Our weekend at the Chelan Crush wine harvest festival in Chelan, WA: Apples, cider, wine, wine, and more wine.
We have been to Lake Chelan, WA twice. Both visits were during summer, which is the peak tourist season due to all the activities on the lake in the hot, dry, sunny part of Washington State.
Within the last decade, wineries have been popping up all over the Lake Chelan area alongside the many apple and fruit orchards in the region. Lake Chelan now has 27 wineries and growing, and is becoming quite a wine tasting destination all year round.
I was looking for a fun fall getaway when I stumbled across the Chelan Crush Festival online. I couldn’t find much info about it, but it sounded fun and I heard rumors of possible grape-stomping opportunities. Paddy and I are always up for wine tasting, so we decided to visit during the second weekend of the Chelan Crush, which happens annually during the first two weekends in October.
We left Seattle around 2:00, and traffic wasn’t bad at all. The fall leaves made the drive over a beautiful scenic drive up through Highway 97, finally giving way to the rolling desert hills and sagebrush near Wenatchee and Chelan.
The last two summer trips to Chelan, we’d wanted to stay on the Lake so we had stayed in a one bedroom condo with friends at The Grandview. Lake accommodations are expensive, and we had brought groceries and cooked all our own meals to make up for the cost of the condo.
This time, the lake wasn’t the main attraction, and we wanted to go out to eat. I did some research and decided on The Midtowner Motel on Woodin Ave about a half mile from the lake in town. It was a great deal–nothing fancy, but for $69.00 a night, we got a room with a fridge, microwave, and flat screen TV within walking distance from town. It was very clean and the property was well maintained. They are pretty old-school there–I had to call and make my reservation by phone and they mailed me a confirmation letter via snail mail.
The bathroom was tiny, with a tiny shower stall in lieu of a bathtub, and no hair dryer. Suspecting that this might be the case, we brought our own hair dryer and were glad we did. Other than that, the beds were decent and the room was clean, comfortable, and had everything we needed. There was also a small indoor pool and hot tub on site that we didn’t use. Free coffee is available in the office lobby.
We were starving, so we walked into town for food and drinks. Normally we avoid the biggest tourist spots like the plague, but since it was the off season and the menu looked good, we decided to try Campbell’s Resort Pub and Veranda. We were glad we did, the food and drinks were surprisingly good.
Campbell’s had an extensive seasonal cocktail menu that I couldn’t resist. It was a tough choice, but I decided on the Jalisco Pear, which had lemon, cinnamon tequila, pear puree, hard cider, all-spice, and a cinnamon-sugar rim. It was delicious.
The prices here are high, but the food quality is there to back it up. We went with the more inexpensive burgers–Paddy had the Valhalla Burger, which had a house made beef patty, garlic aioli, arugula, grilled tomato, pancetta jam, and valhalla stilton. I went with the Blackened Chicken Burger, which consisted of a blackened chicken breast, spicy ranch, pepperjack cheese, bacon, and chipotle slaw on a brioche bun. It came with a lentil salad which I would normally have been super stoked about, but I subbed out fries because I’d been craving them all day for some reason.
The burgers were fantastic– sloppy, wet, and delicious. They were worth the $12-$15 tag. We shared a side order of the bacon brussels sprouts, which were also fantastic. They were sauteed with bacon, garlic, and shallots and were cooked to perfection. The fries were okay, probably the only slight disappointment to the meal. They were the pre-fab seasoned battered fries, and next to all the house-made unique flavors of the dishes, left a lot to be desired. Overall, it was a great meal and we’d definitely go back.
We considered stopping in for a drink at the Tin Lilly on the way back to the room, but they were packed. We were pretty beat, so we picked up some wine and headed back to the room to relax.
After breakfast, we headed out to Orondo to check out their “Cider Fest” happening that day. Orondo is a small town about a 15 minute drive along the Columbia River from Chelan. There isn’t a lot going on in the town, but the drive is beautiful and Orondo Cider Works is worth a stop.
Apples are inspected and bad parts removed, and then loaded onto a conveyor belt tube into a sort of “wood chipper” type machine. They are ground up and dropped onto a cloth on a plastic square, spread out and wrapped up with another square put on top for the next batch. The process is repeated until a stack of squares is achieved, and then they are moved underneath the press, which comes down and presses down on the stack until all the juice has poured out of the apples and down into a vat.
Inside the store, pumpkin doughnuts and cider doughnuts are fried and then sold up at the front counter.
We got a cup of hot spiced cider and a cider doughnut each and sat out at the picnic table watching the festival set up. There wasn’t much up yet, but families with kids kept pouring in. It looked like later there would be BBQ and live music.
We were hoping to taste the hard cider made on site, but they weren’t quite set up yet at the time the program said they would. As more screaming children poured onto the property, we decided just to head on to wine tasting with grown-ups.
Another 15 minute drive north on the 97 past Chelan, is Rio Vista Winery on the Columbia River. The signage isn’t great for Rio Vista, and we missed it at first and had to turn around. It is in between mile post 243 and 244, which is the easiest way to look for it.
We showed up about 15 minutes before the tasting room opened, so I walked up near the road and took some photos while we waited. I’m always in awe of the stark contrast between Eastern and Western Washington. So green on one side and dry, arid desert on the other.
The winery has two very friendly dogs, who were excitedly bringing a ball to all arriving guests in hopes they would play. Paddy indulged them for a few minutes.
The tasting room offered three tastes complimentary, or 6 for $5.00. We tasted three–the Cabernet, Pinot Noir, and the Loony Red. Our favorite was the 2011 Pinot Noir, a very full bodied red that we would have bought a bottle of if it hadn’t been for the $42.00 price tag. It was possibly the best one we tasted all weekend, and now we’re kind of wondering if we should have just splurged on a bottle. Chelan Crush goers began pouring into the tiny tasting room and it was quickly very crowded. We moved on, thanking the winemaker for the complimentary tastes.
We headed back to the lake, through Chelan and up to Manson, WA on the north side of Lake Chelan. Our next stop on our Chelan Crush tour was Hard Row to Hoe Vineyards.
When we arrived, they were in the midst of crushing grapes (no stomping in wooden barrels these days, think stainless vats and machines). The tasting room was busy, and pretty eccentric. They had an 1800’s French brothel decor theme going on, which I thoroughly enjoyed. They had a collection of wines called “Shameless Hussy” that weren’t available for tasting that day, but were prominently displayed for purchase. When we mentioned that we liked their style, the lady pouring our tastings made sure that we didn’t miss the wallpaper, which is quite scandalous up close. She said the owners imported it all the way from Belgium. I would have done the same thing. She told me that there was something more scandalous in the ladies’ room, but unfortunately I acquired a wine tasting buzz and forgot to check it out.
The tasting fee at Hard Row to Hoe is $10.00 per person, which is kind of ridiculous. All the wineries we’ve been to have had a tasting fee of $5.00 per person, often waived if at least one bottle of wine is purchased. The fee is waived here if a bottle is purchased, but it has to be one bottle per taster. We enjoyed their Cabernet Franc and their Sangiovese. We also enjoyed their Gewurztraminer, which was a bit sweet but had a nice fruity finish. The lady helping us mentioned that the Gewurztraminer goes well with Thanksgiving dinner, and I can definitely see it pairing well with turkey and cranberry sauce. We purchased a bottle of the 2012 Sangiovese and paid one tasting fee, as their bottle prices were also a little steep. This winery is worth visiting for the high fun factor and good wines, but bring your wallet and be prepared to put a dent in it.
We moved onto Cairdeas Winery at the recommendation of our friendly wine server at Hard Row. Cairdeas (pronounced Car-Dess) is Gaelic for friendship or alliance. They have several very unique wine blends and a small, rustic tasting room with very friendly servers.
We enjoyed the MV Tri-3 and the Counoise the most, and Paddy purchased a bottle of the 2012 Counoise, which was our favorite.
The winds picked up outside considerably, and the sun went away for a little bit. It was pretty blustery. We walked next door to Lake Chelan Winery, which we had visited on our last trip to Chelan. They advertised Chelan Crush festivities including grape stomping and BBQ. We were hungry, and decided that eating something would be best before continuing any wine tasting as we were driving.
The BBQ menu at Lake Chelan Winery looked good, but at $16-$23 a plate, it was more than we wanted to spend. Near the BBQ area were two wooden grape stomping barrels being cleaned out by a young girl, after a couple of women had recently done the grape stomp and were washing their feet in a nearby bucket. Stomping grapes was one of my priorities on this trip, but as we watched the poor girl clean out grape guts for the next person, with no celebratory flair to the event in the gray, windy weather, it just felt kind of pointless. They don’t use the juice from stomping, it’s more symbolic than anything else. Perhaps it was more festive earlier in the day. We opted to skip it and save the girl the trouble of cleaning up another mess for now.
Food was our main priority, so we headed back to town for lunch. Since the Tin Lilly had been so busy the night before, we decided to pop in and see what the fuss was about. The decor was unique, and they had a very nice back patio which I’m sure is great in the summer. I had the Roadrunner chicken burger with avocado, chicken breast, cheese, tomato, lettuce, and bacon. Paddy had the Buffalo Bleu Bill chicken burger with buffalo sauce and blue cheese. They were reasonably priced and came with hand cut fries, which were delicious.
Neither of us felt like we could continue wine tasting and safely operate a vehicle, so we headed back to the room to relax for awhile. I think if we were do do this again, we would try to arrange a winery tour shuttle. We saw a couple of them at the wineries–Kokopelli’s Run and Chelan Tours. I’m not sure if you can jump on a shuttle with another group or if you have to rent the whole thing as a group, but they are worth checking out if you don’t have a designated driver who hates wine. Also an option for a larger group is Chelan Limo.
For dinner we had made a reservation at Vin Du Lac Winery, which was a short drive away. We arranged a taxi with the surly woman at Chelan Cab, which was $10.00 each way. We wanted to be able to have more wine with dinner and not have to worry about driving. Chelan Cab can be reached at
We had been to Vin Du Lac Winery for wine tasting on our last trip to Chelan. They had Chelan Crush festivities that day as well, we saw the remains of a pumpkin painting table for children and two grape stomping barrels on their patio. Their patio is really nice in the summer, surrounded by the vineyard with bistro string lights and a lovely view of the lake from their hillside location.
It was too windy and chilly to eat on the patio that night, so we ate indoors. The indoor dining area is cozy and they had a man playing guitar. The lighting was kind of bad–overhead lighting that was way too bright. There was a nice little mason jar candle at our table which was a nice touch, but it was burnt out.
Dessert was an apple cobbler but we were too full to try it. The owner stopped by and came around to check on the diners as well. He was pleased that we like the 2009 Syrah, it is also one of his favorites. He said that the 2008 one was even better.
After breakfast we bid goodbye to Chelan and headed home. We decided to take Highway 2 back instead of the 97 and I-90, and we were glad we did. The fall color was gorgeous on Highway 2.
So far we’ve been to 6 out of 27 wineries in Chelan, and would love to come back and do the Chelan Crush again, possibly arranging a shuttle so that we can visit more than just a couple wineries at a time. The restaurant options in Chelan are a lot better than in Leavenworth and the Zillah/Toppenish areas in Washington where we have been wine tasting in before. If wine is your thing, head to Chelan in the off-season when the prices are low and the crowds are gone. There is plenty of wine and good food to try.