NYTimes: LakeChelan Wines

An interesting article in today’s NYTimes on the LakeChelan region in WashState:

I particularly liked the story behind HardRowToHo Wnry:

Hard Row to Hoe, known for a cabernet franc with whiffs of spice and chocolate, opened in 2006, though it did so under the less-than-memorable name of Balsamroot Winery and Vineyard, Ms. Phelps said. Hiring a historian to dig up local stories, they rechristened the winery in 2008 with a saucy nod to miners of the late 1930s who used to row across the lake at night to a waterfront brothel. Sample the Shameless Hussy viognier, which has fruits that pop; a sharp eye will see silhouettes of nude women that pop out of the antique-style wallpaper.

These are wineries I’m not familiar with. Don’t think I’ve had any LakeChelan wines.


I’ve read good things about Nefarious. I own a few bottles of their Syrah, but have yet to pop one.

For the price, I’ve enjoyed the Gramercy Viognier from Lake Chelan.

Tsillan Cellars makes decent wines. It is pronounced the same as the lake, which may not be of help to those from out of state.
I think the area has a great future, once they get sorted out which grape varieties do best and in which micro-climates.
That claim about the glacial water must be concocted for the particularly gullible, though.
Long term, Balsamroot is a better name for a winery than a wink-wink-nod-nod story that gets old quickly.

P Hickner

Lake Chelan is a gorgeous, long (50 miles), deep (3rd deepest in the country, 26th deepest in the world), narrow lake that sits directly between two mountain ranges. Most of its length is only accessible by boat. There is regularly scheduled passenger service all the way to the small town of Stehekin that sits at the very end of the lake. It drains almost directly to the Columbia River and at the outlet end sticks into the desert country of Eastern Washington.

I first heard the story of A Hard Roe to Hoe Winery when I was up-lake this past May. There is a good sized lake called Domke Lake that is accessible by trail about ⅔ of the way up the lake. It is about a 2.5 mile hike. The lake has some old cabins that can be rented. They guy who runs the cabins, Sid, lives put here most of the year is one of the last links to the old time fur trappers. At one time he ran trap lines himself and he is absolutely full of amazing stories. I first leaned the story of A Hard Row Winery from Sid and I have to admit I did check out the veracity of his story when I got back. I was quite pleased to confirm that he wasn’t pulling my leg. But I still haven’t managed to go taste there yet. He had more stories about that old whorehouse like one about two drunk miners who set out to row over there. Some hours after setting out they were found at the dock with one man beating the other with an oar. It seems that he had fallen asleep while his partner rowed, but hadn’t realized that the light he was rowing toward never got any closer because he was still tied to the dock.

It is drop dead gorgeous country and well worth a visit if you are in the area. I still want to head over and do some wine tasting, but it always seems like I’m going to or from a hike when I roll through the area.

Did a detailed scouting visit to the region last summer with some ITB friends. Agree that the region has potential, but for the most part was quite underwhelmed with the wines tasted at the producers we visited. It struck me that a lot of them are trying to figure our what varieties to plant, where to plant them, and what styles of wine can best be made. Tasted lots of uninteresting wines.

Given that Lake Chelan is already a tourist destination, it will be interesting to see what direction things take for the wine region as a whole - whether it tilts toward producers focused on quality wines, or focused on being attractions to visit for vacationers. A number of producers (Tsillan, Benson, etc.) appear to be aiming in the “tourist destination” direction.

Amongst it’s peers, Nefarious was one of the standouts. Also enjoyed the wines at Cairdeas, a very small producer all the way around on the north side (past Manson).

If I was giving the overall region a grade based on that visit, it would be (charitably, I think) an “Incomplete”. Within the state, not ready yet to compete with other regions such as Walla Walla, Red Mountain, or Columbia Gorge.


I just saw this winery online yesterday. Funny names, interesting location. Has anyone tried the wines???

Why are brothels so popular as tourist attractions and of interest to people and businesses? I doubt you would find the Chinese enthralled with ‘opium den’ wine.

Nefarious is great. We go to Lake Chelan fairly often & it is a place to bring your own wine & food in the cooler.