‘Wine on the Rock’ Summer Showcase Features Bainbridge Island Wineries
They came from Seattle by bike, making their way down long gravel driveways lined with lush grapevines. They popped in from the neighborhood, greeting the winemakers on a first name basis. They walked in carrying their event wineglasses, led by someone from the neighboring winery making their way cross-country through vineyards and forests. No matter the mode of transportation, it was an enthusiastic and friendly crowd of locals and visitors who traveled the circuit of Bainbridge Island’s annual Wine On The Rock event over the weekend of June 23, sampling wines, tasting food pairings and listening to music ranging from country western to jazz and classic rock.
Sponsored by the Winery Alliance of Bainbridge Island, a cooperative effort of the island’s seven wineries, the event is one of three annual Wine on the Rock weekends intended to showcase the variety in Bainbridge’s growing wine industry that a 2010 edition of Sunset Magazine called “The Northwest’s new wine destination.” The other two weekends for the upcoming year are November 19-20 (Fall Wines and Charcuterie) and February 11-12 (Red Wine and Chocolate). If the weather cooperates, as it did so brilliantly this weekend, the summer event is an outdoor affair at all of the venues. Tables and chairs were set up under colorful umbrellas on landscaped patios and lawns, musicians played from makeshift stages, and the wine-makers poured wine and wandered from table to table greeting guests, answering questions and getting feedback on their pours.
It’s an intimate affair. That’s because each of the wineries is locally owned by winemakers who have a knack for creating small batches of handcrafted wines. The wineries are small — a few oak barrels and stainless steel casks and a lot of friends and fans who volunteer to pick and crush grapes and help with bottling and events. There’s a strong cooperative spirit among the group that has them sharing equipment, ideas and promoting each other.
They all began, as many artisan winemakers do, brewing in their basements and garages for friends and family. By 2004 they’d formalized the Winery Alliance of Bainbridge Island. Today they’re seven of the 971 licensed wineries in Washington State with a following of loyal wine connoisseurs who walked away from the weekend’s tasting rooms carrying cartons of newly purchased wine. The Bainbridge wineries belong to the Puget Sound Viticultural Area (AVA), one of fourteen Washington wine producing regions, and contribute to the state’s status as the second largest wine producer in the U.S.
It’s a common misconception that western Washington’s wineries get their grapes from eastern Washington’s vineyards because the climate on this side of the mountains isn’t kind to wine grapes. Not true for some of Bainbridge’s wineries who are successfully cultivating maritime wine grapes in their own vineyards, which can be visited during events and opening hours.
Bainbridge Vineyards, established in 1977 and licensed in 1982 (chronologically they’re number 84 of the 971 bonded wineries) owns eight acres of vineyard on historic Bainbridge farmland sold to the winery’s original owners by Akio Suyematsu, a Japanese-American farmer who had successfully cultivated the land for years. One-hundred percent of Bainbridge Vineyard’s red, white and rose wines come from their vineyard grapes. The winery’s new owner, who took over in 2013, operates the winery as a cooperative, allowing anyone to buy shares and become a part-time vintner.
Next door Perennial Vintners is a one-man-plus-friends operation. The owner planted a three acre vineyard in 2003 and while waiting for the plants to mature enough to make wine, leased grapes from Bainbridge Vineyard. Nearby Rolling Bay Winery prides itself on grapes sourced from an eastern Washington Snipes Mountain vineyard that’s one of the oldest in the state, and Eagle Harbor Winery sources their’s from two other eastern Washington AVAs.
If you prefer to visit the wineries before the next Wine on the Rock event, each winery has open tasting room hours (generally on the weekends). Eleven Winery sponsors live music concerts with their Saturday tastings. All of them have wine clubs and some welcome volunteers. The helpful Winery Alliance of Bainbridge Island webpage has links to each of the wineries websites, maps and schedules of events.