Tasting Trip to Cascade Valley Wine Country, Washington

Photo © Rocky Pong Winery

In Cascade Valley Wine Country, the Columbia River makes a wide sweep against the eastern flanks of the Cascades. Summer afternoons can send you rushing to the nearest swimming hole, but nights cool down. The landscape is rich with nuanced microclimates capable of growing an amazing range of wine grapes.

This fruit-growing region is not new to vineyards and wineries, but, in recent years, more vineyards have appeared where orchards once stood, and more wineries dot the towns of Leavenworth, Wenatchee and Chelan. A driving time of only about 2.5 hours from Seattle to Leavenworth (the nearest town in the valley) makes Cascade Valley an ideal wine-tasting getaway. At least three days will give you plenty of time to experience an array of boutique tasting rooms in all three towns and might even allow time to visit with the winemakers.

Day 1, Leavenworth

Those familiar with Leavenworth know it as Washington’s Bavarian village, surrounded by towering peaks of the Cascades. It’s well-established as a tourist destination, and boasts a relatively new boom of tasting rooms and farm-to-table restaurants, a fresh addition to the oompah ambiance of German fare and beer gardens.

Arrive early enough for an afternoon visit to at least three tasting rooms. Start at Icicle Ridge Winery, which has two locations in town and one at the winery in nearby Peshastin. Those who opt to drive the few miles to Peshastin will step into a spectacular 5,000 square-foot former log home on the family estate. Winery founder Louie Wagoner and son-in-law and winemaker Don Wood produce Icicle Ridge’s hand-crafted wines. A visit here is a one-of-a-kind experience. While you’re sipping wine, ask the tasting room manager (which may be a family member), to show you around and point out the building’s unique architectural details and the stories behind them.

Next, in Leavenworth, you’ll find several tasting rooms on Front Street, the village’s main tourist area. At least two wineries there are worth your time: Baroness Cellars (939 Front St.), for winemaker Danielle Clement’s creative approach to blending, evident in her release “The Huntress” (sangiovese with some Bordeaux varietals); the other is Boudreaux Cellars (821 Front St.), where you’ll taste Rob Newsome’s exquisite single-varietal wines, most notably the cabernet sauvignon, made with fruit sourced from some of the most acclaimed growers in Washington.

For local flavors, reserve a table for dinner at Watershed Café (221 8th St.), a popular chef-owned, farm-to-table restaurant that sources fresh, seasonal ingredients from the Cascade Valley.

One of Leavenworth’s best lodges is Run of the River. Lodge-like log rooms come with spacious private balconies overlooking the forest and mountains, bikes and helmets, hiking poles and rucksacks and a soaking tub to enjoy when it’s time to wind down. A hearty three-course breakfast gets you going in the morning while sharing tales of adventures with other guests.

Day 2, Wenatchee

Only about 30 minutes east on Highway 2, you’ll come to Wenatchee, Washington’s “Apple Capital.” Given its vineyards and wineries, grapes could be coming in a close second.

Start your visit with late-morning browsing at Pybus Public Market, the state’s second largest after Seattle’s Pike Place Market. You’ll find boutique shopping stalls, artisan goods and foods, art and, of course, an excellent lineup of cafes for lunch. Don’t miss it—this is one of the Northwest’s best large-scale building architectural reclamation projects with a fun, industrial chic result.

After lunch, you’ll be ready for another afternoon of wine-tasting. Begin with a scenic drive to Malaga Springs Winery. You might think you’re lost as the road climbs to this high-altitude winery, but stay the course and follow the signs. At the winery, you’ll be delighted with the expansive view of the vineyards and valley below and the garden-like grounds. Turn around and you face a fortress of basalt cliffs behind the winery. Malaga Springs is another family enterprise, owned by Al (the winemaker) and Kathy Matthews. Like many winery owners, the Matthews are living their dream on their mountaintop. And Al is a very industrious winemaker; you may have trouble deciding which of the long lineup of wines to taste. When in doubt, let the expert behind the counter be your guide.

When you’ve tasted your fill at Malaga Springs, ride your brakes back down the mountain to Wenatchee. Next stop: Chateau Faire Le Pont Winery, occupying a historic depot, with tasting room, restaurant and all around great place to sip before driving north to Chelan.

Photo © Karma Vinyards
Photo © Karma Vinyards

Day 3, Lake Chelan

Few places in Washington are as scenic as Lake Chelan, a 50-plus-mile-long lake that snakes into the North Cascade Mountains. Vineyards undulating through the hillsides and riding down to the lake shore just add to the beauty and whisper, “You’re in wine country now.”

In Chelan, you’ll have plenty of lodging options, and, for a summer visit, you’ll want to make reservations far in advance. This is especially true to book the guest house at Nefarious Cellars. This two-bedroom guest house, adjacent to the winery and tasting room, is worth standing in line for the views alone. A few steps away and you’ll be in the tasting room or on the sunny patio, overlooking the vineyards and lake. Owner Dean Neff makes the reds and his wife Heather makes the whites, sourced from their own blocks and other select Washington vineyards.

If you are lucky enough to stay at Nefarious Cellars, be sure to shop for breakfast groceries; the guest house comes equipped with a full kitchen.

The next morning, drive into downtown Chelan and stop in at the new, state-of-the-art Visitor Center (216 East Woodin Ave.) for a museum-quality overview of the region and its viticulture. Next door to the Visitor Center, you’ll find Rocky Pond Winery’s contemporary tasting room, where you can sample their award-winning wines; a particularly good wine to start your day of tasting is their 2014 Viognier, which won a double-gold medal at the 2016 Seattle Wine Awards.

For lunch and a flight of fine bubbly, drive the south shore to Karma Vineyards to dine on the outdoor patio overlooking the lake and vineyards. Karma winemaker Craig Mitrakul takes making sparkling wine using the méthode champenoise very seriously, and the award-winning results speak for themselves.

At the edge of downtown, you’ll find One Wines (526 East Woodin Ave.), where Greg and Jo Cowell make one red, one white and one rose. If you make only three wines, they should be good, and these are delightful. A few short blocks away from One Wines, enjoy a hearty meal and local wines at a spot frequented by the locals: Fox & Quail Café (303 East Wapato Ave.).

With your trunk stocked with bottles from your new, favorite tasting rooms, it’s time to leave the Cascade Valley. If you’ve traveling west on Highway 2, do yourself a favor and look for the sign to the famous Anjou Bakery, near Cashmere (3898 Old Monitor Rd.). The artisan pastries and breads are legendary, and you’ll taste why. Stock up on your favorite treats to take home. Tip: The buckwheat shortbread pairs well with a soft cheese, like camembert, and a glass of One Wines rose.

Nine boutique wineries, vineyards with postcard-perfect views, charming towns, great food—the last three days might seem like three weeks, you’ll have experienced so much. But you’ll savor your Cascade Valley Wine Country memories. And maybe you’ll even tell your friends about it.