THIS SUMMER marks the 40th year of grape growing on Bainbridge Island, defying the commonly held belief that grapes “can’t grow” on this side of the Cascade Mountain Range.
Gerard and JoAnn Bentryn founded Bainbridge Island Vineyards and Winery in 1977, after being inspired by their study of grape growing and wine making in Europe, New Zealand, Australia, and South Africa. After falling in love with the elegant, aromatic wines of the Loire in France and the Mosul in Germany, the Bentryn’s were searching for a bioregion with similar grape growing conditions. They chose to settle in the Puget Sound, and strived to create an experience of food and wine deeply rooted in place, right here in the Pacific Northwest.
The Bentryn’s planted their first grape vines, 40 years ago, on their one-acre vineyard in downtown Winslow on Bainbridge Island-the summer of 1977. They released their first estate-grown wine in 1982, becoming the 84th bonded winery in Washington State. That year, the Bentryn’s also purchased farmland on Day Road. The Day Road vineyard would become the present-day home of the winery, planted with seven acres of grape varieties carefully selected for their ability to thrive in the cool Maritime Northwest climate. As part of the Bentryns’ pioneering work in the region’s grape-growing movement, Gerard was instrumental in the formation of the Puget Sound Viticultural Area (AVA)/Appellation in 1995.
The Day Road acreage where the winery currently sits was purchased by the Bentryns from Japanese-American farmer Akio Suyematsu, founded in 1928. Excepting the period of Japanese-American exclusion during World War II, the Day Road farm is the oldest, continuously farmed property in Kitsap County. Akio himself worked the land until his passing in 2012, and was an honored mentor to an emerging generation of Island farmers. Once part of the agricultural tradition that made Bainbridge Island the strawberry capital of the Northwest, the land is still tended by several working farms.
After the Bentryns retired in 2013, longtime friend and employee Betsey Wittick reopened the vineyards and winery under new cooperative ownership. Betsey began growing grapes and making wine with the Bentryns in 1989. As winemaker and viticulturist at Bainbridge Vineyards, Betsey is committed to seeing locally grown wine production remain an important asset to the community.
“My interest in horticulture, local foods and wine, fit right into Gerard’s original vision of being a totally estate-grown winery,” says Betsey, who leased the farm property when the Bentryns retired and reopened under the re-tooled brand of Bainbridge Vineyards.
Bainbridge Vineyards continues to thrive at the Day Road location. The vineyards have been Certified Organic since 2014 and are now utilizing a few bio-dynamic practices such as sheep and chickens in the vineyards for weed maintenance. Bainbridge Vineyards also relies on two Suffolk Punch draft horses, Red and Abbey around the farm.
Tour & Taste at Bainbridge Vineyards
The tasting room is open Fridays through Sundays 12-5 and additional hours seasonally. A variety of local snacks are for sale in the tasting room and picnic grounds are available. Bainbridge Vineyards wines are now distributed both locally and regionally.
Written by Cristina McGinnis Widman