Holiday Movie is set in the Lake Chelan Valley

by Loni Rahm 

You know it’s the Holiday Season when the annual collection of family-friendly films and Christmas romance movies are released. 2023 was no exception.

One movie in particular —  A Vineyard Christmas — stood out from the rest of this year’s releases for a very big reason: the story is set in the Lake Chelan Valley.

I recently had the opportunity to visit with the screenwriter, Katie Wilbert. The interview quickly morphed into a delightful chat as Katie enthusiastically shared the “special and stressful” process that started with an idea that turned into a screenplay, which was submitted as a log line (brief synopsis) to Reel One Entertainment, and very quickly, at least in terms of the movie-making world, came to life on film.

My obvious first question: “Have you ever been to the Lake Chelan Valley?”

“No”, she admitted, “and I’m really bummed about that.”

“Then what inspired you to set your screenplay in a place you have never even visited,” I asked?

The short answer: Research.

I could visualize Katie counting off each point on her fingers as she spoke.

  • It had to be a real place in the contiguous United States. Someplace that people either may have known about or who may become intrigued by through the story’s portrayal. A real destination.
  • It had to be a thriving wine producing region, resplendent with vineyards surrounding unique and more often than not family-owned wineries.
  • It had to consistently accumulate significant snow each winter.
  • It had to have a genuine small town vibe — a family-centric community, where people know each other. Where kids grow up and sometimes move away to pursue careers but always yearn to come home.
  • It had to have a community-oriented holiday or winter season festival.
  • It had to have stunning geographic features that lend themselves to a romantic backdrop for the characters to interact within, including beautiful rolling hills covered with vineyards, and perhaps a body of water.
  • And because ice wine plays a large supporting role in the story, it had to mirror the specific conditions necessary to ensure the region not only can but has successfully produced ice wines.*

As Katie’s list of “must haves” grew longer and longer, the list of potential settings grew smaller and smaller until there emerged one clear winner.

And so the story was set in the Lake Chelan Wine Valley.

Heather, host of ‘Read Between the Vines’, is determined to create the perfect Christmas episode by featuring a unique winery from her hometown. The only thing standing in her way? Rudy, the attractive, stubborn owner of the winery.


The story is set in the Lake Chelan Valley, but the movie itself was filmed in and around Kelowna, BC. So don’t feel obligated to hit pause every time there’s a wide-angle shot, or freeze frame individual scenes in an attempt to discern local landmarks. There aren’t any.

Production companies, not screenwriters, determine where a movie will actually be filmed. However, Katie is confident that the authentic essence of the Lake Chelan community, which she generously infused into the characters and the storyline, will come through.

Hints of Lake Chelan Valley’s Small Town Holidays and Winterfest are apparent in this movie segment.


Akin to asking if someone has a favorite child, I asked Katie if there was a specific scene or a moment in the screenplay that she was especially excited about.

“I am so proud of the FriendsChristmas concept,” she replied.

In the movie, FriendsChristmas is initially introduced as a gathering of people at a potluck style holiday dinner. Each person brings a dish to share that is reflective of his or her cultural influences and traditions. The result is a culinary blending of personal experiences. For example, Katie incorporated the tradition of making her German grandmother’s (Oma’s) Spritzgeback cookies — borrowed from her hand-written recipe cards — into the story.

It develops into much more….but you’ll have to watch the movie (links below) for details.

The actual blatantly obvious cross-border alternative location for the filming aside, I asked Katie if the movie remained true to her screenplay.

Katie confided that while production was moving along, there was a bit of ad libbing, which she embraced. As the actors became more comfortable with the characters and the story, they starting interacting with each other slightly differently than the script.

Movie making is “a team sport,” said Katie. “I loved that they were bringing something extra to the story.”

Katie herself did some tweaking to the story along the way as the characters developed, including some script revisions after Filipino actress, Nikki McKenzie, was cast as Heather, the main character. Katie and Nikki were both immediately on board with introducing some traditional Filipino foods into the FriendsChristmas segment.

“Nikki started calling relatives for recipes,” said Katie, and was delighted to integrate her own heritage into the storyline.

Who are these people really?

If the screenplay’s setting was the result of a tremendous amount of research, then the inspiration for Heather was literally standing right of front of Katie. Heather has many traits in common with Claire Coppi, a friend of Katie’s, who is an actress turned sommelier, turned host of a social media wine show.

In addition, the character of Shannon is based on Katie’s own best friend, Jessie. It made for a fascinating yet familiar character, like working with a member of the family.

With the setting in place and the characters outlined, the story began to just flow like, well, like wine.

The finished product is a charming story where family and friends, and new relationships, form the backbone of a tight-knit community with a wine-industry flair.

“So what’s next?” I asked.

Katie said she is currently working with her writing partner of about 10 years, Amy, on a new screenplay. In contrast to the wholesome constraints associated with holiday romance movies, this new concept has some “grit” with topics that include a strong female character moving within the world of legalized weed. Katie feels if this project is picked up by a film producer, it would probably earn a PG-13 rating, possibly even an R rating.

As our conversation was winding down, Katie took the opportunity to rave about the bond formed by the cast and crew during the filming. She said the casting was simply marvelous, the production crew was great, and everyone had a lovely time working together.

Which prompted my next question: “Any talk of ‘A Vineyard Christmas’, Part 2?”

Katie laughed! “Funny you should ask,” she said.

While she hasn’t been approached by the production company about a sequel (yet), several of the actors expressed enthusiasm for another film, reinforcing the idea that there’s so much more story to tell.

With Katie’s apparent determination to be authentic and her propensity for research, I pointed out it’s pretty much a given that working on a sequel would demand she experience the Lake Chelan Valley in person to absorb first-hand the genuine community vibe.

I assured her that several dozen grape growers and winemakers, along with members of the community she already loves without ever seeing, would be waiting to welcome her with open arms.

Just like one of the family.

Sneak Peak at A Vineyard Christmas: Movie Trailer

Giving Credit where Credit is Due

The real life inspiration for Heather Marquez and TanninTV:
Claire Coppi (IG: @claire_coppi) who works for SommTV (IG: @sommtv_streaming / W:

The Actors:Nikki Mckenzie – IG: @nikkitabanana17
Victor Zinck Jr.- IG: @victorzinckjr
Brittany Clough – IG: @brittany_clough
Lucas Penner – IG: pennerlucas
Vincent Ross – IG: @c.vincentross
Lyndsey Wong – IG: @lyndseyjwong

Writer’s socials/Website:
IG: @katiewilbert

Thanks to the producer for this film who was AMAZING: Kelly Lansing – (IG: kellylansing)

Reel One Entertainment (producers) – IG: @reeloneentertainment / W:

*Benson Vineyards 2009 Viognier Iced Wine

About Katie Wilbert

Katie Wilbert is a screenwriter, actor and comedian. She has written and performed comedy in LA for over a decade.

An avid reader of romance, Katie recently shifted her focus to writing romance for TV/Ffilm. She recently sold two rom-coms to Reel One Entertainment, a production company that works alongside such networks as Hallmark and Lifetime. Her holiday rom-com, A Vineyard Christmas, is out now and available to watch on Amazon Prime, Freevee, Xumo Play, and PlexTV.

When Katie isn’t writing and performing, she enjoys crafting, watching bad movies with her girlfriends, and spending time with her clown husband (there’s definitely a story behind that statement) and 17-yr-old tabby cat named Shmeow.

Screenwriter Katie Wilbert and her cherished Oma have logged years of rehearsal for the scene where Rudy teaches Heather how to make these specialty German cookies.