Celebrating 15 Years of the Lake Chelan AVA

May 30th marks the 15th anniversary of the Lake Chelan AVA! 

Lake Chelan was designated an American Viticultural Area in 2009, making it the 11th AVA in Washington State.

To celebrate this incredible milestone, we’re reflecting on the path that led to where we are today and all the exciting ways we plan to mark the accomplishment during the Vintage Lake Chelan weekend, May 30th – June 2nd.

A History of Agriculture

Historic Chelan

Long before it became known for its vineyards, the Lake Chelan area was home to Indigenous tribes who recognized the fertile potential of the region. 

These indigenous people were the area’s first agriculturists. They adeptly managed the land through controlled burns and selective harvesting to encourage the growth of useful plants, particularly those that attracted grazing animals.

The arrival of the first white settlers in the mid-19th century marked a significant shift in the area’s agricultural landscape. 

These pioneers brought new farming techniques and crops, gradually transforming the land to suit their needs for sustenance and economic opportunity. Orchards and cattle grazing became prevalent, setting the stage for more diversified agricultural practices. Through much of the 20th century, the main crops of the Lake Chelan Valley were apples, cherries, pears, and peaches.

The first commercial vines in Lake Chelan were planted by Italian immigrants who had brought grapevines from California.

In the early 1900s, these pioneering viticulturists recognized the potential of the region’s rich volcanic soil and the lake’s moderating effects on the local climate, which provided ideal conditions for grape growing. 

Their initial plantings laid the groundwork for what would become a flourishing wine industry.

Modern Pioneers of the AVA

Lake Chelan Winery

Despite its early start, the wine industry in Lake Chelan took many decades to mature. It wasn’t until the late 20th century that a renewed interest in winemaking began to take root. 

Inspired by vineyards’ success in nearby regions and in response to a crash in the apple market, local farmers started experimenting with wine grape varietals. The results were promising, revealing that Lake Chelan’s unique terroir could produce wines of exceptional quality.

The first production vineyards were planted in the spring of 1998 by Bob Christopher and Steve and Bobbi Kludt, who both replaced apple orchard acreage with wine grapes. In 2000, the Kludt family licensed and bonded the first winery in Chelan County, kicking off an exciting new chapter in our region’s history.

By 2006, the Lake Chelan Valley had 140 acres of vineyards, 15 active wineries, and a dedicated group of winemakers who formed the Lake Chelan Wine Grape Growers Association. 

Early pioneers of the Lake Chelan wine industry include Paul Benson (Benson Vineyards),  Larry Lehmbecker (Vin du Lac Winery), Ray Sandidge (C R Sandidge Wines), Bob Jankelson (Tsillan Cellars), Lynn and Henry Muneke (Chelan Ridge Winery), Katy and Milum Perry (Tildio Winery), Denny Evans (Tunnel Hill), Dean and Heather Neff ( Nefarious Cellars), Don and Judy Phelps (Hard Row to Hoe Vineyards), and Mary and Bob Broderick (Chelan Estate) among others.

The community’s growing commitment to viticulture culminated in the designation of Lake Chelan as an AVA in 2009, a process that had been in the works for seven years.

This recognition by the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau was a milestone, acknowledging the area’s distinctive geographic and climatic features that differentiate its vineyards from surrounding regions.

Learn more about what makes the Lake Chelan growing area unique here!

The Lake Chelan AVA Today


Today, the Lake Chelan AVA is celebrated for its dynamic wine scene, characterized by a range of varietals reflecting the region’s diverse growing conditions and history.

Since the first plantings in 1998, the Lake Chelan AVA has grown to encompass 340 acres of total vineyard coverage, 49 vineyards, and over 40 unique tasting rooms. Major varietals grown include Syrah, Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, Merlot, Riesling, and Pinot Gris, to name a few!

Over the years, the Lake Chelan AVA has gained accolades for its award-winning wines, which highlight the optimal growing conditions in one of Washington State’s most breathtaking settings.

Celebrate With Us During Vintage Lake Chelan, May 30 – June 2

Vintage Lake Chelan

Join us in toasting 15 years of excellence during Vintage Lake Chelan!

Vintage Lake Chelan is a weekend-long event celebrating this incredible milestone in the history of the Lake Chelan AVA. It all kicks off with a Grand Tasting on Thursday, May 30th!

The Grand Tasting Event takes place at Vin Du Lac Winery on May 30th and includes:

  • Welcome pour of Vin du Lac Winery sparkling wine
  • Premium hors d’oeuvres from Vin du Lac’s culinary team
  • Winemaker panel led by David Flaherty, Marketing Director/Washington Wine Commission
  • Exclusive pours of locally sourced wines from growers and winemakers in the Lake Chelan AVA
  • Exceptional wines available from the Lake Chelan Wine Valley bottle boutique 

Get Tickets Here

Visit the Vintage Lake Chelan page here for more details on weekend events at participating Lake Chelan wineries!

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