Tunnel Hill Review
Address: 37 Highway 97A Chelan,Washington 98816.
Phone Number: 509-682-3243
Tasting Hours: See website for wine tasting details.
Region: Lake Chelan, Washington
Reviewer: Denise Gangnes
Review Date: 5/23/2013
Reviewer: Denise Gangnes
After a long drive from Seattle, Tunnel Hill is a welcome sight for visitors entering the Chelan city limits. The cheery staff and wide variety of wines are just the ticket to satisfy visitors making the trek to the beloved watery playground of the Okanogan Valley.
The Place:  Tunnel Hill Winery is comprised of an impressive grouping of structures that appear to have been plucked from the England countryside. Owners Denny and Jaclyn Evans have spent years transforming the former farmland into a bucolic stone-based complex built from the rocks of the Knapps Hill tunnel a few miles up the road. The original blasting many decades ago created the iconic gateway to the Chelan area, and the owners proudly used its ruble to create several stunning buildings on the site. Historic photos displayed in the tasting room tell the story. The structures are surrounded by grape vines, with stone tiered patios facing the lake inviting visitors to relax and enjoy the ambiance, with just enough trees to shade the infamous hot summer days.
The Experience:  Expect to be warmly greeted by Colleen, the grandmotherly and eternally upbeat tasting room attendant. The room has a happy feeling even on days without the famous Chelan sunshine. The homey and tastefully decorated space (can I transport their restroom to my house?) includes cozy corners with black leather chairs, just the right amount of knick knacks, and a large window opposite the tasting bar that peeks onto the patio and extensive picnic area .
The Wines:  Expect to choose four selections from a list of six or seven wines, although Colleen has been known to cheerfully offer extra an extra pour or two. First up was the 2011 Viognier ($18.95), which showed plenty of citrus and was a refreshing start after the long drive. The Dutch-Canadian couple to my right was very interested in Rieslings. I can confirm the rumor that many fine Rieslings are produced in the region, prominently reminiscent of local stone fruits that blanket the banks of Lake Chelan. The 2012 Estate Riesling has a touch of sweetness with a hint of ripe pear. Look for nuances of apricot in the 2012 Late Harvest ($21.95) with 8% residual sugar. I was intrigued by the 2012 Syrah Rose; those who prefer off-dry rose will be pleased; the essence of strawberry on the palate is delightful. I popped for a bottle at $19.95.
The 2010 Estate Pinot Noir (the winerys flagship wine) is fairly unique for this part of the state, as the temperature bears little resemblance to Western Oregon, where pinot vineyards are as common as Starbucks in Seattle. The Pinot Noir block was planted 10 years ago, and fortunately, the south side of the lake gets enough shade for the cool-climate Pinot Noir. Look for notes of currant and cherry. Tunnel Hill offers a three-bottle vertical collection of pinots from 2008-2010 for $99.95; alas, although I was intrigued, my wallet forbad me the pleasure of comparing the triumvirate. Many other respectable bottlings might trip your trigger, including a Zinfandel from the respected Wahluke Slope.
Insiders Note:  Although my visit took place during early springtime, other visitors were quick to share that raw milk cheeses and fresh fruit are offered among other farm-fresh eatables in the summer. Climb the stone tiers to the top of the hill for a fantastic view. And I dare you to walk away without a bottle or two who in their right mind would disappoint Colleen!