You can’t get much more local than the 40 or so wines made in places like Bainbridge, Lopez, San Juan or Vashon islands.
GROWING WINE grapes east of the Cascades is easy. Loads of sunshine, wide-open spaces, plenty of heat and — in most years — ample water.
Growing wine grapes around Puget Sound is a different proposition. It’s cool, cloudy and crowded. To grow grapes here takes an intrepid spirit.
Selling wine made from Columbia Valley grapes also is reasonably simple. Everyone wants to drink riesling, chardonnay and cabernet sauvignon. But even syrah is easier to sell than wines with names such as Müller-Thurgau, siegerrebe and Madeleine angevine.
Three to try
Bainbridge Vineyards 2013 siegerrebe, Puget Sound, $18: This luscious white offers exotic aromas and flavors of candied ginger, lemon oil, tangerine and fresh saltwater taffy. It reminds me of a summer day in Cannon Beach.
Mount Baker Vineyards & Winery NV Brut, Puget Sound, $40: This rare sparkling wine is made using pinot noir and pinot gris grapes grown in the Nooksack Valley, north of Bellingham. It’s loaded with aromas and flavors of Golden Delicious apple, lemon sorbet, apricot and a hint of clove. Perfect with fresh oysters.
Vashon Winery 2014 Krogman Vineyard rosé of pinot noir, Puget Sound, $20: Ron Irvine wrote the book on Washington wine (”The Wine Project”) and is the longtime owner/winemaker here. This delicious rosé reveals aromas and flavors of strawberry, raspberry, fresh mint and purple lavender. It is bright, dry and elegant.
That, in a nutshell, is why of the 50,000 acres of wine grapes grown in Washington, fewer than 100 are planted west of the Cascades.
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So why do it? Why even try? It’s kind of like climbing Everest. It’s a challenge, and it’s there.
There’s something to be said about working your craft, getting dirt under your fingernails and finding a level of success in a region where grape growing is unexpected. To work in harmony with the earth and be away from it all, yet be only a 30-minute ferry ride from Seattle holds a level of appeal for the hardy few who work with grapes grown in the Puget Sound American Viticultural Area.
It has been 20 years since Gerard and JoAnne Bentryn of Bainbridge Island Vineyards and Winery succeeded in gaining federal approval of the Puget Sound AVA. Since then, the Washington wine scene has exploded from fewer than 75 wineries to more than 800. Yet not a lot has changed in the vast swath of the Puget Sound AVA, which stretches from Olympia to the Canadian border.
What has changed is the quality of winemaking. Today, it is not difficult to find superb — dare we say world-class — examples of cool-climate, hard-to-pronounce wines. What also has changed is the public’s willingness to stretch its olfactory senses beyond cabernet and chardonnay.
You want local? You can’t get much more local than the 40 or so wines made in places like Bainbridge, Lopez, San Juan or Vashon islands. Make it your mission to seek out these gems this summer.