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Bainbridge Island Vineyards and Winery: Conscience, Conservation and Controversy

Gerard and Jo Ann Bentryn, of Bainbridge Island Vineyards and Winery, are fierce advocates for eating and drinking local. Their concept of terroir is not only the minerals in the soil at your feet but the culture and community in which the grapes are grown. They are passionate about the unique characteristics of Puget Sound AVA and will gladly espouse the virtues of cool weather grapes, especially when paired with the food indigenous to the Puget Sound.

Bainbridge Island Vineyards and Winery

Bainbridge Island Vineyards and Winery

After studying viticulture and enology in Europe, New Zealand, Australia, and South Africa, the Bentryns started looking for a place to call home and to grow their own grapes. They wanted that home to be Washington but eastern Washington didn’t feel like a good fit. Although Puget Sound may not be the first place that many think about when they hear about Washington wine, the Bentryns were convinced that Puget sound would be an ideal location to make their home, grow their grapes and make their wine. Not only because the Puget Sound has a daily temperature range similar to the Loire Valley of France but this was land that they wanted to become a part of. Not land that they simply paid a mortgage on but land they lived, worked and breathed on, land on which they ate and drank from.

Its all about loving the land

Suyematsu Farm

Suyematsu Farm lands

Bentryn/Suyematsu Farm

Bentryn/Suyematsu Farm

Last November Maureen Nolan told me that she had somebody that I had to meet. I was getting ready to write my paper for my wine history class and trying to decide on a topic. Maureen set up an appointment for us to meet with Gerard and Jo Ann where they told us the story of Suyematsu Farms.  During the 1920s, foreign born Japanese could not own land so Henry Burns sold acreage to Akio Suyematsu, their American born seven year old son. The Suyematsu family was one of the first Japanese families sent off to internment camps during WWII and Aiko was one of the very few that returned to farming at the end of the War. Aiko Suyematsu still grows berrie but as he aged, he could no longer farm all of the land. In the 1970s, he sold land to the Bentryns way below market rate with the stipulation that no other houses could be built on the land and that Akio could continue to grow his berries on the land the Bentryns did not cultivate. In 2001, additional land was sold to the city with the stipulation that it be used as farm land. Now other vintners and farmers continue the tradition of making their living off this land. Farmland conservation is a deeply held belief, steeped into the land by the sweat of the farmers that have labored this land for decades.

Gerard Bentryn

Gerard Bentryn, Bainbridge Island Winery

Bainbridge Island Vineyards and Winery, founded in 1977, is a 100% estate grown winery. Estate grown is central to their philosophy for life and business. Gerard is unapologetic about his disagreements with other wine makers that truck in grapes from other parts of the state. Although ideally suited for cool climate white wine grapes, the Puget Sound is not warm enough to grow the red wine grapes that flourish in Eastern Washington. Although other wineries are now calling Bainbridge Island their home, the Bentryns have not joined them in the  Winery Alliance of Bainbridge Island. Gerard’s passionately believes that the terroir and the history of the land are so deeply infused into the vines and wines, that anything that is not estate grown is not showing proper respect for the land. You can read more about the Bainbridge island controversy in this recent Seattle Times article.

Gerard says…

If wine is like sex, then the vineyard is love and commitment

Bainbridge Island Wines

Bainbridge Island Pinot Noir Rose

Bainbridge Island Pinot Noir Rose

Since all Bainbridge Island Vineyards and Winery wines are all estate grown, you won’t find a Cabernet Sauvignon in their tasting room. They make only one red wine, Pinot Noir. Since Pinot Noir is such a finicky grape not all of the Pinot Noir is made into red wine. Only the best vintages of Pinot Noir are crafted in to a red wine and carefully nurtured and aged. Washington state is not renown for their Pinot Noir but I believe that is because such small lots of Bainbridge Island Pinot Noir is available.  Made in the burgandy style, it is aged for 3 years in oak. Currently the 2004 Estate Pinot Noir is available in the tasting room and I think it is one of the best, if not the best Washington Pinot Noir in current release. In other vintages, all of the Pinot Noir is crafted into their beautiful Pinot Noir Rosé. Jo Ann served us this lovely rose with cheese and crackers during our interview and it was good that it was distracting!

The other wines are created with cool climate white wine grapes and berries grown on their land.  Fascinated by Siegerrebe while working in Germany, Gerard wanted to grow it in his newly acquire vineyard but it was not available in the US. He worked with Gary Moulton of WSU to bring the vines in through Canada. The very first wood released from quarantine went to Bainbridge Island Vineyards which they in turn shared with other Puget Sound wineries. Last November was our first experience of Siegerrebe but Ed quickly became an ambassador of the wine and has been talking about Siegerrebe ever since!

Bainbridge Island Wines

Bainbridge Island Wines

  • Ferryboat White
  • Madeleine Angevine
  • Müller-Thurgau- dry and traditional
  • Pinot Gris
  • 2004 Pinot Noir
  • Pinot Noir Rosé
  • Raspberry Wine
  • Siegerrebe – regular and late harvest
  • Strawberry Wine

Although some consumers consider white wines to be less complex than red wines, wine makers from all over are quick to tell you that white wines are more technically difficult to create. They can also be multi-dimensional with subtle or bold flavors. At Bainbridge Island Vineyards and Winery, they are proud of how well their wines accentuate Northwest cuisine.  Try the dry Müller-Thurgau with smoked salmon for an exquisite pairing. The Bentryns believe that wine should be treated as food.

It isn’t some mysterious beverage but belongs on the table with meals. Wine is as integrated into our culture as our cuisine.

Community

Bainbridge Island Winery JoAnn Bentryn

JoAnn Bentryn multi-tasking

When you first approach the winery, you are greeted by poster boards and signs illustrating the climate of Bainbridge Island Winery and their dedication to sustainability. When we were visiting, the Farmland Preservation Trust was scoping out the space for a fund raiser. There are numerous notices about programs to protect and rescue pets. Inside we were greeted by signs and information about the EduCulture Project. Part of the proceeds of your wine purchases at Bainbridge Island Winery fund the EduCulture Project which is:

Our locally grown programs partner Bainbridge Island farms, schools, and families to teach and learn about farm stewardship and food citizenship, and producing locally grown food to serve in our schools and serve the community.

In May, Gerard and JoAnn Bentryn were honored as Bainbridge Island Chamber of Commerce as its 2010 Business Couple of the Year for their business and community dedication. They have donated hundreds of thousands of dollars to community causes, particularly for farmland conservation, in addition to serving as educators and mentors. Currently a number of farmers work the land, growing wine grapes, berries, pumpkins and other vegetables.

Biodiversity at Bentryns

Different farm plots on Bentryn/Suyematsu land

Much like Akio Suyematsu did thirty years ago, the Bentryns are looking towards the future of the land and preserving it. Health issues and advancing age mean that they can no longer work the land like they once did. They are looking towards retirement but in doing so they are looking at how to protect and preserve the land for agriculture. Neighbor and farmer Betsey Wittick currently works the vineyards and the winery with them. It is likely that she will play a role in continuing the dream of 100% estate Puget Sound AVA winery.

7 Responses to “Bainbridge Island Vineyards and Winery: Conscience, Conservation and Controversy”

  1. Bean, this is easily one of the best posts I have read on Washington wine all year. One gets a feel for the story, the people, the area. Truly magnificent. As you may know, I am on a quest to try a great Washington Pinot Noir. I look forward to trying the Bentryns’. Kudos again on a great post.

    • Bean says:

      Thanks Sean, there is a great story behind this winery and hopefully into the future as well. This post just talks about some of the highlights but we will feature more aspects of the story as we feature this winery this month.

  2. winebeerWA says:

    Bainbridge Island Vineyards and Winery: Conscience, Conservation and Controversy http://wine-beer-washington.com/featured… #bainbridge #WAwine

  3. I am so glad you came out to visit and covered this story. Bainbridge Island wine is very unique to Western Washington. The Bentryns have been so passionate about the local PS AVA terroir and all its possibilities. They were the first to establish a commercial winery in the Puget Sound AVA and worked hard to get the AVA established http://pugetsoundwine.org/History.aspx. Don’t tell Gerard but I think folks are finally getting it. Your post will certainly continue to help educate people on what makes estate grown Bainbridge Island Wines unique!

  4. Linda Flynn says:

    My mom is Louise Boyle. She is Gerard’s cousin from Bayonne, NJ. Not sure how she came upon this aricle but she did…and she shared it with me. I enjoyed it very much especially the quote “If wine is like sex, then the vineyard is love and commitment.”

    I just wanted to say “Hello!” and “Small world!”

  5. Steve Snyder says:

    I have a lot to thank Gerard and the rest of the gang over at Bainbridge. Without his support and guidance early on, I would never be where I am now. I had my epiphany moment in 1998 coming back from the class they used to teach every winter on grape growing… I need to get out there some time this summer and see everyone! Great blog post…

  6. […] there is much local food to enjoy this time of year. On our sister blog, Wine Beer Washington, we featured a local Puget Sound winery, Bainbridge Island Vineyard and Winery, for July. We decided to take it a step further here and focus on local eating and drinking.  We will talk […]

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