by a local woman I met on the Lady of the Lake boat trip.
First up would be Karma Vineyards, known for their “Method Champenoise” or making sparkling wines in the French method. However, this method must be quite pricey, as they wanted over $20 for a tasting flight! So we opted for their red wine sampler at $5 a flight instead. Lasting impressions from this winery were the underground wine cave, and the soft, fuzzy blanket the server brought me to counteract the chill while sipping on their outdoor patio.
Next up would be Siren Song Vineyard Estate and Winery, my favorite of the five wineries visited. The ambiance was “Italy” all the way down to the wood-fired pizza that we split for lunch. I loved their motto, “Everyone has a Siren Song…What’s Yours?” I loved their pizza. I loved their Ravello-style patio overlooking Lake Chelan. And I loved their wine. Of course, it had nothing to do with the fact that they gave me a complimentary glass of their sparkling variety for my birthday!
What’s your “Siren Song,” or irresistible calling? Mine, no doubt has to be exploratory travel. And when that includes good wine, even better!
Across the parking lot from Siren Song was the Fielding Hills Winery. Having just finished lunch, along with a generous pour and free glass of birthday bubbly from Siren Song, we didn’t do any tasting at Fielding Hills. However, I was impressed by their beautiful property overlooking the lake, and elegant tasting room.
At this point, we opted to drive to the other side of the lake on a tip to visit one of the more “playful” wineries, “A Hard Row to Hoe.” Typically, one associates that idiom with an agricultural term, signifying for example, the difficulty of removing weeds from a row of cotton. But in this case, it’s actually a double entendre for the brothel with working girls who “served” the miners working along the lake. From their website: “One story has it that a long-time Manson resident ran a rowboat taxi service from Lucerne to Point Lovely in support of the thriving enterprise.” Therefore, all names of their wines have some reference to the world’s oldest profession, such as “S&M” (a blend of Syrah and Malbec) right down to their “Oar House” wine club.
The wine tastings were good here, but what stood out was the smooth and polished gentleman behind the bar who knew when to listen to a story and when to insert his own. Oh, and the Port wine drank from shot glasses made of chocolate. 😉
Last but not least was the Lake Chelan winery, the first winery on the valley to innovate after the collapse of the apple market in 1998. By far the largest winery we visited, they offer a lot more than wines, to include their BBQ restaurant, a 3,000 sq ft gift shop, and a gourmet cheese shop with a vast selection of cheeses, offering some of the “smoothest blue” I have tasted since Rogue Creamery.
Lake Chelan Winery was the only winery we visited where you just belly up to the bar, and as long as you keep tasting, they keep pouring. Could be why there are no photos…hhhmmm.
Tasting good wines was a great way to celebrate a birthday. And if the old adage is true, “we are what we eat,” then maybe if I drink enough of it, I will become like fine wine and only improve with age! 😉