Continuing with the celebration of Taste Washington Wine Month, I want to introduce you to Fletcher Bay Winery “where community and family are built into the fabric of their existence based entirely on how they came to be and how they continue to operate”.
Traditionally wineries are located next to their vineyard sources or in close proximity, but Washington doesn’t always follow that particular pattern. Many of the state’s 1000+ wineries are spread out all across the state and many are even hundreds of miles from the vineyards that supply their grapes. This is due in part to the fact that many wineries contract their grapes from vineyards rather than establishing their own vineyard. This allows them the flexibility to open their winery in any location that they like, including a location that is a short ferry ride across the Puget Sound from Seattle, Bainbridge Island. On Bainbridge Island you will find seven unique wineries including a a boutique winery, named after the Island location where Owner Jim Wilford and his wife live, Fletcher Bay.
In the spirit of good old fashion competition, Jim Wilford began creating wine in his garage at his home in 2008. Coming from a large competitive Irish family, Jim originally took up winemaking as a challenge to exceed the winemaking skills of his brother-in-law. In his garage Jim crafted full bodied unique reds, using Bordeaux grapes as well as Tempranillo and Sangiovese to create delicious blends and single varietals. A combination of French, Hungarian, and Virginia oak barrels for the aging process gave Jim’s wines the quality and character that he was striving for.
While working to fulfill his winemaking destiny, Jim also worked full-time as a Municipal Bond trader at the Smith Tower in Seattle while running Fletcher Bay Winery as a side business for 13 years until transitioning to running the winery full time in 2021.
Photo Credit-Fletcher Bay Winery
“You can make bad wine from good grapes, but can’t make good wine from bad grapes.” – Dario Zucconi
Production continued in Jim’s garage until the popularity of Fletcher Bay wines increased and a larger location was needed. In 2012 Fletcher Bay Winery moved to its Coppertop Business Park location where the nautical ambiance of island life found in the tasting room and the focus on producing exceptional Washington wines has made this spot a favorite with locals and tourists alike.
Photo Credit-Fletcher Bay Winery-Winslow Tasting Room
Jim’s focus and winemaker passion is still heavily influenced by full bodied red wines, but they now make a variety of wines that appeal to all levels of preferences from wine drinkers, including a wonderful selection of White Wines, Rosé, Fruit Wines, and Dessert Wines. Most of the grapes for Fletcher Bay wines come from the Crawford Vineyard located just north of Prosser in a relatively cooler area of the Yakima Valley. Crawford Vineyard is a 160 acre family owned vineyard that spans back three generations.
“We also source from other vineyards in Eastern Washington, primarily the Walla Walla Valley. We’ve found the best Cabernet Franc to come from Rock Bottom Vineyard, our favorite Merlot from the Aria Vineyard, our best ever Cabernet Sauvignon (2017 vintage), from the Red Path Vineyard and delicious, jammy, true Washington Syrah from Johnson Ridge, all located in the Walla Walla Valley.”
Many of Fletcher Bay’s wines have won gold and double gold medals at local, national and international wine competitions, to include:
There are two Fletcher Bay Winery locations on Bainbridge Island, one on Coppertop Loop and the other is downtown on Winslow Way. The Coppertop Winery is their signature location, where most of the winemaking happens and is where Jim and winemaker Alan Vogal can often be found around the barrels, answering questions and giving out barrel samples.
The Coppertop Winery Tasting Room (Pictured here) is located just 2.5 miles from the ferry and off Highway 305 on Sportsman Club Rd.
A short walk from the ferry dock on Bainbridge is The Winslow Tasting Room, it is the closest tasting room on Winslow Way, located within the heart of downtown where you can stroll shops, other wineries, and restaurants. There is also occasional rooftop seating at this location where beautiful views of the water and Bainbridge Island can be enjoyed.
Something special is always happening at Fletcher Bay, from featuring their new releases with great release prices to having live music every Wednesday at the winery, and soon they will have the rooftop available on Saturdays at Winslow. Plus, this winter Fletcher Bay upgraded their back patio for outdoor seating with the addition of Adirondack furniture, tents, firepits and heaters. Jim added, “We always look to upgrade our venues and improve our wines“.
With the hope things will continue to open up more this year, I asked Jim if Fletcher Bay had any special events coming up this Spring or Summer. Jim shared this with me; “Our biggest event annually is our Pirate Red release party. This involves professional pirates singing pirate songs , pirate grub (Red beans and rice) , and the staff and customers dressing as pirates , wenches, or sometimes mermaids.” Jim relayed they really need things to open-up more before committing to having the event. Usually held in May, but cancelled last year, it might be June or even into August this year.
Both locations are open 7 days a week most of the year and they have taken precautions to ensure a safe and healthy environment during COVID-19.
Fletcher Bay has always been a “Cab Centric Winery and Jim makes it a point to always have a Cabernet or Syrah on hand for customers to enjoy. In February the 2018 Cabernet Sauvignon vintage was released followed by the 2018 Syrah on March 6th and today, March 20th, marks the release of their 2019 Sangiovese.
Featuring fruit from the Johnson Ridge Vineyard in Walla Walla the 2018 Fletcher Bay Syrah has vibrant layers of concentrated red and black fruit aromas and flavors. Showcasing a remarkable level of complexity this wine gives Syrah the leading role, it is a smooth and well integrated wine that allows the supporting cast of Cabernet Franc and Malbec to display there enticing characteristics. Ripe red berries and black pepper from the Syrah plays of the black cherries and cassis from the Cab Franc while Malbec gathers everything together and finishes with an encore of plum, chocolate and coffee. Really an outstanding Washington Syrah.
100% Sangiovese from the Dwelley Vineyard in Walla Walla. Aged in neutral barrels for 1.5 years this quality wine has a nice structure of acidity, tannin and fruit concentration. Perfect to enjoy now or sometime over the next five years.
I really enjoyed all of the wines from Fletcher Bay, yet this 2019 Sangiovese really captured and held my attention. The grapes speak for themselves in this wine and it’s bright, red fruit-filled aromas with pockets of spice, herbs and dried flowers is mimicked on the palate with impressive bursts of flavors. This is a wine that I will definitely explore again and again.
Fletcher Bay Winery Barking Dog Red is a blend of Columbia Valley 40% Sangiovese, 40% Merlot and 20% Syrah.
The name for this “Story Wine” comes from Jim’s two barking dogs who don’t like racoons and his love of red wine. A few “story wines” are released each year and their stories are usually related to the community of Bainbridge or about the Wilford family.
This easy drinking, Barking Dog Red is a combination of more than one vintage and a real crowd pleasure.
• Aromas of red cherry, crushed blackberry, savory olive
• Fruity flavors of cherry, red plum, ripe raspberry, and eucalyptus
• Pairs with spaghetti and marinara sauce
Along with their usual releases, over 2021 and 2022 Fletcher Bay will be releasing some wines that they have rarely or never done. These include a 2019 Pinot Noir, a 2019 Carmenere, a 2020 Sagrantino, a 2020 Pinotage as well as a Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc , and a Pinot Grigio/ Viognier blend (PGV).
With so many of their classic wines available and an impressive array of new wines to be released Fletcher Bay Winery is worth a stop when traveling to Bainbridge Island. If travel is not possible Fletcher Bay wines are available for purchase on their website.
Photo Credit-Fletcher Bay Winery
If you are planning a long weekend or extended stay on Bainbridge Island you can rent the Winemaker’s waterfront cottage which is minutes away from the winery. The charming cottage served as the original tasting room for Fletcher Bay Winery and accommodates 4 guests and includes two bedrooms and three beds. Located mid-island on the family’s property perched on Fletcher Bay the cottage is nestled behind towering evergreen trees. More information can be found on the Fletcher Bay Winery website.
Travel Information for Bainbridge Island:
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