Fletcher Bay Winery moves to Copper Top

Bainbridge Island artisan vintner hopes move will help with city code issues.

With a distillery and a brewery among its ranks, the Copper Top Loop is a prominent feature on any island imbibe tour. Now there’s another reason to stop by.

The Fletcher Bay Winery will be moving its operation to the Copper Top, adding its wine to the beer and spirits mix.

“It will be all one stop shopping there within 50 feet,” said Jim Wilford, owner of Fletcher Bay Winery.

The space is currently under construction to fit the needs of the winery. Wilford said he is aiming to have the operation up and running by April 27, one of the island’s wine tour weekends.

“It will be a full winery,” he said. “We will also have a small tasting room in the front, and people can certainly get a tour.”

Fletcher Bay Wines will still be offered at the Island Vintners store front on Winslow Way.

The move to the new location is the latest in a series of events that has plagued the local artisan winery. Last year’s production of the award-winning wines suffered under the city’s thumb after a neighbor complained about the operation. The neighbor argued that it was too visible. Each year for about a month after grape harvest season in the fall, Wilford would crush and squeeze grapes in his front yard before aging the wine in barrels. Despite the limited view of his property along a road hosting only five homes, a neighbor complained.

The city’s code enforcement officials got involved and told Wilford he would have to modify his business to be entirely indoors. Wilford responded by putting up taller fencing around his home, but he had to crush his grapes off-site in order to get the job done for the 2011 vintage.

“I put up a six-foot fence and I thought that would calm the issue, but the city did call in the fall and ask if I was doing any visible activity,” Wilford said. “I said I had the six-foot fence, and they said if they had a complaints they would have to follow up.”

The winery was forced to crush its grapes off-site once again this year, at an added cost. Wilford knew he couldn’t keep producing wine this way.

“For the long term, this wasn’t going to work,” he said.

When a space opened up in the Copper Top next to Bainbridge Organic Distillers, Wilford took it as an omen.

“When we saw there was space open next to the distillery and brewery, we weighed the costs against the hassle with the city,” Wilford said.

“We are optimistic that it will work, but we are concerned about the added cost,” he added. “But hopefully it will all pencil out.”

Despite the added expense, the new facility will provide a place where the winery will be more secure in its production.

“This will allow us to get away from the constant scrutiny and heat of the city that has to react every time a neighbor complains,” Wilford said.

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