From downtown Seattle, it’s easy see the Bainbridge Island ferry making its frequent runs across Puget Sound. But what you can’t see is how the island is another world.
Hop on that ferry and you’ll be transported – in a mere 35 minutes – to an oasis of green calm, of towering trees and lapping waves, and friendly faces everywhere you look. Once there, you may find you want to stay forever, as many people have. It’s a hard place to leave.
However, you wouldn’t necessarily expect to find a vibrant winemaking culture on an island within chilly Puget Sound. But, in fact, there are seven thriving wineries on Bainbridge, which has a population of 23,000. That’s one winery for every 3,286 inhabitants, which means there is plenty to go around, ranging from wines made from island-grown cool-climate varieties to grapes carefully selected from some of Eastern Washington’s best vineyards.
Why have a winery on the island?
“I chose to start a winery on Bainbridge because it is a great place to live, not because it’s a great place to have a winery,” said Matt Albee, owner of Eleven Winery. “It’s quite a difficult place to have a winery, and it has taken many years of losses to finally build it up to a sustainable level. I think this speaks to what drives all of us: passion. It’s not about the island being a great place for wineries. It’s about the island being a great place for people who are passionate about wine.”
The seven wineries have banded together to form the Winery Alliance of Bainbridge Island (WABI), which sponsors events such as Wine on the Rock. The next WABI event is Nov. 12-13 and will be wine and charcuterie themed. Many wineries still will have wine fermenting from the 2016 harvest, so those attending will have the opportunity to learn more about the fermentation process while meeting the winemakers and sampling their wares.
To keep up with Bainbridge Island wine events and news, go to www.bainbridgewineries.com.
Amelia Wynn Winery
Founded in 2008, Amelia Wynn produces Bordeaux, Rhône and Northern Italian varietal wines, with a new emphasis on the Spanish grapes Albariño and Tempranillo. Owner/winemaker Paul Bianchi sources grapes from notable vineyards in Eastern Washington, including Heart of the Hill (Red Mountain), Dwelley (Walla Walla Valley), Stillwater Creek (Columbia Valley) and Six Prong (Horse Heaven Hills) and turns them into wines that are influenced by his extensive travels in Europe, especially France.
“Winemaking is a craft,” he said, “and if you’re going to make wine, you want to do it well. The test is whether, as a craftsperson, you can elevate your craft to the point where people will pay you to make something great from raw materials.”
Amelia Wynn’s wines pass this test and have won numerous awards, most recently from the San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition, Savor NW, the Cascadia Wine Competition and the Sunset International Wine Competition.
Tasting room: Island Vintners tasting room (small plates are also served) at 450 Winslow Way.
Hours: Noon to 6 p.m. Monday to Thursday; noon to 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday; noon to 7 p.m. Sunday.
Winery: 9974 N.E. Point View Drive. Open by appointment.
The wines made at the island’s oldest winery are from 100 percent island fruit. Winemaker and viticulturist Betsey Wittick tends rare cool-climate varieties that thrive in the Puget Sound but are more commonly found in the Loire and the Mosel, such as Madeleine Angevine, Siegerrebe and Müller-Thurgau, as well as Pinot Gris and Pinot Noir.
“This area is very close, from a climate standpoint, to the Loire Valley,” Wittick said. “We have about the same seasonal temperatures and the same total yearly rainfall as that region. But we are different from the Loire and many French and German wine-growing regions in that we are drier during the growing season than most of them are.”
The vineyards are certified organic, and Wittick is working to apply biodynamic principles to their cultivation. Bainbridge Vineyards has recently won awards at the Cascadia Wine Competition, Savor NW, the Finger Lakes Wine Competition and Seattle Wine Awards.
Winery, vineyard and tasting room: 8989 N.E. Day Road
Hours: Noon to 5 p.m. Friday to Sunday; weekdays by appointment for groups of four or more.
Eagle Harbor Wine Co.
Known for its Bordeaux-style blends as well as its Viognier, Chardonnay-Viognier blend, Sangiovese, and Merlot, Eagle Harbor sources its grapes from renowned Columbia Valley vineyards such as Dwelley (Walla Walla Valley), Kiona (Red Mountain) and Seven Hills (Walla Walla Valley).
Emily Parsons recently purchased the winery from longtime owner and founder Hugh Remash, retaining Remash as consulting winemaker.
Remash is eloquent about the wines he has made for Eagle Harbor: “My work is to bring this year and that place and those grapes to someone’s glass and table, transformed into joyous wine. When, in the end, my wine is in the glass, I hope it is a pleasure in someone’s life. I hope they find it distinctive and delicious, attuned to the place it came from. Wine is simple to make yet maddeningly unpredictable and complex. Like cats. Like poetry. “
Tasting rooms: Parsons has opened a new facility with its own tasting room at 8897 Three Tree Lane, near the corner of Madison and New Brooklyn, while retaining the former downtown tasting room at 278 Winslow Way.
Hours: Both tasting rooms are open noon to 5 p.m. daily.
Owner/winemaker Matt Albee prides himself on making serious wines that are fun to drink – and in a variety of styles so that his wines are accessible to everyone.
While the main label is designed to be dinner table wine, Eleven has a second label, Ratio, which is intended to be casual and quaffable, and Albee is working to develop a third tier of reserve wines made for aging.
Furthering the theme of fun, Eleven features live music with local musicians every Saturday at its downtown tasting room, and also rents out its winery space for special events.
Eleven’s wines are made mainly from Malbec, Syrah, Mourvèdre, Petit Verdot, Pinot Gris, Roussanne and Viognier, and have recently won awards at Savor NW, the San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition and the Seattle Wine Awards.
Downtown tasting room: 287 Winslow Way
Hours: 1 to 7 p.m. Monday to Friday; noon to 7 p.m. Saturday; noon to 5 p.m. Sunday.
Winery: 7671 N.E. Day Road
Hours: Noon to 5 p.m. weekends
Fletcher Bay Winery
Owner/winemaker Jim Wilford specializes in full-bodied unfiltered reds, mainly Bordeaux varieties but also Tempranillo and Sangiovese, sourcing grapes from Les Collines, Crawford Vineyard, Los Oidos and Chelle Den Pleasant Vineyard.
He is developing a new line of white wines and will soon be releasing a blend of Pinot Gris and Riesling. Blending is his sweet spot.
“My blends allow me to express myself as a winemaker and showcase the quality of my work,” he said.
Fletcher Bay wines have recently won awards at the San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition and the Los Angeles International Wine Competition. The winery facility is available to rent for special events.
Winery and tasting room: 9415 Coppertop Loop N.E., Ste 102, next to Bainbridge Brewers and across from the Bainbridge Distillery.
Hours: 2 to 8 p.m. Wednesday; 1 to 7 p.m. Thursday to Saturday; noon to 6 p.m. Sunday.
Tasting room: Fletcher Bay wines also are poured at the Island Vintners tasting room at 450 Winslow Way
Hours: 1 to 7 p.m. Monday to Thursday; noon to 8 p.m.Friday to Saturday; noon to 6 p.m. Sunday.
Owner/winemaker Mike Lempriere grows Melon de Bourgogne and Madeleine Angevine grapes and purchases Müller-Thurgau from Bainbridge Vineyards. He also brings in Lemberger from Kiona Vineyards (Red Mountain) and Syrah from Portteus Vineyards (Rattlesnake Hills).
He is also growing small amounts of the virtually unknown Trousseau Gris and Zweigelt, although those vines are not yet ready for production, and is a consultant on cool-climate viticulture for new vineyards being established in Western Washington.
Perennial is a truly tiny boutique winery; Lempriere lives upstairs from his small basement winery and is willing to give tours of his operation whenever he is at home.
Winery, vineyard and tasting room: 8840 N.E. Lovgreen Road.
Hours: 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. weekends; weekdays by appointment.
Rolling Bay Winery
Winemaker Alphonse deKlerk has been making wines with grapes from the Upland Vineyard on Snipes Mountain for 22 years, including Pinot Gris, Cabernet Sauvignon, Malbec, Merlot, Syrah and Cabernet Franc, as well as red and white blends.
For deKlerk, winemaking is very much about relationships.
“It’s about the process of making wines, how it connects the growers, the winemakers and the people who drink wine. And it’s the joy of watching it be created.”
And his daughter Camille has followed him into the winemaking business.
The tasting room is open twice a month. See the winery’s website for details.