Whidbey’s Port part of Washington wine history

By on February 17, 2014
Greenbank Farm on Whidbey Island in Washington state is the origin for the name of Whidbey's Port, a dessert wine made by Ste. Michelle Wine Estates.

Greenbank Farm on Washington’s Whidbey Island was owned for several decades by Chateau Ste. Michelle and is the origin for the name of Whidbey’s Port, a wine still made by the company. (Photo via Flickr/click for credit)

PROSSER, Wash. – For the past 30 years, one of Ste. Michelle Wine Estates’ little-known projects is a red dessert wine called Whidbey’s Port.

The origins of this special wine that continues to persist at just a few thousand cases per year lie in the early history of Chateau Ste. Michelle.

Soon after Prohibition was repealed in late 1933, two competing wineries started in Seattle: National Wine Co. and Pommerelle. One of Pommerelle’s founders was a German immigrant named John Molz, who began producing an apple juice just before Repeal. After alcohol production was legal again, Molz and his company began producing hard cider and got into the wine business, according to The Wine Project, Ron Irvine’s history of the Washington wine industry.

In the 1940s, Molz bought Greenbank Farm, a former dairy facility on Whidbey Island west of Everett. He planted 125 acres of loganberries, ultimately making it the largest such farm in the United States at the time. Naturally, he produced a loganberry wine.

Pommerelle and National Wine Co. were fierce competitors for 20 years until Molz bought out his rival prior to World War II but kept them as separate companies until they merged in 1954 to become American Wine Growers. Molz ran the company for another 18 years until selling it to Wally Opdycke, who changed the name to Ste. Michelle Vintners. Greenbank Farm on Whidbey Island went with it.

Whidbey’s Port begins in 1984

Whidbey's Port has been made since 1984.

Whidbey’s Port began in 1984 and has been made by Doug Gore, Gordy Hill and now Joy Andersen.

In 1984, the company decided to create a new product, and Doug Gore, a young winemaker who was overseeing production at the new Columbia Crest winery, was tapped to produce a Port-style wine. Ports are made by adding brandy or other spirits to a wine partway through fermentation, resulting in a sweet, high-alcohol wine.

The first Whidbey’s Port was made with Cabernet Sauvignon from Ste. Michelle’s Cold Creek Vineyard, north of the Yakima Valley town of Sunnyside. Gore said he used a bit of Grenache in 1985 and 1986.

“Making that Port the first time was nerve-wracking,” Gore told Great Northwest Wine. “It’s a little touchy. You want the right amount of alcohol and sweetness in the wine.”

Gore even called his old mentor from California for tips.

“He encouraged me to do it and told me how,” Gore said. “He warned me that the first time you do it, you won’t sleep – and he was right. It’s fun, it’s interesting, and I enjoyed the heck out of making it.”

In early 1987, Ste. Michelle announced plans to also make a loganberry liqueur. It built a facility and visitors center in Greenbank at the loganberry farm. The liqueur was produced for about a decade and could be found for sale at Columbia Crest into the early 2000s.

By the mid-1990s, producing the loganberry liqueur was no longer sustainable. In 1997, Ste. Michelle sold the farm to the Port of Coupeville, Island County and the Nature Conservancy, according to the South Whidbey Record newspaper.

Today, Greenbank Farm is an agriculture training center and uses a dairy barn that was built when the farm was established in 1904. Ste. Michelle’s tasting room now is the Greenbank Farm wine shop, which sells locally made wine, as well as Whidbey’s Port and two loganberry wines – a table wine and a dessert wine – made by Pasek Cellars in Mount Vernon.

Joy Andersen now makes Whidbey’s Port

Joy Andersen makes Whidbey's Port.

Joy Andersen, who has worked for Ste. Michelle Wine Estates since 1981, now produces Whidbey’s Port in Prosser and Grandview. (Photo courtesy of Ste. Michelle Wine Estates)

By 1987, production for Whidbey’s Port moved to Ste. Michelle’s Grandview facility, where it was made by Gordy Hill, who later was the winemaker for Northstar. Hill made the wine until he left the company around 2006, when it was taken over by Joy Andersen, head winemaker for Snoqualmie Vineyards.

Andersen, who has worked for Ste. Michelle since 1981, no longer uses Cold Creek Cabernet Sauvignon for the Whidbey’s Port – that fruit is too valuable as part of Chateau Ste. Michelle’s red wine program. But Cabernet Sauvignon remains an important part of the wine, taking up to 90 percent of the blend. The rest, she said, often includes Syrah, as well as some traditional Port varieties, including Touriga Naçional, Tinta Cão and Souzão.

“I like to base it with Cabernet Sauvignon because that’s where we get the tannin structure,” she said. “I really like blending that little bit of Syrah, which helps the fruit pop. I don’t have enough of the Port varieties to do it all.”

However, in 2009, she produced 120 cases of a Whidbey’s Reserve Port – perhaps a first for the company – using all Souzão grapes.

For many years, the company purchased the brandy, but it began distilling its own spirits in 2008 at the Snoqualmie facility in Prosser. The winery, not far from Desert Wind Winery, has since been converted to 14 Hands Winery and Snoqualmie production was moved to Columbia Crest in Paterson – about 30 minutes to the south. But Andersen still manages the Prosser facility while also overseeing Snoqualmie’s production.

The wine is fermented in Prosser, but it is aged, bottled and stored in Grandview, just a few minutes’ drive up the Yakima Valley.

Andersen produces about 3,500 cases of Port per year, though she didn’t produce any from the 2013 harvest. The wine is aged in barrel for two years before being bottled. It is sold for about $15 per 750 ml bottle and is available at Columbia Crest, Chateau Ste. Michelle and many wine shops and liquor stores throughout Washington.

Andersen describes Whidbey’s Port as one of the most gratifying parts of her job.

“I enjoy making it, and the crew does, too,” she said. “It’s something different in the middle of everything. The whole crew gets involved, and it’s one of the chores we all want to take part in. It’s definitely fun to be part of this legacy.”

About Andy Perdue

Andy Perdue is founding partner of Great Northwest Wine LLC and a longtime wine columnist. He is a third-generation journalist who has worked at newspapers since the mid-1980s and has been writing about wine since 1998. He co-founded Wine Press Northwest magazine with Eric Degerman and served as its editor-in-chief for 15 years. He is the author of "The Northwest Wine Guide: A Buyer's Handbook" (Sasquatch, 2003) and has contributed to four other books.


  1. […] Whidbey’s Port part of Washington wine history […]

  2. Dapper Swan says:

    Hi Joy,
    We are Dapper Swan Chutney, artisans of over 34 chutney flavors from around the world, made in Skagit Valley. For 5 yrs we have made our Cherry Port Fig chutney with Whidbey’s Port! It is a beautiful chutney. We wanted you to be aware of us in case you have a retail setting that we would be a fit. After all, wine, cheese, chutney all pair well. Contact us: http://www.dapperswan.com. or dapperswan@gmail.com Shelby and Jon Quilliam

  3. Jean says:

    I have a bottle of Whidbey Port 1986, will it still be good?

    • Greetings, Jean.
      That should be a very special wine that would be absolutely delicious this fall with a wedge of Stilton cheese and some hazelnuts. The cork is more than 30 years old, so may need to be treated care. I would suggest you track down and use the type of corkscrew that is called the “ah-so” or “butler’s friend.”
      Here’s a video demo of how to use one of those.
      If you think about it, let us know how the wine has fared.

      • Dennis Kline says:

        Do you have a distributor in California? We had your port at a friends house and would love to buy some.
        Dennis Kline
        Ridgecrest, Ca

  4. […] people make their cranberry sauce with wine, but I love to use port! This port happens to be one of Chateau Ste. Michelle’s little known projects. My favorite local […]

  5. Kris Hay says:

    I’m working with local chefs and mixologists, who are providing recipes for my upcoming cookbook/restaurant guide “Tacoma Aroma: Savor the Flavor.”
    One of the contributors offered a spin on a New York Sour, using Ramos Pinto Ruby. We also tested it using a 2016 Whidbey’s Washington Port and agreed that is was a tasty local substitution.
    I’m having difficulty finding a web site to ask the makers: Is this particular port an on-going venture? I looked at Chateau Ste. Michelle and don’t see it listed, and I see no info for M.W. Whidbeys—the “Cellared and Bottled by” name listed on the bottle.
    The recipe contributor was fairly particular about substitutes,and I don’t want to direct readers to look for an ingredient that won’t be available.
    Thanks in advance for your assistance.

    Tacoma Aroma Flavor Owner/Author

    • Greetings, Kris.
      That story was published six years ago, yet we seem to receive inquiries each year about the Whidbey’s program because it’s been so popular over the years. I’ve found a reference to production of a 2017 vintage, but let me reach out to my friends at Ste. Michelle Wine Estates to see what I can found out. Typically, those wines have been sold in the tasting room at Columbia Crest, which is where those Port-style wines are produced under the direction of Keith Kenison, the director of winemaking for 14 Hands.

      • Kris, I am pleased to report the Whidbey’s Port is alive and well. The 2017 vintage is — or will soon be — available at the Chateau Ste. Michelle tasting room in Woodinville and at Columbia Crest in the Horse Heaven Hills. I would encourage you to contact those tasting rooms for more information.

  6. Barbara DeMars says:

    I have fond memories of Whidby Island Port, but can not find it anywhere in MN.
    Can you ship it to MN?

  7. J Pine says:

    I have two bottles of Whidbey’s Port – 1988.
    Will this port be drinkable?
    I’ve always stored the bottles in a dark, constant temperature location.
    Been saving it for a special occasion but I guess those have come and gone. It’s now time to clean out stuff and get rid of things I don’t need.
    Looking forward to hearing from you.

    • Greeting JP.
      Ste. Michelle Wine Estates still produces the Whidbey’s Port, and it sounds as if you’ve cellared your two bottles properly. However, you will need to pull out the cork carefully because of the bottle’s age. I would suggest you track down and use the type of corkscrew that is called the “ah-so” or “butler’s friend.”
      Here’s a video demo of how to use one of those.
      With more than 30 years of age, those Port-style wines should be especially delicious right now. If you think about it, let us know how the wine has fared.

  8. DELLA DALANEY says:

    I love the Whidbey Island Port and have been drinking it for years. I buy it by the case, but lately seem to be having trouble getting it. If you can help I’d appreciate it.

  9. Lewis P. Favorite Jr. says:

    Is anyone making a Loganberry Port anymore. I used to buy it a number of years ago.

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