Tour Bainbridge: A personalized experience that locals and visitors can all enjoy!
Written by Kevin Dwyer and Margaret Millmore
Sometimes being a tourist in your own backyard can be an eye-opening experience, especially if you’ve never visited any of the island’s seven wineries.
Thanks to an invite from Tour Bainbridge CEO and founder Natalie Rodriguez, we hopped aboard one of their luxury coaches a few weeks back and set out to take in three Bainbridge wineries.
Our driver and designated tour guide, Paul Aussendorf welcomed us and laid out the day’s itinerary. We were accompanied on this wet and breezy November afternoon by two ladies – a mom and daughter – from the City of Kenmore on the Eastside. The daughter’s company was paying for her tour for a job well done and we all agreed that that was a very nice gesture. We didn’t recall having bosses during our careers that were quite that generous, but that’s a tale for another day.
Paul maneuvered Tour Bainbridge’s large rig—with room for more than a dozen passengers—past Bainbridge High School and up New Brooklyn Road before stopping in front of Eagle Harbor Winery, located in a small business park, just across from Bainbridge Artisan Resource Network (BARN).
If you’ve been on wine-tasting tours before, you know that there are very few rules. Basically, you are given a small sample of any number of wines and an opportunity to cleanse your palette with water, sorbet or some other mouth rinse.
Eagle Harbor is one of several micro-wineries on the island. Their grapes are sourced from vineyards in Eastern Washington. Eagle Harbor was founded in 2005 and our host, Chip Garber, has worked the tasting room for the past four years. Despite the Pandemic, the winery has had a good year, supported by tourists—especially on weekends—and a “core” of wine club members, Garber noted.
He said—while pouring samples of several whites and red blends—that Eagle Harbor is known for its Bordeaux, Cabernets and Cabernet Franc. We particularly enjoyed the 2018 Sangiovese. Sounding like a true sommelier, Garber said the Viognier we tasted was, “heavy and weighty on your palate…This wine is polarizing. People either like it or they don’t,” he professed.
Moving into Eagle Harbor’s production center, a few short feet away from the tasting room, we learned—and as many wine aficionados already know—wine-making is a good bit of science mixed with plenty of craft and a fine touch of art. It’s alchemy at its best, you might say. Garber further elucidated this concept by noting that Eagle Harbor’s store room has 250 barrels, made from French oak, currently aging, which exudes a whole host of flavors that make for varying blends of whites and reds.
The wine typically ages for 36 months before it is bottled and sold. Each barrel can produce somewhere in the neighborhood of 25 cases of wine. This past fall, Eagle Harbor crushed 35 tons of grapes. “We know where the good grapes are (in Eastern Washington),” said Garber. “We know which ones are ours. We like the more concentrated ones.” The winery has a tasting room downtown as well, located at 278 Winslow Way E #106. If you’d like to learn more about Eagle Harbor Wine Co., click here to read our March 2019 feature article.
Our next stop was Rolling Bay Winery, where we were met by owner and wine-maker, Alphonse de Klerk, who has a charming demeanor and a wonderfully animated personality.
De Klerk has been making wine in one form or another since the 1980s. When he began making wine on Bainbridge Island, he produced it out of a 450 square-foot space on Beachcrest Drive. As their popularity grew and they needed a larger space, they relocated to their current location in the Rolling Bay village center (across the road from Via Rosa). Today, the winery is open to the general public on Saturday and Sunday, or by appointment Monday through Friday, click here for details.
While in the large red barn where the grapes are crushed and stored in barrels, de Klerk explained, “Things have unfolded organically for us,” as he provided us with samples, which he extracted with what looked like a long turkey baster, direct from the barrel. Like Eagle Harbor, de Klerk and his team store about 250 barrels, after crushing their load of grapes, which the wine-maker himself drove across the Cascades from a vineyard in Eastern Washington. “They know what we want,” added de Klerk of Newhouse Growers in Sunnyside, his long-time supplier.
Rolling Bay has a beautifully appointed tasting room, as well as a deck and picnic area out back, with an expanse of lawn between the rear and the storage barn that is suitable for weddings, concerts, parties and other activities during the warmer weather months. In the tasting room, we were seated at a long table hewed from a slab of a Douglas Fir tree, where we were treated to a 2017 Grenache and samples of their Nine Sisters, which is a blend of 65% Merlot and 35% Cabernet, and one of the winery’s most popular blends. We topped off this delightful stay with their Fusion2 white table wine.
As the rain continued and evening descended upon us, we piled aboard the Tour Bainbridge coach and drove to Fletcher Bay Winery, located at the Coppertop Business Park, off Sportsman Club Road NE. Unlike the other two wineries, Fletcher Bay serves food and offers entertainment on their comfortable (and heated) outdoor patio. The winery also operates a tasting room on Winslow Way, next to the Ale House, where you can sip wine and enjoy charcuterie and cheese platters.
On this particular evening, the Coppertop location was packed with locals and we were offered flights (which consist of four portions of the wines of your choice) and we each tasted several different vintages (including a mix of 2020 Sauvignon Blanc, Columbia Valley | 2019 Rose, Yakima Valley| Barking Dog Red, Columbia Valley | Battle Point Red). Our tour host and driver Paul left us for a short time, reappearing with custom ordered dinners, consisting of a delicious chicken or vegetable pot pie or vegan lasagna, paired with a salad and incredible chocolate dessert, provided by Sweet Dahlia’s Bakery nearby. If you’d like to learn more about Fletcher Bay Winery, click here to read our April 2019 feature article.
One particular highlight of the evening was at Fletcher Bay Winery, when a woman came over to our table to sing the praises of both our driver, Paul and Tour Bainbridge, noting that they’d taken her and several friends on a wine tour for her 40th birthday. She declared, quite enthusiastically, that it was the best birthday she’d ever had.
Tour Bainbridge was started in 2017 by Natalie Rodriguez, who upon moving to the island the year before, and was immediately smitten with our beautiful little slice of paradise, prompting her to start the company so she can share the wonders of Bainbridge with locals and visitors alike. Our guide and driver Paul, a longtime island resident, was a delightful fountain of local knowledge that he happily shared.
Tour Bainbridge has two luxury coaches, an executive Mercedes coach for more intimate groupings, and a beautifully appointed Ford coach which can handle larger groups.
Taking one of their tours is a fantastic way to enjoy the island as a visitor but also as a new resident who wants to learn more about our community, or would like to enjoy a wine tour without the worry of driving (and drinking). It’s a personalized experience that people of all ages can enjoy.
In addition to several winery tours, Tour Bainbridge also offers sightseeing tours and chartered transportation for weddings, birthday parties and more. Click here for more information.
Thanks to Tour Bainbridge, we learned a whole lot about wine making as well as experiencing a fun evening with some new friends.