With wildfires seemingly affecting every corner of the Pacific Northwest, some of the hardest-hit communities have been those around Washington’s Lake Chelan.
A lightning storm the morning of Aug. 14 caused several fires to erupt, destroying thousands of acres of forest, burning dozens of buildings, sending residents fleeing and keeping visitors away during a crucial period in Lake Chelan’s tourist season.
One small winery, Ventimiglia Cellars in Chelan, was destroyed on the evening of Aug. 14, just hours after owner Ron Ventimiglia was forced to evacuate. He got out with two cases of wine and some computers. He plans to rebuild and already is making arrangements to crush grapes this fall at an alternate location.
July and August are the most important months for Lake Chelan, which relies heavily on tourism dollars. And that goes for most of the wineries in the region, which sell nearly all of their wines directly to visitors.
The region is crafting delicious wines, and this week we are spotlighting a few of the Lake Chelan wines that earned gold medals at this summer's North Central Washington Wine Awards.
Once the smoke clears, head to Lake Chelan to try these wines, or give them a call and order a few bottles.
Legend Cellars NV Vincitore, Columbia Valley, $30: Using Cabernet Franc, this winery on the north shore of Lake Chelan has crafted an unusual treat: an off-dry vermouth. It opens with huge aromas of dark chocolate and coffee, followed by flavors of dark cherry. It’s beautifully balanced with ample acidity and almost no alcohol showing up in the finish. Vermouth is a rare concoction in the Pacific Northwest, so this is a delicious discovery. (18.2 percent alcohol)
Tsillan Cellars 2014 Estate Nudo Unoaked Chardonnay, Lake Chelan, $18: More and more chardonnays are being crafted tree-free as consumers are enjoying the bright fruit of the grape without restraints. Aromas and flavors of apple, lemon-lime, peach and tropical fruit are backed by bright acidity that leads to a delicious finish. (13.7% alc.)
Tunnel Hill Winery 2013 Syrah, Lake Chelan, $30: Award-winning documentary filmmaker Guy Evans also is pretty handy with winemaking along the south shore of Lake Chelan. This gorgeous syrah reveals aromas and flavors of ripe dark berry, black pepper and floral notes. The fruit, acidity and tannin are beautifully integrated and give way to milk chocolate on the finish. (15.9% alc.)
Cairdeas Winery 2012 Counoise, Yakima Valley, $36: This fast-rising winery on the north shore of Lake Chelan brought in this rare red variety from the Yakima Valley and has crafted a luscious red with aromas and flavors of Marionberry, blackberry jam, baked brownie and rich, opulent tannins. (14% alc.)
Rio Vista Wines 2013 Malbec, Columbia Valley, $32: Owner/winemaker John Little earned best of show at last year's North Central Washington Wine Awards, and he follows up that success with this delicious malbec. The nose is loaded with aromas of raspberry, florals and vanilla, giving way to flavors of ripe berry jam, buttered toast and dried herbs. It's all backed with refreshing acidity. (14.5% alc.)
Benson Vineyards Estate Winery 2012 Cabriovese, Lake Chelan, $34: This showpiece winery and vineyard on the north shore of Lake Chelan near Manson has crafted a delicious Super Tuscan style blend of cabernet sauvignon and sangiovese. The resulting wine reveals aromas and flavors of bayberry, pomegranate, complex spices and mouthwatering acidity, all backed by bright, food-friendly acidity and beautiful tannins. (13.9% alc.)
Vin du Lac Winery 2013 Lehm Riesling, Lake Chelan, $23: Longtime Lake Chelan winemaker Larry Lehmbecker has crafted a delicious riesling with aromas of baked apple drizzled with honey followed by flavors of white pepper, lime and Golden Delicious apple. Pair this with baked chicken or Thai cuisine. (13.6% alc.)
Eric Degerman and Andy Perdue run Great Northwest Wine, a news and information company. Learn more about wine at greatnorthwestwine.com.