Catch the Crush at Eleven Winery on Bainbridge Island
Winemaking is unlike virtually all other beverage production in that there is only one chance per year to make wine: in the fall, when the grapes ripen. That means that September and October are the only months that you can experience the sights and smells of Crush – the season when we turn grapes into magic. Bring your friends to the winery, taste some great wine, relax while you listen to some live music, and check out the hot (well, warm – and, sometimes, cool) yeast-on-grape action. This season we have a special Chinook Book offer for you: four tastings for the price of two, so that you can bring a group to the winery to share the experience.
Your visit to Bainbridge Island begins with a 30-minute ferry ride from downtown Seattle. You can walk onto the ferry and take a taxi or rideshare to the winery; ride your bike and enjoy extra discounts at Eleven (you can rent bikes on the island too); or, bring your car and explore more of the island, including six other wineries. [Protip: outside of the rainy season, allow extra time for getting a car on the ferry to Bainbridge on Saturday and leaving Bainbridge on Sunday – it's a great idea to plan to have dinner out at one of our beguiling local restaurants.] We also have a tasting room an easy walk from the ferry terminal, but all of the winemaking takes place at the winery about four miles up the road.
The grapes' journey to Bainbridge Island begins in one of several vineyards in eastern Washington, where we have specific rows earmarked for our production – we get different varieties of grapes from different vineyards, but from the same vines year over year. One of our winemaking team (usually Eleven founder and winemaker Matt Albee) is always on hand in person to shepherd the fruit from the vineyard back to the winery. Matt spends a lot of his time on the road during harvest in order to be in the vineyards as much as possible: “The most important decision I make all year is when to pick. The only way to get really good information on ripeness is to be in the vineyard, tasting the fruit and collecting samples from our rows for analysis. This boots-on-the-ground approach distinguishes us from many of the wineries around the state and is key to making great wine.”
On the evening before the grapes are picked, Matt loads the picking bins into a truck and gets on the ferry to head across the mountains, arriving at the vineyard in time to roll out his sleeping bag and get some sleep before the next day's harvest. The picking crew arrives at first light and gets to work clipping the bunches from the vines. It generally takes several hours to pick the 3 to 6 tons of grapes that will make up a load. Matt uses this time to check on his grapes in various vineyards up and down the Yakima Valley. Then it's back to pick up the day's harvest and head west over to the cool side of the mountains. Grapes are processed at the winery, and then it's back across the mountains for another load. There is little time for relaxing. “This is not the glamorous part of the job. Gourmet wine dinners and tasting flights happen at other times of year. During Harvest we run on energy bars and coffee, sleeping when and where we can.”
Back in the winery, the yeast continue their work around the clock. Fermenting white juices are kept cool in stainless steel tanks, bubbling slowly in order to preserve their delicate aromas. Red wines are allowed to warm up as they ferment, extracting color, flavor and tannin from the skin of the grapes, creating richer, deeper wines. The crushed grapes form a layer (the “cap”) that floats on top of the juice as it ferments; the periodic mixing in of the cap in order to continue the extraction into the juice is called “punching down” – it is one of the fun things you might see when you visit this year. The wonderful smells from all of this fermentation fill the air in and around the winery, creating a magical atmosphere. Don't miss it; come visit us this fall. And remember the winemaker's plea: Please. Bring. Coffee.
Eleven Winery winery location, 7671 NE Day Road, Bainbridge Island, open 12-5 Friday-Sunday
Eleven Winery tasting room location, 287 Winslow Way East, Bainbridge Island, open 12-8 daily