Bainbridge Island: A Unique Wine Destination
On “The Rock,” a wine lover can get a taste of what the whole state has to offer and do it in a relatively small geographical area and in one of the most unique settings Washington has to offer.
By Mark Storer
Washington’s Bainbridge Island is as storied as it is heavily forested. The gentle sloping hills and endless forests are home not only to Evan James’ 2019 novel, Cheer up Mr. Widdicombe, the dramatic, humorous and romantic account of its title character, but also to David Guterson’s novel, Snow Falling on Cedars, a fictional account of the U.S. government’s rounding up and internment of Japanese-American citizens during WWII.
Both authors are residents of the island, and the stories are strong pulls to the other residents here and, of course, the thousands of tourists who come to the island to discover what “west of Seattle” means.
But the island’s stories are not relegated to the pages of a good evening’s read. The story of wine, with its intricacies, history and endless tangents is a Bainbridge story, too. In fact, it’s a primary reason to come to the island and to spend some time with passionate winemakers like Emily Parsons at Eagle Harbor Winery or any of the seven wineries that do business here sourcing grapes not only from other parts of Washington, but from vineyards planted on the island itself.
Parsons bought the winery from Hugh Remash in 2014 after spending her years since high school learning about wine and traveling to Europe, California and Oregon to experience it. Remash started Eagle Harbor Winery in 2005 and is still the consulting winemaker, working together with Parsons and maintaining a cooperative influence on winemaking.
“I fell in love with working with the grapes during those years,” Parsons said of her youth. “And I decided to pursue studies through U.C. Davis’s viticulture and enology programs for distance learners and I did the first course.” Parsons then would commute on weekends down to U.C. Davis to take two-day courses to complete her degree. “The rest I learned on the job with Hugh. The education never ends,” she said.
Eagle Harbor produces about 2,000 cases of wine a year “I want to keep it that way, all by hand,” said Parsons. “I don’t plan to get any bigger. I want to keep the quality high and the production low.”
Parsons sources her grapes entirely from Eastern Washington — Red Mountain and Walla Walla — as well as other areas. “It is a long way,” said Parsons. “I take a truck over and it takes about three and a half hours to get to the vineyards.” But the travel and work are worth the effort according to both Parsons and Remash. Eagle Harbor’s wines showcase the extraordinary variety of flavors from the loess and volcanic soils, the unique weather patterns and elevation of the vineyards.
The whites on the tasting menu range from Sauvignon Blanc and Viognier to a blend of the latter with Chardonnay. In balancing flavor and alcohol levels, Parsons found a happy medium where the Rhone white varietal of Viognier mixed well with the lower alcohol levels of the Chardonnay, producing a unique, flavorful and wonderful wine that was tremendous by itself and would be even better with oysters and other seafood, cheeses and appetizers.
It is the reds that captured our attention, particularly Eagle Harbor’s Syrah and its Bourdeaux blend called Raptor. With elegant and velvety mouthfeel and long, balanced finishes, these wines are beautiful now but will lie down nicely for several years.
As to the grapes that grow on Bainbridge Island, they are a revelation of their own. The vineyards planted here are in a cool climate, and though recent years have indeed seen some warming, Bainbridge is in no immediate danger of becoming a warm-weather wine region. Nor are the varietals that do best here — common ones that American wine drinkers, even Washingtonians, are used to.
Mike Lempriere, proprietor and owner of Perennial Vintners, started making wine at his home in Seattle in the late 90’s and early 2000’s. “I learned to do it by making it myself,” said Lempriere, a former computer programmer who fell in love with his hobby and decided to pursue it more fully.
He purchased land on Bainbridge Island in 2003 and planted a vineyard the following year. So far, he has two acres under vines and is hand-crafting wine in small batches from grapes with which most Americans haven’t a lot of experience. While sourcing grapes from other growers as well, Perennial Vintners grows grapes like Melon de Bourgogne from the Loire Valley in France, Lemberger from Germany and Zweigelt and St. Laurent from Austria. Lempriere works with winemaker and sommelier Serena Roberge-Gordon to produce about 600 cases per year.
“I really want to showcase the fruit flavors of these wines,” said Lempriere. “That means all of the wines go into stainless steel and not oak barrels.” Lempriere even sources Syrah from the Yakima valley, but rather than use oak barrels, he prefers to use a more targeted approach. “I don’t want to hide that fruit and so at times, I’ll use oak chips to impart just a bit of some of those flavors, but that way I can control what’s happening in the wine,” he said.
“These are fun wines,” said Roberge-Gordon of the Bainbridge white wines she produces. A sparkling wine called Siegerrebe, a German white grape, grows well in Bainbridge’s cool climate. “I’m a real advocate for sparkling wines from this region and I think that should be a real focus for us,” said Roberge-Gordon, who is also President of the Puget Sound Winegrowers Association and a Commissioner on the 12-member Washington State Wine Commission. “This is wine that is approachable and simply elegant. It’s a great introduction to what we can grow and do here in Puget Sound.”
For Roberge-Gordon and Lempriere, growing the grapes on the island is part of Bainbridge Island’s larger story, rooted in agriculture. “There is a lot of history here, and some of it pretty dark,” said Lempriere, referring to the internment of Japanese-Americans during WWII. “Bainbridge was the first place the government enforced that order,” he said. “The thinking was that if there was an uprising, it would be limited to the island and easier to manage.”
“A lot of the farms here on the island are still in the hands of the families that occupied them during the war,” said Roberge-Gordon. “And their stories are a big part of this place.” One stop to consider in between wineries is the Japanese American Exclusion Memorial, located on Eagle Harbor Drive, minutes from the Ferry landing or the bridge entrance to the island.
The five other wineries on Bainbridge include: Amelia Wynn Winery Bistro, Bainbridge Vineyards, Eleven Winery, Fletcher Bay Winery, and Rolling Bay Winery. Perennial Vintners and Bainbridge Vineyards are currently the only two island wineries sourcing Bainbridge Island fruit. The rest get their fruit from other sources. Each of the wineries do guest events featuring live music, food pairings and other enticements worth experiencing. Parsons said the island’s wineries are working on an event called “Wine on the Rock” for November, but nothing has been finalized. “The Rock” is a common name islanders give their home.
On “the Rock,” a wine lover can get a taste of what the whole state has to offer and do it in a relatively small geographical area and in one of the most unique settings Washington has to offer. No need to travel across the state to taste the wines of Eastern Washington.
The island is approachable by ferry from Seattle, but can also be accessed over its bridge using highway 16 across from Tacoma, across the Tacoma Narrows to Gig Harbor and then continuing on 16 west to Highway 3 North.
Following is the contact information for the seven wineries that make Bainbridge Island home:
Amelia Wynn Winery Bistro, 390 Winslow Way E., Bainbridge Island, WA. 98110. (206) 251-9094. www.ameliawynnwinery.com.
Bainbridge Vineyards, 8989 N.E. Day Rd. E., Bainbridge Island, WA 98110. (206) 842-9463. www.bainbridgevineyards.com.
Eagle Harbor Winery, 8897 Three Tree Lane N.E., Bainbridge Island, WA 98110. (206) 842-4669. www.eagleharbor.wine. Eagle Harbor also has a downtown Bainbridge Island Tasting Room at 278 Winslow Way E., Suite 102, Bainbridge Island, WA. 98110. (206) 842-4669.
Eleven Winery, 7671 N.E. Day Road, Bainbridge Island, WA 98110. The winery also has a downtown tasting room at 287 Winslow Way E. The two locations share the same phone number and website address: (206) 780-0905. www.elevenwinery.com.
Fletcher Bay Winery, 9415 Coppertop Loop N.E.. Suite 102, Bainbridge Island. (206) 780-9463. www.fletcherbaywinery.com. Fletcher Bay Winery has a second tasting room located just a short walk from the Bainbridge Island Ferry terminal at 500 Winslow Way E., Suite #130.
Perennial Vintners, 8840 N.E. Lovgreen Rd, Bainbridge Island, WA 98110. (206) 780-2146. www.perennialvintners.com.
Rolling Bay Winery, 10314 N.E. Beach Crest Drive, Bainbridge Island, WA 98110. (206) 419-3355. www.rollingbaywinery.com.