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.
Tsillan Cellars is one of the few wineries in the valley that produces 100% estate grown wines. Growing 15 different varietals, the winery produces 6,500-7,000 cases of wine per year. With their own production facility and barrel room directly behind the winery, every step of the winemaking process is done on site. Between whites and reds, Tsillan produces 15 single varietals and 7 blends. Some of the favorites include the Estate Bellissima Rossa, a red blend of Malbec, Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc and Syrah, as well as the Estate Malbec, which has won platinum, best of class, several double gold and gold medals.
The Tsillan Cellars Vineyards have been maintained by the same Vineyard Manager since day one. Bal Flores and his vineyard crew work year-round to ensure nothing but the best grapes are being produced. If you visit the winery in late August or early September, you will see Bal and his crew in the vineyard handpicking each cluster of grapes and placing them into one-ton bins, where they are eventually transferred to the crush pad. From soil to glass, all of Tsillan Cellars wines are produced entirely from estate grown vines.
As mentioned earlier, when Bob first began planting his vineyards, he was told white varietals would be the only grapes to grow well in the Chelan area. However, 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 or 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 tasters. 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 house 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. Ruby red in color, this wine is a blend of Barbera, Sangiovese, Malbec, Cabernet Franc and Grenache. It possesses aromas of pomegranate, cherry and wild rose blossom. The rose’ is always one of Tsillan Cellars favorites. It is released in April and usually sells out by August.
The last two wines on the tasting room list are red. Two of the most popular reds are the Bellissima Rossa and Reserve Syrah. The Bellissima Rossa, which means “Beautiful Red” in Italian, is a blend of Malbec, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Syrah. It’s a medium-bodied, dry red wine 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 once a month. Tsillan Cellars Winemaker and Sorrento’s Executive Chef work together to create the perfect courses along with the perfect wine pairing. These dinners create an evening full of gourmet dishes, estate wines as well as 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. The island patio also offers a breathtaking location for private dinners with it being surrounded by cascading waterfalls and a magnificent koi pond. If you have a larger group, the Tasting Room and Restaurant Pavilion are also available to host your event.
Being located in the center of the Lake Chelan Wine Valley, Tsillan Cellars is regularly participating in community wine events. Crush and Barrel Tasting are Fall events that attract many visitors to local wineries. These events are focused around harvest and talking on-on-one with the Winemaker. Tsillan Cellars offers Vineyard Wagon Tours during Crush weekend where you 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, Red Wine & Chocolate takes place over the course of two weekends in February. Each winery pairs their red wines alongside gourmet chocolates. Tsillan Cellars pairs gourmet chocolates that are actually infused with one of their red wines. During the Spring, Chelan Nouveau and Spring Barrel are the two events to look out for if you are visiting Chelan. Tsillan Cellars releases its new vintage of whites and rose’ for Chelan Nouveau. This weekend is the opportunity to be the first to try the winery’s new vintages. Lastly, Spring Barrel Tasting Weekend gives guests the chance to taste wine before it’s even bottled. It’s the first chance to find out what future vintages will taste like.
In 2016 Tsillan Cellars opened a second tasting room in Woodinville, WA. To show his devotion to wine club members (the club has grown to almost 3,000 members) Bob wanted a tasting room located on the other side of the Cascade Mountain range so members could enjoy Tsillan Cellars wine all year round. Venturing over the snowy mountain passes in the winter prevented many club members from visiting the winery. The only store you will find Tsillan Cellar’s wine for sale is the Red Apple grocery store in Chelan. Being 100% estate and producing everything on site has created the quality, not quantity, model.
Tsillan Cellars is located at 3785 U.S. Highway 97A, Chelan, WA. 98816. Phone: (509) 682-9463. www.tsillancellars.com. The winery’s tasting room in Woodinville is located at 19255 Woodinville-Snohomish Road, Suite 3, Woodinville, WA. 98072. Phone: (425) 482-5976.