A RICH SYRAH still dancing on his tongue, Dave Smith gathers up a dozen bottles at the Eagle Harbor Wine Company. Smith and his wife Holly have spent the day sampling from Bainbridge Island’s wineries, whose numbers have grown from two to six just in the past year. For Smith, the new wines have become a favorite gift to send friends in faraway places. “I want to give them a taste of the island,” he says. But for Seattle oenophiles, Bainbridge has become a quick-fix destination between visits to Walla Walla: a place to try lesser-known, cold-climate varietals and get to know a new crop of winemakers.
Not all the vintners are new. For 30 years Bainbridge Vineyard and Winery owners Gerard and Jo Ann Bentryn have produced the Puget Sound region’s only 100 percent estate-grown wines. Every Sunday, Gerard leads a weekly tour through their gently rolling fields, the Olympic Mountains looming in the distance. The 68-year-old grower plants grapes like Müller Thurgau, siegerrebe, and pinot noir, and the resulting wines are low in alcohol and pair well with locally abundant oysters, salmon, cod, and lamb. Throughout the tour, the charmingly grumpy Bentryn extols the subtle nuances of his quiet wines. He likens sipping the attention—grabbing big cabs of Eastern Washington to “kissing a stranger—exciting but soulless.”
The vineyard’s operations reflect Bentryn’s communal leanings: Local farmers—among them Perennial Vintners’ Mike Lempriere—are sometimes offered rent-free parcels of land. Last year Lempriere planted 350 vines of melon de Bourgogne, a grape common in the Loire region of France, but rarely cultivated in the U.S. “No one else in Washington is making it,” says Lempriere, “even though it’s natural for this area. I’m going to make people realize how wonderful it is.”
Bainbridge’s other four vintners import their grapes, opting to produce sauvignon blancs and merlot-bordeaux blends from Eastern Washington vineyards. To showcase their bottles, four-year-old Eleven Winery’s Matt Albee and Eagle Harbor’s Hugh Remash teamed up and opened the Tasting Room in Winslow, a short stroll from the ferry terminal; Charlie Merrill, owner of brand-new Victor Alexander winery, plans to join them once his whites and reds reach their full potential. “I’ve been hoping since I started here that there’d be more wineries on the island,” says Albee. “People can now come to Bainbridge and have a full day of wine tasting.”
For information about touring Bainbridge Vineyard and Winery visit www.bainbridgevineyards.com. The Tasting Room is located at 278 Winslow Way E, Bainbridge Island, 206-842-4669.