Last week, I had the privilege of traveling to Seattle for a work conference. Gabe joined me and we added some days for leisure and reconnecting with some of our Chicago friends, who now live there. Seattle is an impressive city. I had not been in 20+ years, and had a repeat experience of several sunny and mild days, causing one to ponder, "are the locals just exaggerating all this 24/7 rain narrative, to keep the Californians from moving up?" Then it rained. But not too much and it was really rather refreshing, coming from the drought stricken state. Seattle has more than just water to boast. World class restaurants, attractions, shopping, arts, culture, the herb, and my personal favorite, wine. Beautiful wine. With Washington being the second largest premium wine producing state in the U.S., there is much to choose from.
Aside from sampling some of the diverse offerings of the state, we traveled by ferry, across The Puget Sound, to the quaint little island of Bainbridge. To be up front, I had been plotting this excursion for a few years now, ever since I read about the island, and the fact that they have some wineries. Inhabited by 23,000 or so residents on 27 miles, the community is preservation minded. They have a strong commitment to sustainability which is reflected in their practices and beloved Bloedel Reserve. There are many activities to entertain visitors on the island, however, we were there for just the one. Accompanied by our Seattle based friends who had recently wine tasted there, we benefitted from some insider knowledge. And a vehicle! As mentioned, it doesn't rain every single day, but this day it did, and the trek from the port to the central part of town, though manageable, would have been soggy and frigid. Thankfully we were able to drive the car onto the ferry, an adventure in and of itself, and mostly keep warm and dry.
Views from the ferry ride: Leaving Seattle, approaching Bainbridge and we have arrived! There are many darling boutiques to browse in, which we did. As well as some delectable goodies to nosh on with a strong cuppa joe, which we also did!
We began our tasting at Eleven Winery. The cozy tasting room is easy to spot on the main drag, Winslow Way, where a few others are. The winery is also located on the island, however they source grapes from Eastern Washington and make many different wines: Malbec, Syrah, Mouvedre, Petit Verdot, Pinot Grigio, Viognier and even a Port! Aside from varietal wines they make a few different blends of both red and white, including The Ratio: Rosso, composed of 44% Mourvedre, 33% Lemberger and 22% Syrah. A lively combination, emanating deep dark fruits laced with herbaceous greenery. Eleven is named such for a bicycle racing term, which you can read about on the about section of the website, for some inspiration to "give it all you got". They have some tasty wines here. Be sure to check them out if you visit the island.
After stopping for a hearty lunch and a bit more wine tasting, we wrapped up our visit in perhaps the most itty-bitty tasting room I have ever visited: Eagle Harbor Wine Company. To be fair, they have recently opened another tasting room at their winery, which is a short distance from the little one on Winslow Way. Though the tasting room is miniature, they are serving up some formidable wines. This place comes with experience and it shows in the wines. We all opted for the red flight which included Merlot, Sangiovese, Syrah and Cabernet Sauvignon. They also source from Eastern Washington but make everything right there on the island, as most of the others do. Eastern Washington has the climate and the terroir conducive to growing grapes, with much sun and many dry days. Very different from Seattle. The Olympic and Cascade Mountain Ranges in the Western portion of the state combine to stop the clouds rolling in off of the Pacific Ocean - known as a Rain Shadow Effect. This allows abundant sunlight to shine on and ripen the grapes. Eagle Harbor sources from 3 different vineyards, located in different AVAs (American Viticultural Areas) in Eastern Washington, of which there are 14. Eagle Harbor has very structured and delicious wine. Definitely check them out.
As we were tasting that day at The Eagle Harbor mini-room, there was talk of a very special wine, not currently available, but well spoke of: Wild Fermented Cabernet Sauvignon. This wine was made in a style by which the winemaker allows the naturally occurring yeasts of the vineyard or the winery to ferment the wine. This is instead of inoculating with a commercial yeast during the process, which allows the wine maker more control and is generally considered a more stable process. The other way is risky and if it goes badly could result in major loss for a winery. However there are a number of proponents of the wild fermentation technique, also called spontaneous fermentation. This approach to wine making requires constant care and checking on the fermentation process. One of the reasons winemakers go this route, even with the risk, is the promise of robust and rich flavors. One of the only other wineries to deploy this method, that I have visited is called Idle Hour, located near Yosemite. We visited lasted May, and you can read about it here.
As we were discussing this fabled wine, Anthony said he believed that they had a bottle at home and invited us to all go back and try it. And we did just that. Watch the video for a funny re-cap. Hopefully Eagle Harbor will be making more soon!
The real star.