The return of a tasty island vintage
June 9, 2008 · Updated 6:01 PM
Bainbridge Vineyards bottles its first strawberry wine in three years.
Karen Selvars fields are sprouting a cover crop of weeds as her once-sprawling strawberry plants retreat for the winter.
But her summer harvest continues to blaze red in bottles trundling off an old conveyor belt under winemaker Gerard Bentryns watchful eye.
This is the first time in three years weve had our strawberry wine, the owner of Bainbridge Island Vineyards and Winery said Thursday, as he wiped a drop of glue from a freshly-labeled bottle.
There was a bad crop on the island for two years, and then the city wouldnt let us make wine here for a year, Bentryn said. We could have bought (fruit) off-island, but Im stubborn. If it says Bainbridge on the label then it ought to have Bainbridge in the bottle.
For the islands last commercial strawberry grower, the 400 cases of wine mean an expanded market for her crop.
Its like a second harvest, Selvar said. And economically, its really good. Gerard pays a good rate and Im glad I had all the extra berries. I know theres a lot of people that like this strawberry wine.
The wine was so popular that in years past, customers would flock to the winery as soon as the bottles were corked.
It was enormous, Bentryn said. We had lines to the highway and sometimes wed sell out in a week.
But the dozen friends and volunteers who turned out to help cap, cork, label and box the wine are also guaranteed a few bottles.
Its so good, said Jenny Greiter, who has helped at the winery since 1988. Its like strawberry juice with a kick.
Bentryn is proud of what goes into each bottle.
Its a pound and a quarter of whole, fresh strawberries picked once a year, right here, he said.
His wife and winery co-owner, JoAnn Bentryn, is also proud of what doesnt go into each bottle.
Theres no water added, no apple juice, no grape juice, no flavorings to beef it up, she said. When you taste it, its like liquid strawberry. Like a fresh strawberry, its not that sweet. It has a little tart. Its refreshing and has some bite.
Carl Marino, a recent transplant from Arizona, hasnt tried the wine yet; hes here more for a days worth of honest work. Recently retired from a technical support position at the Glendale school district, Marino came out from behind a computer and moved to Bainbridge to put in many long days picking and pressing the winerys grapes.
One word: genuine, Marino said as he loaded an empty bottle onto a rumbling conveyor belt. Some make wine by chemistry. Here, its what the weather and the soil give them.
While the elements are sometimes unpredictable, so is the winerys bottling machine.
Two bottles Marino had just loaded wedged themselves under the machines filling spouts.
Gerard Bentryn hit a switch and the old stainless steel rig stopped growling.
We call him Tony Canelli, said island farmer and volunteer bottler Betsey Wittick, as she points to the Italian-made machines tarnished Canelli brand label. Usually we get along better with him.
With duct-tape and napkins padding bottles on the increasingly rough-running machine, Wittick says its more than cantankerousness thats slowing the bottling process.
Its punishing us because it knows what Gerard is going to do, she said, eyeing the warehouse door. Outside sits a new bottling machine shining under a plastic tarp.
Tonys being like Hal, the evil computer from the film 2001: A Space Odyssey, Wittick said. Gerard...what are you doing? she said, imitating Hals eerie computer voice. It knows Gerard is getting rid of it.
But a new machine means Bentryn has renewed hope for a steady flow of strawberry wine for years to come.
For Selvar, the stacks represent a measure of support for an island tradition.
Sometimes I feel like the lone duck, she said. There used to be strawberry farms all over. After the (Japanese-American) internment, a lot of growers lost their farms. Some continued until the 80s, like the Filipinos, growing old varieties like the Rainiers and the Hoods.
I know its a challenge. But Ill stick with it because its what I do.