Lake Chelan is a wine region (AVA) which takes its name from a glacial lake at the heart of Washington State. It is located in the northwest corner of the vast Columbia Valley AVA, but has a very different terroir due to its elevation and volcanic origins. A wide range of grape varieties are grown here, including Syrah, Merlot, Pinot Noir and Gewurztraminer.
The Lake Chelan AVA was granted in 2009, it covers roughly 24,000 acres (9,700ha) at the very southern end of the lake and surrounds the towns of Manson and Chelan. The surface of the lake is 1,100 feet (340m) above sea level, and vineyards stretch from its edge up into the surrounding hills to elevations of around 2,000 feet (610m).
Lake Chelan, at 55 miles (90km) long, is one of the largest (and deepest) glacial lakes in Washington. Its presence helps to moderate temperatures in the surrounding area, storing warmth over the summer and extending the growing season. This means that grapes have a longer hang-time and can develop phenolic ripeness while retaining important acidity. Moisture from the lake also helps to lessen the risk of damaging frosts.
Soils found in the Lake Chelan AVA are quite distinct from those in the rest of the Columbia Valley. Due to the area's elevation and position, it was unaffected by the catastrophic Missoula floods of the last Ice Age that shaped the terrain in much of eastern Washington and Oregon. The main geological influence of the region was an eruption of Glacier Peak in the Cascade Mountains 12,000 years ago of which deposited ash and pumice throughout the area. Coarse, sandy soils in the AVA are made up of mica and quartz and offer excellent drainage for the vines, lessening vegetation growth creating small berries with a good concentration of sugar and acid. Vineyards here require irrigation as rainfall is sparse due to the rain shadow caused by the northern Cascade range.
The first grapes at Lake Chelan were grown by Native Americans in the late 19th Century. Italian and German settlers established vineyards. Grapevines were eventually replaced by cherries, apples and urban development, until a revival of sorts in the late 1990s due to the popularity of the region as a holiday destination. When Lake Chelan became an AVA in 2009, there were around 260 acres (105ha) of vineyards planted within the boundaries.