GRAPEVIEW, Mason County — Here on one of the most remote reaches of Puget Sound, the smell of salt air and cries of gulls are reminders of a rich past, of days when a fleet of steamboats swarmed these waters and dreams of vast vineyards came and went.
Brian Petersen is a local kid who knows the stories. He grew up in nearby Belfair, became a chiropractor and now, at age 44, is making wine. His grapes come from beyond the craggy Cascades, but his heart is here.
“We’d all been raised on the water,” Petersen says. “We’re all passionate about our experiences. We thought we’d call back all that rich history on the Puget Sound.”
So he and his wife, Jacquie, launched a winery in 2009 with Scott and Jacy Griffin, a couple they met at a birthing class in 2000.
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Mosquito Fleet Winery pays homage to steam-powered ferries that plied Puget Sound, providing service from Seattle’s Colman Dock to Bellingham, Olympia and everywhere in between. The Mosquito Fleet operated for more than a century, from the 1830s right into the 1950s, and was so named because the boats were so numerous, they looked like a swarm of mosquitoes.
Petersen is not the first to bring grapes to the Grapeview area. Viticulture began in the 1870s on Stretch Island, which juts into Case Inlet. Before the Depression, more than half of the island’s 350 acres were covered in vineyards growing Island Belle, a red grape that still is turned into wine not far away at Hoodsport Winery.
In late 1933, when the great experiment of federal Prohibition was repealed, Washington state’s first winery opened here in Grapeview. Charles Somers and his sons, Bill and Howard, ran St. Charles Winery until it closed in 1965. Bill then turned the winery into the Puget Sound Museum to honor the Mosquito Fleet, which he ran until his death in 2006.
With all of this rich local history, Petersen and his partners had an easy choice in the name of their winery. In their first year, they made just 200 cases. That will grow to 1,400 cases next year.
Petersen’s training consists of reading books, taking seminars and making personal phone calls to the state’s top winemakers.
“I’d ask anyone who would take my calls,” he says. “It’s so nice to have a wonderful wine community that will help a guy who asks a hundred questions.”
Considering his lack of formal winemaking education, Petersen is crafting stunning reds using grapes from top vineyards in the arid Columbia Valley. He makes a half-dozen wines, each of which is adorned with a line drawing of a different vessel of the Mosquito Fleet.
Wines to try:
Mosquito Fleet Winery 2010 Sophia, $29; a blend of syrah, mourvèdre and cabernet sauvignon, named for the ferry SS Sophia, built in 1884.
Mosquito Fleet Winery 2010 Meritage, $34; this cab-based blend shows the SS Dauntless, a steamer built in 1899.
Mosquito Fleet Winery 2010 cabernet sauvignon, $39; A rich red wine that honors the steamer SS Dix, built in 1904.
Andy Perdue is the editor and publisher of Great Northwest Wine. Learn more about wine at www.greatnorthwestwine.com