Tsillan Cellars: This winery in Washington’s Chelan Valley
will make you feel like you’ve taken a trip to Tuscany
Owner Dr. Robert Jankelson defied the experts who said only white varietals would grow well in the Valley. The winery now produces 15 single varieties of award-winning wine and 7 blends.
Nestled on a sloping hillside on the South Shore of Lake Chelan sits Tsillan Cellars. When driving into the Chelan Valley (which is located in the North Cascades Mountain range of Washington State) you will see Tsillan Cellars situated on a hill surrounded by 40 acres of vineyard. As soon as you enter the gates and head up the long driveway through the vineyard, you feel as if you were in Tuscany.
When you walk into the tasting room, you immediately notice the high ceilings and open beam trusses made from timbers reclaimed from the old train trestle that used to cross the Great Salt Lake. Everything from the Italian porcelain floors to the Travertine stone walls and pillars were designed to reflect Italian architecture.
As you walk out onto the patio there is a large koi pond surrounded by cascading waterfalls and an island in the middle where you can sit and enjoy the scenery. A small bridge leads you over the water and up the stone steps to the Upper Terrazzo, a magnificent patio underneath a grapevine covered trellis.
Dr. Robert Jankelson’s dream of starting a winery in Lake Chelan began when his travels in the dentistry profession led him to Italy. The romance of Italy drew Bob in and captivated him right then and there. The food, the wine, the entire atmosphere, was what began the journey of opening not just a winery, but an experience.
In 2000, Bob acquired 40 acres of apple orchard on the South Shore of the Lake. Out came the apple trees and in went grape vines. In the beginning, experts told Bob only white varietals would grow well in the valley. However, Lake Chelan’s unique AVA characteristics have allowed red varietals to thrive. Red varietals grown include Barbera, Sangiovese, Syrah, Malbec, Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Merlot, Grenache and Dolcetto.
Everything from the unique soil composition to the “lake effect” creating mild temperatures during the summer and winter months has allowed Tsillan Cellars’ vineyard to flourish over the last 17 years. The first vines were planted in 2001 and an additional 90 acres were purchased in 2003. By 2004, Tsillan Cellars opened its doors. (Editor’s Note: Before you visit Tsillan Cellars, make sure you know how to pronounce Tsillan. It is simply pronounced – “Chelan”.
When Bob first began planting his vineyards, there was a misconception that Chelan was a cool climate growing area suitable only for white wine varietals. Twenty vintages later, Washington State University growing records confirm that the Lake Chelan AVA is a warmer growing region than Walla Walla and Yakima Valley.
Tsillan Cellars is today the largest estate vineyard in the Lake Chelan AVA and was recognized as Washington State’s 2020 Winery of the Year by Wine Press NW. With its own production facility and barrel room directly behind the winery, every step of the winemaking process is done on site to produce approximately 8,500 cases of wine annually.
Between whites and reds, the winery produces 15 single varietals and 7 blends, all curated by its winemaking and vineyard teams led by Garrett Grubbs and Nic Stevens. Some of the favorites include the Bordeaux-style red blend, Bellissima Rossa, and a pure varietal Estate Malbec, which year after year is awarded platinum, best of class, double gold and gold medals in national and international wine competitions.
Tsillan Cellars now grows five white varietals, including Pinot Grigio, Viognier, Gewurztraminer, Chardonnay and Riesling, as well as nine reds, including Barbera, Sangiovese, Syrah, Grenache, Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Malbec and Dolcetto, which is the first time this varietal has been planted in the Chelan Valley. Whether you are a fan of dry whites, sweet whites, dessert wines or reds, Tsillan Cellars offers a diverse selection of wines.
When you visit the tasting room, there will be a selection of five wines comprised of whites and reds to try. One of the first white wines you might see on the tasting list is the Nudo Chardonnay. This dry estate Chardonnay, aged in 100% stainless steel, surprises most wine drinkers. Even if you are not a fan of Chardonnay, this wine will surprise you. Possessing characteristics of a Pinot Grigio with its light and crisp acidity, it attracts those who typically don’t choose Chardonnay on a regular basis.
Another white you may typically see is the Sempre Amore. This blend of Pinot Grigio, Nudo Chardonnay and Gewurztraminer creates a full bodied, off-dry wine perfect for food pairings. This white wine has been a favorite since the winery opened in 2004. During the summer, Rose’ is often the third wine found on the tasting list. It possesses aromas of pomegranate, cherry and wild rose blossom. The rose’ is always one of Tsillan Cellars’ favorites. It is released in May and all 1,000 cases usually sell out by September.
Two of the most popular reds are the Bellissima Rossa and Reserve Syrah. The Bellissima Rossa, which means “Beautiful Red” in Italian, is a Bordeaux-style dry, medium bodied blend that is ideal for food pairings. If you want something with more body, the Reserve Syrah will not disappoint. Aged in 100% new French and American Oak, this red is incredibly smooth and soft on the palate, yet it offers rich flavors of toffee and ripe fruits. No matter what style of wine you prefer, you will always find one to fall in love with at Tsillan Cellars.
One thing Bob learned in Italy was the beautiful relationship that food and wine have together. Located right next to the tasting room at Tsillan Cellars is Sorrento’s Ristorante, an Italian inspired restaurant which was named OpenTable’s Top 100 Scenic Restaurants in America in 2014. You’ll enjoy your meal with panoramic views of Lake Chelan, surrounding vineyards and picturesque landscapes.
Sorrento’s creates the perfect atmosphere for a romantic date night or a night out with the family. Together, Tsillan Cellars & Sorrento’s offers the ultimate wine and food experience through their Winemaker Dinners. October through April, Tsillan Cellars hosts a five-course, wine-paired dinner about once a month. Tsillan Cellars Winemaker and Sorrento’s Executive Chef Troy Nesvacil work together to create the perfect courses along with the perfect wine pairings. These dinners create an evening full of gourmet dishes, estate wines and educational information about how each pairing was selected.
With the picturesque views and one-of-a-kind landscape, Tsillan Cellars offers the perfect venue for events, private parties and weddings. If you are searching for a venue for a wedding, a corporate event or a birthday party, you will find the ideal location at Tsillan Cellars to host your event.
The Upper Terrazzo is a grape vine covered trellis, sitting above the winery and overlooking the koi pond and lower patio. It is perfect for rehearsal dinners, small weddings or private parties and hosts “Music Under the Vines” every Monday during the summer from 4 p.m. to 6 p.m. The island patio also offers a breathtaking location for private dinners with it being surrounded by cascading waterfalls and the koi pond. The Tasting Room and Restaurant Pavilion are also available to accommodate larger groups.
Being located in the center of the Lake Chelan Wine Valley, Tsillan Cellars is regularly participating in community wine events. Taste Chelan in March and Barrel Tasting in the fall are events that attract thousands of visitors to the region every year. Both of these events allow wine enthusiasts the opportunity of talking one-on-one with the winemakers throughout the Valley. Tsillan Cellars offers Vineyard Wagon Tours during Crush weekend in the fall where visitors can see first-hand where the grapes are grown.
During Fall Barrel Tasting Weekend, the Winemaker brings in a barrel directly from the barrel room and sets it up in the tasting room where you can taste wine straight from the barrel. Around Valentine’s Day and throughout February, local wineries celebrate the “Month of Love” by pairing their red wines with gourmet chocolates. Tsillan Cellars pairs gourmet chocolates with chocolates that are infused with one of their red wines.
In the spring, Chelan Bloom and Spring Barrel are two events to look out for if you are visiting the region. Tsillan Cellars releases its new vintages of whites and rose’s for the Chelan Bloom event. It’s an opportunity to be among the first to try the winery’s new vintages. Lastly, Spring Barrel Tasting Weekend gives guests the chance to taste wine before it’s bottled. It’s the first chance to find out what future vintages will taste like.
After a year of planning and design, Tsillan Cellars has announced that it will move its existing tasting room in Woodinville, WA., to a new, state-of-the-art facility this summer (exact date to be determined) in Woodinville’s new Woodin Creek Market Place Wine Alley. Located in a quaint European-style cobblestone wine alley, the new venue is designed to give wine club members and wine tourists an unrivaled luxury wine destination reflecting the architecture, elegance and hospitality of Italy.
Tsillan Cellars flagship winery is located at 3785 U.S. Highway 97A, Chelan, WA. 98816. Phone: (509) 682-9463. www.tsillancellars.com. The winery’s current tasting room in Woodinville is located at 19255 Woodinville-Snohomish Road, Suite 3, Woodinville, WA. 98072. Phone: (425) 482-5976.
If you don’t have plans to travel to Chelan or Woodinville this spring or summer, you can purchase all of Tsillan Cellars’ current releases by logging onto the winery’s online wine store at: www.tsillancellars.com/wines. The winery ships to a total 30 states in the U.S.