To an outsider, Bainbridge Island may seem more the place for wine snobs than winemakers.
But a new union of local winemakers are looking to merge those perceptions.
The Winery Alliance of Bainbridge Island (WABI) has recently been established to promote the island’s budding wine industry to the rest of the world.
“People are very psyched – they are excited to have wineries making wine locally and supporting the community,” said Matt Albee, the President of the WABI and head of Eleven Winery.
The aim of WABI is to create cohesion and organization among the island’s diverse wine producers by organizing joint events and sharing winemaking experience.
“That’s part of what the alliance does, get a loose group of winemakers to work together,” said Alphonse deKlerk, of Rolling Bay Winery. “We discuss winemaking techniques and look at ways to support our businesses.”
WABI is riding on the coattails of a recent boom in Bainbridge wineries. There are six producers now, and a number of other start-ups in the works.
However, one thing that hampers most island wineries is their location. Many are set up in residential areas, and unless it has a storefront presence such as Victor Alexander or Eleven Winery/Eagle Harbor Wine Company in Winslow, a residential winery is only allowed to be open to the public 21 days a year.
WABI is aiming to maximize the impact of that 21-day limitation, by synchronizing the times that wineries are open, and to coordinate those openings with local events.
Other wineries that grow grapes locally, such as Perennial Vintners and Bainbridge Island Vineyards and Winery (BIVW), can stay open year round due to their status as farms.
Although BIVW has opted out of joining the alliance, Perennial Vintners has decided to come on board to bolster its own business.
“All I want to do is be open when everyone else is open,” said Mike Lempriere, of Perennial Vintners. “And if that means pointing out the other wineries on the island, I’m fine with that.”
After a soft opening this weekend, the alliance will begin promoting it’s open days through its website, www.bainbridgewineries.com, which is still under construction.
The first official WABI event will take place over Memorial Day weekend, May 23-25. All wineries will be open from noon to 5 p.m.
The group is also looking to expand, hoping other wineries, such as Liberty Bay Cellars in Poulsbo, will join to make a regional alliance.
“We are not going to be exclusive to Bainbridge Island – we hope to include wineries from the Kitsap Peninsula if they want to join,” Albee said.
According to members of WABI, the region’s moderate temperatures are perfect for aging wine made from grapes grown either locally or in Eastern Washington. It also happens to be an ideal setting for a weekend of wine tasting.
“I think (Bainbridge) would be just fantabulous for a wine destination,” deKlerk said. “Especially in summer time, there’s nothing better than going from one winery to the next in a beautiful place.”
And that is a vision that other islanders have latched onto as well, with tentative plans for an island wine festival to take place later this summer.
Susan Callan, a local who is also on the committee for the Nantucket Wine Festival, is one of the people helping to organize future wine-centered events on the island.
Callan is “still testing the waters,” to see what those events would entail, but overall it’s the potential she sees in island wineries that has her lending support and excitement for the future.
“Every local wine I have tasted so far is outstanding for the level that the winery is at,” Callan said. “I’m not going to expect a rich, matured, layered, complex wine from a new winemaker that I would expect from Saint Julien in Bordeaux, but every one is outstanding and has a lot of potential.”
Island wine on tour
WABI will coordinate openings May 23-25, July 11&12 and August 8&9. Participating wineries include: Eagle Harbor Wine Company, Eleven, Perennial Vintners, Rolling Bay Winery and Victor Alexander.