Organically grown, crushed by purple-stained, juicy dancing feet and slowly fermented to perfection, their blackberry and raspberry wines are a taste of Lopez Island’s unique character.
Then there’s crisp, fruity Madeleine Angevine, the spicy dry Siegerrebe and a merriment between the two: Wave Crest White.
Orcas Island, Lopez has come to town.
Brent Charnley and Maggie Nilan, who own the six-acre Lopez Island Vineyards, opened the “Lopez Island Vineyards Tasting Room” in Eastsound in June.
“These are true local products that are unique in the world,” Brent said. “The flavors of Washington state are different than wines from France or California.”
They have delivered their artisanal wines to Orcas restaurants and other customers every other week for the past four years; now they’re taking it a step further with a storefront presence, hoping to expand awareness of their line in a way that supports their vision of a local foodshed.
“While we could just use a distributor, it’s our attempt at staying connected,” said Maggie. She calls their King apple and Bosc pear combo, harvested from old island orchards, “an island wedding of fruits.”
Since the couple has plenty to do back home on Lopez, they have four employees on Orcas who are now cheerfully imbibing wine lore and the particulars of oenology so they can dish up tidbits of viticulture along with sips of mellowed vino.
A visit to the airy tasting room reveals a rustic countertop made from a slab of Lopez fir, supported by antique wine barrels on each end and adorned with rows of gleaming wine glasses, various decanters, and antique glass bottles filled with oyster crackers to cleanse the palate.
A photo album on the counter provides a virtual visit to the vineyard just a ferry ride away: the sun gleams golden through sumptuous clusters of grapes hanging from the vines; a harvesting party works with sticky fingers; sheep and chickens meander through a meadow; and a determined cyclist pedals down a country lane with a box of the vineyard’s bottles of cheer bungeed on the rear.
A map of Washington state wine regions hangs on the wall, a nod to the erudite.
The couple planted their vineyard with cuttings in 1985, began making wine in 1987, and are now celebrating their 25th year in business. They built their winery and bought their first crushing machine in 1992, after years of crushing the grapes entirely by foot – but they still hold annual grape-crushing events where revelers stomp away to the tune of a socca music, accordian or fiddle. When their daughter Sophie was in kindergarten, her whole class enjoyed a crushing party. The winery processes about 35-40 tons of fruit per year and “In a good year, half of that is from our vineyard,” said Brent.
Their red wines are created with grapes purchased from Yakima Valley family farms.
If wine isn’t enough to spur a visit to the tasting room, take heart: for some, the best is yet to come.
Eastsound gourmet chocolatier Kathryn Taylor is currently devising a truffle with a layer of pate de fruit and ganache featuring the vineyard’s oak-aged Malbec wine.