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An Excursion of Terroir: Lake Chelan Wine Valley

by on April 17, 2013

On Wednesday, June 5th, a cohort of WBC attendees will load onto a bus at Seattle’s Sea-Tac airport and head on an overnight excursion to the Lake Chelan Wine Valley prior to heading up to the conference in Penticton.

Up until recently, the Lake Chelan region was agriculturally known only for its orchards, and though wine grapes were planted as early as 100+ years ago, it wasn’t until 1998 that the first vineyard was planted in lieu of an orchard for commercial production.

AVA distinction didn’t come to the Lake Chelan Valley until very recently in 2009. There are currently 20 wineries and nearly 300 acres of vineyards that surround the lake that are a part of this American Viticulture Area – Washington State’s 11th such AVA.


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The lake itself is a narrow, 55-mile long lake with deep waters located in north central Washington. It was formed as a result of a massive glacier with a sloping elevation of up to 4,500 feet above the current lake surface. This glacier that formed the lake also protected the region from the Missoula Floods, a massive geological event from the last ice age. As such, the Lake Chelan Wine Valley’s soil composition is much different from other Columbia Valley wine growing regions.

Participants of the 2010 Wine Bloggers Conference who were lucky enough to hear Dr. Kevin Pogue‘s session on the geology of the Columbia Valley may remember his insights into terroir of the region as a result of the Missoula Floods. In an email dialogue, Dr. Pogue gave these insights into the Lake Chelan Wine Region and its terroir:

Lake Chelan is the only sub-AVA of the Columbia Valley AVA that has bedrock that is not dominated by basalt. Instead, the rock consists of much older metamorphic rock and granite typical of the North Cascades. The soils are also quite different from the loess-dominated vineyard soils of the Columbia Basin. They are derived from a mixture of glacial till (rock debris deposited by the alpine glacier that carved the valley that hosts the lake) and volcanic ash erupted by the Glacier Peak volcano. Climate-wise – the climate of the vineyards near the lake is moderated by the deep water, which cools the area in the summer and warms the air in the spring and fall, reducing the risk of frost and freeze events.

If variety is the spice of life, then the wineries of the Lake Chelan Wine Valley are having a ton of fun making all sorts of varietals within their relatively little AVA of 24,040 acres of land. A look on the Lake Chelan Wine Valley AVA Wine Awards page reveals they are seeing great success with everything from Rhone Varietals like Viognier and Syrah to Riesling and even Pinot Noir.

It will be a fun and educational exploration for the WBC participants who will be embarking on this Seattle-Penticton road trip. If you’re interested in joining us, there are still a few seats left on the excursion through the Lake Chelan Wine Valley June 5-6. Check out our excursion page for details and how to register.