A Brief History Of Western Washington Wine

You guys actually grow grapes over there?

That is the number one question we get when we explain to our customers that our Pinot Noir and Siegerrebe are Estate grown. Granted, this is a valid question. Of the 50,000+ acres of vitis vinifera (traditional species of wine grape) planted in Washington, roughly 200 of those acres lie west of the Cascades. And, yes, it does rain a lot over here. But on average the growing region is drier and has more sun that most of the classic growing regions in Europe. Also, there is very rarely a freeze during the winter to damage the vines. But how did wine grapes start on this side of the mountains?

This handsome man is Lambert Evans. Evans was a confederate soldier during the Civil War who was imprisoned in St. Louis for most of the war. Upon his release he walked, WALKED, to Los Angeles and from there, because he did not like the heat, he headed north to the Puget Sound. He was known to row his skiff around the Sound and one day he came upon Stretch Island.

Noticing the slope and and southern exposure he knew this would be the perfect place to plant fruit. In 1872 he chose to plant apples and grapes at first. He would take his skiff and sell his fruit in Olympia, but was not making that much money. Around this time a businessman named Adam Eckert had settled in the area and ended up purchasing more land on the island and, with Evans, planting more grapes. The variety they were planting was called Island Belle or Campbell's Early. Although this was a different species (vitis lubrusca or "Concord" type grapes) from the traditional wine grape, prohibition forced it into fermentation. Once prohibition was repealed a man by the name of Charles Somers, who had purchased the land from Evans' widow, opened up a winery named Old St. Charles Co. This winery was the first bonded winery in the history of all of Washington wine.

On a recent trip to the region I took some pictures of the vines that are still growing there. Look at how thick those vines are.

From the early 60's and on more and more adventurous souls started planting traditional wine grapes in and around the Puget Sound. Some grew great and some didn't make it. After years of trial and error we have found the the varietals that grow best are Pinot Noir, Regent, and Zweigelt for reds. And Siegerrebe, Madeleine Angevine, Muller-Thurgau, Sylvaner, and certain clones of Pinot Gris.

There are many wineries in western Washington, but we take a lot of pride in being one of only a handful that have our own Estate vineyards that produce great fruit year after year.

Now that summer is here we are always happy to provide a tour of the vineyard and winery. You can always call the winery and set something up in advance with our vineyard manager or just reply to this email and we will see what we can do.

Spring Time With The Vine And Wines

What a spring this has been! When spring decides to arrive 5 weeks earlier then normal it really gets the wheels turning on our winter outside work. Things like pruning, transplanting, and building new trellising. And the wines, well they are safe and sound in the winery and we'll get back to them in April/May while we wait for Bud Break!

You see, this will either be one of the best years or one of the worst years. And every farmer in the Puget Sound will find out very soon. Why would it be one of the worst years with all of the sun you ask? Well when the soil temperatures reach that magic 60 degree, the vines get begin to wake up from there long winter sleep. The sap begins to move again (that’s why you might be noticing buckets parked at the bottom of Birch trees this time of year. People are collecting the sap to make syrup). The sap is moving up through the cambium layer towards the new buds to “Push” them open and provided new life. This layer is also known as the “vascular cambium layer”. Now there becomes a point when the buds begin to “push” open, and they wont stop. Its like they jump on a freight train and even if the temperature begins to fall, they keep moving forward. If they open up too much, too soon, then we are in real danger. Im sure you have all seen a lovely sunny spring morning and everything is covered in a lovely looking frost. Well that frost is what we grape growers are most frightened about. As the plants begin to push open, they become very sensitive to frost and can be killed. In a matter of hours, your entire growing season could be over. However we do have a few tools in our tool box to combat the late frost. We can light a series of small fires in drums though out the vineyard, spray the vines with water and allow that to freeze. (Inside the ice covered vine, the temperature will actually be warmer then if left exposed.) Or build massive fans that will move the heavy frosty air out of the vineyard. These are all very costly and are not very sustainable ways to manage for frost in the eye’s of an organic farmer. The process of growing something is a process of working with mother nature, and she gives us almost everything that we need. We just need to see it, and use it. All day the soil is being baked in the sun. Its like a heat blanket. You’ve probably noticed this effect yourself. Ever noticed that a cloudy night is warmer then a clear sky night. That’s because during the night, the earth releases its heat from the day, and if there are clouds above, then the heat gets trapped leaving us with a warm night. So what we do, is we utilize that heat that is released during the night and to increase it efficacy, we turn the soil under the vines to expose it. Exposed soil catches more heat during the day, and releases more heat during the night. Enough heat that a frost won't form. We do this by using a very specialized bit of equipment called a spin weeder, or vine plow that carefully turns the soil leaving it weed free (which means no round-up) and it really kicks the thermostat up in the vineyard.

Now on the flip side of all of this freight train of doom and gloom, is that if we don’t get a late frost, then we are in for a real treat of a season as we just gained 5 weeks in our growing season! which can come in handy when we are waiting for the fruit to ripen just right before the rains come in October.

So. As the sap begins to move, and the buds begin to get fragile. We need to get vines pruned, and tied down so we can be hands off as much as possible during this very delicate stage of the growing season. And one of those projects is transplanting and re-building the trellising at our Best Rd tasting room. We are making the rows wider so our tractor equipment can get in there, and replacing the trellising post with new beautiful wooden posts instead of the metal T-post that were there before. This will leave our little vineyard of Melon De Bourgogne easier to work on, and look much better while you enjoy a glass of wine. Now we haven’t taken a harvest off these guys yet, but we hope to do so this year. We are only the second vineyard in the Puget Sound that is growing this grape, so theres a lot to learn about them.

So do a dance, cross your toes, and send good warm frost free thoughts our way.  



Busting The Sulfites Myths

One of the most frequently asked questions we get is along the lines of "I love wine, but the sulfites give me a headache".

Since 1988 American labels have legally been required to include on the label the fact that the wine contains sulfites. And since then sulfites have been blamed for pretty much any headache, tummy ache, stuffy nose, or any other ailment that happens right after drinking some wine. But today we are going to set the record straight on sulfites and hopefully clean up its reputation.

To clarify, sulfites are added to wine before and after the fermentation process and can be added at several other points between the end of fermentation and bottling. We add sulfites to protect the wine from oxygen and bacteria. Without it you would have a bottle of vinegar in a few months instead of that great bottle of wine you've been saving. Sulfites also naturally occur during fermentation. So there are some wines that try to capitalize on the bad name that sulfites have by putting "No sulfites added" on the label. But, because they occur in fermentation, there is no such thing as a sulfite free wine.

First of all, yes, there is such thing as a sulfite allergy. And in no way is any of this meant to discredit the fact that it exists. However, less than 1% of Americans suffer from a sensitivity to sulfites, and the bulk of these people are chronic asthmatics. Also, there are a number of foods that contain a much higher level of sulfites than wine including dried fruits, molasses, bottled lemon and lime juice, sauerkraut, dried potatoes, lunch meats, and many more. And lastly, a true sulfite allergy manifests as chest congestion, asthma, or hives and not a headache or tummy ache.

That being said, there are a few other factors that can cause someone not to feel so well after drinking wine. The number one reason, and it may sound like we are kidding, is that the person just drank too much. We've all done it. We'll all do it again. But if you wake up the next day with a headache and not feeling so hot, we can't really blame sulfites for that one.

Some legitimate factors contribute to a not-so-hot feeling after one or two glasses. The biggest culprit is sugar. Do you get a headache when you drink cheap "champagne" but found that when you drink the expensive stuff you feel fine? The cheaper sparkling wines add sugar to boost alcohol levels and make their product a little sweet. Sugar and alcohol never play well and a headache is sure to ensue. One of the more common actual allergic reactions from wine are caused by histamines in the barrels that the wine is aged in. After a glass or two you may feel your nose getting stuffy and a slight sinus headache. This is most common with people who already have environmental allergies such as hay fever. This is much more common with red wines. Whereas the sugar headache is more common with sweet whites.

Our advice is always the same. There is a slight chance that you have an actual allergy to something in wine. But if you remember to pace yourself, make sure that a few glasses of wine are not the only thing in your belly, and drink a glass of water for every glass of wine you have, you will have a good night's sleep and wake up feeling fine. We are always glad to answer any questions you might have about this or anything wine related. You can always use the "Contact Us" page on our website.


The Times They Are A-Changin'

As Glacier Peak Winery enters 2015 we find that changes abound. Our new website has officially launched and will be growing in the next few months giving our customers the option to purchase wine directly from the site and have it shipped to themselves or friends or family. We are also building a page that will feature information on our current wines as well as some food pairing suggestions for each bottle.

Our newly launched Glacier Peak Estate Club is our wine club that offers great discounts, free tastings, special offers, and no fee to join.  More information can be found here and it just takes a couple minutes to sign up on line.

This year holds many new adventures for the winery as we release new wines, begin our distillation program (including brandy and flavored liqueurs), and expand our retail presence. To keep up to date we ask you to sign up for our newsletter here and keep an eye on our blog and events page.

We look forward to sharing our journey with you and welcome feedback, comments, or ideas from our fans.