Bicycle racing, science, winemaking and the number eleven…most of us wouldn’t know where to begin connecting these things to each other, but then, we’re not Matt Albee, founder and winemaker of Eleven Winery on Bainbridge Island.
It was the late 1990s and Matt and his wife, Sarah, were living in the San Francisco Bay area, where they spent many weekends enjoying the local wineries. During these adventures in wine tasting and touring, they met Dane Stark, owner and winemaker of Page Mill Winery. Curious about the winemaking process, Matt offered to help with harvest season at Page Mill. Around this time, Matt’s bicycle racing career had run its course, and he considered returning to school to continue his studies in the sciences. However, his love of wine, and a nudge or two by that little voice in his subconscious, sent him in an entirely different direction; a desire to make wine. Matt began going to Page Mill in the mornings before work to help with harvest winemaking activities, and after a short time, Dane suggested Matt try his hand at making his own barrel of chardonnay. Over a three year period, and under Dane’s tutelage, Matt learned how to make great wine and spent as much time as possible working in the cellar. However, Page Mill Winery was a small operation and Matt knew it was time to branch out on his own. He and Sarah went in search of a location to start their own winery, eventually deciding to return to the place they grew up, the Pacific Northwest, where the wine industry was beginning to flourish. They landed on Bainbridge Island, bought a house, and converted their large garage into a small winery, where they crushed their first grapes in 2003 and released their first whites in 2004. In 2011, the winery moved to a larger space on the island, where it resides today.
But, what does eleven have to do with all of this? Try as I might, I couldn’t explain it better than Matt, “On a typical modern road bike the smallest cog in the rear cluster has eleven teeth, and it’s the one that produces the maximum gear ratio. Therefore, when you’re at the point in the race when it’s all or nothing, when there’s no choice but to put every ounce of strength and determination you’ve got into the pedals no matter how much you’re already suffering, when you have to give it absolutely everything you’ve got, you use The Eleven.”
“The Eleven” was something I had the pleasure of experiencing recently, when I met with Matt at the winery. It was bottling day, which occurs a few times a year. Sometimes they use an outside company that can bottle as many as three-thousand cases in a two-day period; on this day it was being done by hand. The crew of about ten people had been at the process since about 9am and exhaustion was written all over their faces, yet they were smiling, laughing and joking, despite the hours they’d been standing, assembly-line style; filling, corking, labeling and then packaging the wine—this was what they lived for, the culmination of all the hard work—the final process—getting the wine ready for sale to the general public. This was what it meant to draw upon that small rear cog with eleven teeth, to put every ounce of your remaining strength and determination into the process, to give it everything you’ve got. It was impressive, more so, because Matt mentioned they’d all be doing it again the next day. The hand-bottling process is clearly more labor intensive, and only produces about a fifth of what the truck-bottling can produce, but clearly, to those at Eleven Winery, it’s worth it.
Eleven’s specialty is a rare Rhone grape variety called Mourvèdre, that makes a dark, earthy red wine, but they also produce Malbec, Syrah, Petit Verdot, Pinot Grigio, Roussanne, and Viognier, as well as several blends. In addition they make a lovely dry rosé, both white and red dessert wines, and even some bubbly! Matt’s enthusiasm for winemaking shows in the diverse range of wines that Eleven produces.
Eleven is also committed to being green and giving back. As a business, they take the responsibility of keeping their environmental footprint as small as possible by recycling, using renewable and recyclable packaging, and using sustainably-grown grapes. They’re proud to be the first carbon-neutral winery in Washington State. They also believe that giving back is just as important as keeping their footprint in check, and although they’d eventually like to donate all of their after-tax profits, that isn’t feasible just yet as they reinvest in growth, however they do donate approximately 1% of their profits annually to charities such as the World Bicycle Relief, which supports economic development and education in African communities. In addition, they contribute to local organizations that make a difference, by hosting charities for fundraising events at the winery and through donations and wine discounts to auctions and other fundraisers.
For winery and charitable events, click here.
Winslow Way Tasting Room – open 12-8pm daily
287 Winslow Way East, Bainbridge Island, WA 98110
Winery Location – open Friday, Saturday & Sunday: 12-5pm
7671 NE Day Road, Bainbridge Island, WA 98110
Holiday Closures and Openings
Winslow Way tasting room open Memorial Day and Labor Day. Winery tasting room closed Memorial Day and Labor Day. Both locations closed July 4, Thanksgiving Day. Tasting rooms open Thanksgiving weekend. Closed at 3 pm Christmas Eve, closed Christmas Day and New Year’s Day.
Eleven Winery is a member of the Winery Alliance of Bainbridge Island, for more information, click here.