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Celebrating the Crush at Lake Chelan, Washington

We arrived at crush, with wineries bringing in grapes and visitors thronging the town of Chelan.

Despite the hustle and bustle of the harvest, the wineries hosted dinners, tastings and other events. With warm fall weather and people seeking a break from sheltering at home, the wineries were busy, the restaurants booked, and many of the town’s hotels full.

For Puget Sound residents, Chelan serves as a quick vacation getaway from the rain and gloom of western Washington. Located 180 miles east of Seattle on the dry eastern side of the state, Chelan offers swimming, boating, hiking, biking and terrific wine touring.

As I kid, I used to go to Chelan for our summer vacation. We’d camp at the state park, swim in the cold, clear lake, diving for coins dropped from other swimmers’ pockets. My Dad loved the hot, dry weather and the chance to get away from Seattle. The town of Chelan was small, with beautiful parks, a smattering of snack and ice cream shops, but few good restaurants.

Things have changed since. Every time I return to Chelan, I’m struck by the number of new restaurants, wineries and hotels. This trip I stayed at the conveniently located GrandView on the Lake, within easy walking distance of Chelan’s pedestrian-friendly downtown.

One of the hotel receptionists mentioned business was up 30 percent from last year. It seems Covid has kept people off the plane, opting instead to vacation closer to home. People have rediscovered Chelan as an appealing destination. The sun worshiping, boating, fishing and swimming are still first rate, but now you can enjoy quality dining, excellent wineries, and varied biking and hiking itineraries.

With so many local wineries, it’s hard to choose which ones to visit. We had the pleasure of visiting Succession Winery, owned by Brock and Erica Lindsay. My wife Lisa and I enjoyed a fabulous dinner under the stars outside the winery with a tasting menu complemented by Succession Wines, including a Cabernet balanced as precisely as the bridges Brock used to build before founding a winery. In 2014, the couple lost their home to the Carlton Complex wildfires. Afterwards, they turned what could have been a tragedy into an opportunity, opening their winery in Manson, a short distance from downtown Chelan.

The next morning, we explored the hiking and mountain biking above the lake at the Echo Ridge area, a surprisingly large and well-maintained trail system. After a day of hiking, we eagerly anticipated dinner at Tsillan Cellars’ Sorrento Ristorante. The Tuscan-inspired restaurant sits on the south shore of the lake amid an estate vineyard, boasting sweeping views of the lake and mountains in the distance. I enjoyed a soft, silky 2014 Reserve Syrah with a succulent rack of lamb while my wife opted for the Pan Seared Duck and Raspberry Lava Cake. The delightful food and wine pairings enhanced by the spectacular view made for a magical dining experience.

After a relaxing bike ride around town the next morning, we returned to the GrandView, grabbed some towels, and took a refreshing dip in the cool, clear waters of Chelan. Some things about the place have changed for the better, while some of the  best and simplest attractions remain the same.

Nick O’Connell, Ph.D. is a freelance writer and author of the forthcoming, Crush: Adventures in the Wine Trade. He’s the founder of The Writer’s Workshop, an online and on-campus writing program teaching travel, food and wine writing classes and other writing classes.

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