WASHINGTON IS one of the most unusual wine regions in the world because many of our state’s winemakers live so far away from the vineyards.
In the case of those intrepid vintners who make their homes on the islands, Olympic Peninsula and coast, the logistics of navigating ferry schedules, traffic and mountain passes become magnified during harvest.
Brent Charnley, owner and winemaker at Lopez Island Vineyards & Winery, is reliant on using a state ferry to get to the mainland before trekking to the Columbia Valley.
“I usually allow two days for it,” he said.
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It is typical for Charnley to load his truck with picking bins, drop them at a vineyard, then find a place to stay in the Yakima Valley — often at a grower’s home. Early the next morning, crews will pick his grapes, and he’ll be back on the road before 11 a.m. — “so I can miss the traffic on I-405.” If he catches the right ferry in Anacortes, he can be back on Lopez Island by early evening, where a crew is waiting to immediately crush the grapes.
Each trip spans at least 600 miles, and he’ll make that run at least three times during harvest. Ever mindful of his carbon footprint, Charnley does his best to limit his trips by bringing back multiple loads of grapes at once, if Mother Nature allows.
Chris Primus, winemaker at San Juan Vineyards in Friday Harbor, said there is no physical way to do the trip in one day — he’s tried.
“It’s always a two-day investment,” he said.
He makes the cross-state trek multiple times before harvest to check on his grapes, and once picking begins he hires a fellow islander to drive a moving van to the vineyard, pick up the grapes the next morning, then haul everything back in time to catch the last ferry to the San Juans.
Wineries on Whidbey Island and in Port Angeles, Sequim and Belfair all coordinate their drives to Eastern Washington around water and traffic, though to a lesser extent than the Lopez and San Juan wineries.
Out on the Washington coast, Westport Winery owners Kim and Blain Roberts will leave for the Columbia Valley early in the morning on picking day. They will return 12 to 14 hours later, where their son, winemaker Dana Roberts, will then spend all night crushing grapes and processing the resulting juice.
While the cross-state treks add to the stress of an already hectic harvest schedule, the idyllic lifestyle of being so close to the water makes it all worthwhile.
Andy Perdue is a wine author, journalist and international judge. Learn more about wine at www.greatnorthwestwine.com.