Washington wines? Yes. Washington is now the second largest premium wine producing state in the country, and is home to 780 wineries in 13 AVAs. She says: I rarely think about Washington wines, but now they’re definitely on my radar.
We checked out some wineries in the Lake Chelan AVA. Lake Chelan (rhymes with Shazam!) is a narrow 55-mile long lake in the center of the state, with the AVA being in the northwest corner of the Columbia Valley AVA. The region is pretty dry and during the summer months can get up to 16 hours of sunshine per day. When we visited, it didn’t get dark until after 9 pm.
Where is Lake Chelan, Washington? About a 3-hour drive from the airport in Seattle, Washington.
Our first stop was Rio Vista Winery, which is about 10 minutes from the city of Chelan. Rio Vista is actually along the banks of the Columbia River, with their vineyards just above the sandy shore. Quite beautiful, as you can see from the photos.
Rio Vista is a small boutique winery run by a very gracious husband and wife, John and Jan Little. It’s a 4th career for John, after stints as a teacher, apple orchard farmer and carpenter. In fact he did all the beautiful wood carpentry inside the tasting room. John seems to really enjoy what he’s doing as owner and winemaker for this 1,000-case winery, and it’s reflected in the wines.
While the Little’s have only three acres planted with grapevines, they pack a whole lot of varieties into that small space. They grow Chardonnay, Pinot Gris, Riesling, Gewurztraminer, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Syrah. Plus, he also purchases Viognier, Malbec and Tempranillo and Cab Franc — so he’s working with a wide palate.
Rio Vista’s white wines are fruity, crisp, well-balanced and food friendly. The 2012 Rio Vista Wacky White is a blend of estate Chardonnay, Viognier, Pinot Gris and Gewurztraminer.
He Said: Despite the wacky name, this is a well-made, very enjoyable, serious wine. It has a nice floral nose with pear and honeysuckle flavors, firm acidity and a very nice finish. Because of the different grape varietals, it’s pretty versatile with a lot of different types of foods. I scored this a very solid 15.
She Said: Put some of this behind your ears and I’m pretty sure you’ll get lucky!
2012 Rio Vista Chardonnay:
He says: 2012 Rio Vista Chardonnay was also enjoyable (also a 15), but a bit more straightforward.
She Said: It was like a breath of the cleanest air you can imagine.
2012 Rio Vista, “Sunset on the Lake”:
He Said: I was intrigued by another blend — the 2012 Rio Vista Sunset on the Lake — which is comprised of Chardonnay and Gewurztraminer and gets a very light blush from the Pinot Gris. This is a very tropical flavored wine, with notes of mango and pineapple. It’s dry and still had good acidity though, which makes me think it would pair well with Asian foods. I rated it a 14.
She Said: Reminds me of Hawaii!
2009 Rio Vista Cabernet: John is doing a bang-up job with his red wines, including an estate Merlot, an inky Malbec and a very commendable Tempranillo with grapes from nearby Manson. We got to sample two Cabs, including the 2009 Rio Vista Cabernet, which earned double golds in the Seattle Wine Awards.
He Said: This estate cab was very dry and smoky, with medium tannins and a nice finish, and I rated it a 15.
She Said: I was expecting more wood
Then we got a chance to try a barrel sample of his 2011 Rio Vista Cabernet which will be bottled in the summer.
He Said: This fruit-forward estate cab was deep ruby in color and had wonderful blackberry flavors and medium tannins. This 2011 Cab was really enjoyable now and should be a real winner when it’s eventually released in another year or so.
She Said: I smell fresh tobacco. I hope your plan is to roll a cigar for me.
And lastly, let us tell you about the 2009 Rio Vista Loony Red:
This blend, named for the loons in the area, is made up of Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc and a bit of Syrah and was barrel-aged for 18 months.
He Said: This is a big and bold wine, with pronounced black fruit flavors and maybe a touch of smokiness. There’s a decent amount of tannins present, but it’s very enjoyable now and was a quite delicious mouthful. I rated it a very solid 15+
She Said: You had better bring some steak home. I opened the Loony Red!
We didn’t know what to expect from Rio Vista Winery, but the location, the beautiful tasting room, the great wines and the warm hospitality all add up to a GREAT experience.
Bonus points: SEAPLANE – Depending on which excursion got you to the winery, you’ll have an option to ride a seaplane! Fantastic way to view the area.
ADIRONDACK CHAIRS – sip and chill on the patio overlooking the lake or sip and chill on the grounds. You’ll want to buy a bottle and take it to the chair b/c you will want to sit there for a long time.
FIREPLACE – in the tasting room there’s a way comfy sofa in front of the fireplace. When was the last time you felt that comfortable and welcome in a tasting room?
WINE COLORED WALLS –the paint on the walls of the winery are quite unique. I mentioned to John that it looks like they painted the walls with some leftover wine. Really gorgeous.
CHERRY TREES – You’ll notice cherry trees on your drive up the driveway. . We’re not sure whose property it is, but if you get a chance, sneak away from your group and take a walk back down the driveway. There are a few random cherry trees separate from the actual orchard, and if those trees have some ripe cherries on them — try a few. ;-) No one could fault you for giving in to that temptation.
If you’re visiting the Lake Chelan area, you’ll want to be sure to put Rio Vista Winery on your list.
Click here to find a map for your whole new wine experience with Lake Chelan AVA and Washington wines.
The photos from Rio Vista Winery as a slide show. Enjoy!