Wine industry brings new life to Manson

The Wenatchee World
by Rick Steigmeyer

MANSON — With nearly 20 wineries and wine-tasting rooms within walking distance or a few minutes ride by bike or car, Manson has become one of the state’s most popular new places to sip boutique wines.

And this year, so far without the danger of wildfires and irritation of thick smoke, business is booming.

Situated on the North Shore of Lake Chelan, Manson thrives in spring through fall when it attracts droves of tourists, vacationers and condominium owners. If the lake itself isn’t enough of a draw with swimming, boating, and fishing, there’s the Colville Casino and its Deepwater Amphitheater concerts and a lively downtown Manson shopping and dining area.

And now there is wine culture. Over the past dozen years or so, more vineyards have been planted to take advantage of the Lake Chelan micro-climate, long famed for growing apples. The same lake-warmed temperate weather and glacial soils that are good for apples have proved equally suitable for growing wine grapes.

Starting with Lake Chelan Winery in 2000, new wineries have opened up year by year to offer visitors yet another way to enjoy the region. Steve and Bobbi Kludt started out growing apples in Manson in the mid-1970s. They managed a comfortable living for years until apple prices plummeted due to overproduction and other problems in the late 1990s.

In 1998, the Kludts and then-partners Bob Christopher and Jim Stephens planted the first commercial vineyard around the lake and one of the first in North Central Washington. They started Lake Chelan Winery two years later. The Kludts opened a second winery, Wapato Point Cellars, in 2003. Later, they opened restaurants at both sites.

Paul and Kathy Benson purchased apple land just above Lake Chelan Winery that same year. With their sons, Jeff and Scott, they began planting vineyard on 28 acres in 2002. They opened Benson Estate Vineyards Winery in 2004.

The people who have watched us for nearly 20 years know what can be done here,” said Jeff Benson, about the influx of new wineries. “People told us we couldn’t grow grapes here. We showed them can not only grow great whites, we can grow reds.”

Lake Chelan tourism took a hit the past two years as wildfires and lingering smoke forced vacationers to flee or cancel reservations. Still, Benson said the winery has grown busier each year.

We’ve stuck to our business plan from the get-go. I haven’t been to another winery because I’ve been too busy here to leave,” he said.

A stop at the Italian villa-themed winery last week saw limousines, buses and vans bringing in large groups of visitors eager to taste Benson’s wines while taking in the scenic views of vineyards rolling down toward Lake Chelan.

We were slated to come up here last year, but the fires kept us away,” said Harold Jantz of Tacoma. He and his wife Peggy were visiting two or three wineries each day during their stay in a Wapato Point condominium.

Wine servers Jamie Bruno and Jared McGuffin were pouring samples as fast as they could for a large group of young women who came to the lake for a wedding.

Ronnie Kehl, owner of Lakeside Limousine, said he drives carloads of visitors to wineries around the lake all day long.

We started in 2005 with one car, now we’re nine deep. There were three wineries back then, now there’s north of 30 around the lake. It’s been good for everybody,” Kehl said. He said his limos take out a “staggering” number of cases of wine for guests.

Wine industry growth has also been good for Scott Meyers, who owns Lake Chelan Cheese, the cheese shop that moved into Lake Chelan Winery four years ago.

The wine industry has taken off and it’s been good for everybody,” Meyers said. “The wineries have paved the way for us. We knew this would eventually help bring year-around business, and it’s happened even faster than we expected.”

Dianna Kopak, head wine server at Lake Chelan Winery, said the cheese shop as well as other local wineries and businesses work together seamlessly and bring new customers to each other. “Business has been fabulous,” she said.

The Kludts early on envisioned Lake Chelan becoming the Northwest Napa. One of several consultants they and other wine pioneers invited to the area to help them get started was Katy Perry. She had worked as a winemaker for 15 years in Napa for famous wineries like Robert Mondavi and Stags Leap before she was hired by Chateau Ste. Michelle to head up its white wine production. She was so impressed with Manson’s potential, she purchased property there in 2001 and with her husband, Milum, started Tildio Winery.

Cheryl Nelson, Tildio’s sales manager, said the proliferation of wineries in the Manson area has only helped business.

It’s like car dealerships,” Nelson said. “They all want to be in the same place because everyone wants to test drive more than one car. People want to taste more than one wine too. We’re not even close to the saturation point here yet.”