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You’d think that discovering a little-known but great wine producer in Chelan, Washington would start with a referral, or perhaps a random road stop and tasting, while touring the area. But our discovery of Cheval Cellars Winery started with a campsite search.
It was a girl’s road trip weekend from Vancouver, BC on our way to the Gorge Amphitheatre to see The Dixie Chicks (now known simply as The Chicks). In tow was a 1975 Trillium trailer and another SUV packed full of two tents, gear to sustain us for a long weekend, and five friends looking for a fun and rekindled connection.
After ruling out free-camping in the land of gun totting land barrens, and becoming disillusioned with the prospect of crowded private campgrounds full of RVs and grinding generators, we stumbled upon https://hipcamp.com, a comprehensive site listing of non-traditional camping opportunities – ranging from public parks to private land. More than just tent camping, Hip Camp lists cabins, tree-houses and glamping listings in Canada, the USA, Australia, France and the UK. And that is where we discovered orchard camping.
We were looking for an overnight stay along the way to The Gorge, wanting to savor a bit of solitude together, before the onslaught of tight quarters camping for the concert. To be fair, we had booked “premium camping” there, which offered us air conditioned washrooms and showers, a step up from porta potties in the general area, but we knew well those two evenings would be far from peaceful.
Imagine our delight, when we discovered a lovely camping spot in the emerging wine region of the Chelan Valley, three hours east of Seattle – an area rivaling the Okanagan 15-20 years ago.
The Washington Wine Man
And that is how we met Marcus, aptly named “washingtonwineman” in his email handle, from Cheval Cellars, who had listed his wineries apple orchard as a campsite on HipCamp.com
While the Lake Chelan Valley in Washington state is best known for its world-class fishing, there’s a growing industry of wineries and vineyards in Chelan and Manson worthy of attention. The area features numerous small estate wineries, where distribution is mostly limited to those keen enough to search it out and travel there.
While Cheval Cellars camping lists a two night stay minimum on their site, we were able to negotiate our single night with two sites for our group. Marcus no doubt sniffed wine sales opportunity with a group of five women, and we did not disappoint him. We totally lucked out, having the lovely orchard and escarpment view site overlooking the valley all to ourselves that evening, a rare but possible occurrence, which made it even more delightful as we talked, laughed, and listened to music under a full moon well into the night.
Aptly noted as “You bring the bed, we bring the bottles,” on their website, the campsite offered captivating views of Lake Chelan Valley and mountains, on the other side of the Cascades. Camp sites are located on the working orchard and vineyard, for discerning quiet campers to enjoy.
Facilities are basic – picnic table, running water, an outdoor shower, and spotlessly clean portable toilets. Being a working orchard, the sounds of sprinklers and the maintenance crew arriving at sunrise was all part of the experience.
Scheduled tours and tastings are available too, as are orchard activities including harvest, wine and cider making, depending on the time of year. There is also an opportunity to hike the area, or rent an e-bike to explore the countryside and nearby farms and vineyards.
Did we mention wine tasting?
Mobile wine tasting with the proprietors
Normally a tasting would require a visit to the estate winery building – and a change of clothes! But in a wonderfully casual, and welcome twist after a hot, exhausting day of travel, Marcus brought samples to us on the back of his quad ATV.
He arrived at happy hour with a case of various red wine vintages, and returned just before sunset with his wife Trie, since we had invited them both back to join us for some food and conversation. Of course more samples followed, this time sourced deep from his 2016 Estate Sarah and a 2013 Estate Grenache.
Cheval Cellars Winery – taste the struggle
Cheval Cellars wines are all estate grown, using hand-tended grapes, which are estate pressed, barreled and bottled on site. They produce 600 cases/year. Cheval Cellars also produce hard cider and apple cider from fruit that they grow, tend, harvest and bottle by hand themselves.
The back of their label sums up their approach and the climate challenges of the region well.
“The best wine grapes are grown at the extremes, not the codling comfort of the flat valley, but the hard-growing challenges of our vineyards’ rocky slopes, dodging relentless wind and searing summer sun, our hand-tended vines persist – Carefully given just enough water to summon the maturing grapes best nectar.” – TASTE THE STRUGGLE! https://chevalcellars.com/
How it all started
Marcus Smith, formerly an architect, spent much of his career active in energy conservation and passive solar design. His wife Trie, a Montessori teacher and school founder shared a passion for entrepreneurship and sustainable enterprise.
Backed by a life-long relationship since university, they raised two sons, and contributed to successful professional careers in Seattle. Together they founded Cheval Cellars, when the next chapter came calling.
The trip to France
In 2001 they accompanied good friends on a trip to France. The month-long trip included two weeks in hill towns of Provence in sun-drenched southern France. The pair became smitten with the laid-back lifestyle of small family run wineries and farms dotting the hills amongst the picturesque villages.
A dream becomes reality
After their return to Seattle, and it’s protracted gray winter, they began to wonder how they could create some of that French magic in Eastern Washington. The search for property where they could ‘plant a few grapes’ and enjoy the sunshine – without emigrating to France, began. In 2003 they found their property in the Lake Chelan area, and over the next few years resurrected the struggling apple orchard, grafting older apple varieties to English and French cider apples and some to newer varieties.
Gradually the occasional weekend participation required every week work – hard work removing weeds, planting wine grapes, a large garden and making a dilapidated house a livable weekend ‘cabin’. They’ve since employed many seasonal folks along the way, plus hired and housed a full-time manager.
commitment to sustainability
Their small farm is a sustainable enterprise with a diversified operation of apples, cherries, wine and cider as well as a small amount of Ag-Tourism.
They’re also giving back to the community, guided by sustainability, having founded Vinebase, a Public Benefit Corporation. Through this initiative, they are funding an architectural design project for the Manson Center, involving the repurposing and renovation of the former Manson Community Center built in 1923.
A passion for wine & community
The goal is to have the new structure support local small farmers, artists and craftspeople by offering a place for displaying and selling their products and anchored by a seasonal outdoor performance venue and small restaurant and food providers.
Passionate about wine, sustainable practices, and community contribution, you’d be hard pressed to find a more authentic and committed, lovely couple, to share a glass and conversation. The backdrop of the setting sun across the valley, was the perfect complement to sampling their estate wines, knowing we had also secured the perfect campsite!
Sometimes the best travel discoveries, are the surprises along the way.
If you go
LINK HERE to learn about Cheval Cellars and orchard camping opportunities through Hipcamp.com. USE THIS LINK to get a $10 Hipcash credit towards your first trip, when you create a new account on Hipcamp.com
While the Cheval Cellars website contains pretty basic content and doesn’t directly link out to social media, you can find them on Facebook here. as well as Instagram here, where they have been tagged more often than sharing posts. Know that the “taste the struggle” effort bares its soul in all of their wines, making the discovery of this winery and its charming orchard camping, all the more cherished. Connect with Marcus and Trie through their site noted above, by email email@example.com or by cell 509-828-2878.
You’ll find the winery at 14 Wapato Way, Manson, WA. From Chelan, it’s a right turn on Wapato Lake Road at the Casino, then it winds around the lakes, before climbing up the hills. You’re best to get email or text directions from Marcus to the campsite thought, since that alone will make you feel like you’ve thoroughly escaped to the country.
Cheval Cellars, 14 Wapato Way, Manson, WA