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Each year, thousands of visitors hop ferries or planes and head to one of Seattle’s favorite vacation spots, the San Juan Islands, intent on slowing down and enjoying a leisurely agenda that might include an orca-watching tour, kayaking, a beach walk—and wine tasting.
With the effects of climate change, the wine industry is shifting and adapting. And the Puget Sound AVA, with some 45 wineries, including a few in the San Juan Islands, may turn out to be the little mouse that roared. These wineries produce some delicious food-friendly wines from cooler-climate grapes, such as Riesling, Siegerrebe, Madeleine Angevine and Müller-Thurgau. And they offer the opportunity to sip them in unique locales.
Each of the three main islands has its own winery. On San Juan Island, start at San Juan Vineyards, a picturesque winery just a few miles from the Friday Harbor ferry landing. Its vineyard of Siegerrebe and Madeleine Angevine vines overlooks a beautiful chapel. The winery, with its 1895 schoolhouse turned tasting room, also produces some reds made from grapes from Yakima and the Horse Heaven Hills AVAs.
While on this island, don’t miss out on a tasting at the award-winning San Juan Island Distillery and Westcott Bay Cider on weekend afternoons (which share the same owners and location) to learn about its delicious gins, flavored with island botanicals such as Nootka rose, madrone bark and sea beans, as well as brandies, liqueurs and cider.
Photographs by San Juan Vineyards & Lopez Island Vineyards . A few barrels of aging wine and the grounds at Lopez Island Vineyards; San Juan Vineyards overlooks a charming chapel
Then, plan to rest your head at the newly renovated Friday Harbor House, overlooking the harbor. Its updated restaurant, the Restaurant at Friday Harbor House, is helmed by chef Jason Aldous, who worked under chef Blaine Wetzel at The Willows Inn, a world-renowned restaurant on Lummi Island. (Read more about the San Juan Islands' exploding food scene here.)
The next day, catch an interisland ferry over to Orcas Island, and enjoy a drive up to the top of Mount Constitution—the highest point in the islands—in Moran State Park. Bring along a few provisions for a picnic at the park (the island’s Roses Bakery Cafe offers breads, cheeses and deli-style meats), and then enjoy an afternoon of sipping in the rustic barn-like tasting room of Orcas Island Winery, opened in 2011 by winemaker Alexander Schemkes and his father, Randy.
End your tour by booking a tasting at the Lopez Island Vineyards tasting room (by appointment only; Thursdays and Fridays), where you can try the wines of pioneering winemaker Brent Charnley. Two of his favorites are his estate-grown wines: Madeleine Angevine, a white Loire Valley grape; and Siegerrebe (or “victory vine” in German), an aromatic cross of Gewürztraminer and Madeleine Angevine.
Taking life at a slower pace is one of the joys of a San Juan Islands getaway, but many businesses operate on island time. So even for those with posted hours, call a few days ahead to confirm hours or make an appointment for a tasting.
Photograph by Friday Harbor House. Enjoy the harbor view from Friday Harbor House
A wine tasting tour through the San Juans does require a little planning; you’ll need to coordinate your tour with the ferry schedule. Allow two or three days to experience all three of the wineries. You can take an interisland ferry to island-hop; just be sure to check schedules carefully. On some routes between islands, you won’t need to pay an extra fare.
Getting there: Ferries to the San Juan Islands leave from Anacortes, which is about a one-and-a-half-hour drive from Seattle. Check ferry schedules, fares and reservation options at wsdot.wa.gov/ferries. The ferry from Anacortes to Friday Harbor takes about an hour and 20 minutes.
Friday Harbor House, San Juan Island, Friday Harbor, 130 West St.; 866.722.7356; $169–$400
Lopez Island Vineyards, (by appointment only), Lopez Island, 724 Fisherman Bay Road; 360.468.3644
Orcas Island Winery, Orcas Island, 2371 Crow Valley Road; 425.314.7509
San Juan Vineyards, San Juan Island, 3136 Roche Harbor Road; 360.378.9463
San Juan Island Distillery, (near Roche Harbor), San Juan Island, 12 Anderson Lane; 360.472.1532
Westcott Bay Cider, (near Roche Harbor), San Juan Island, 12 Anderson Lane; 360.378.3880
Roses Bakery Cafe, Orcas Island, Eastsound, 382 Prune Alley; 360.376.4292
FOR YOUR CELLAR
Lopez Island Vineyards: Siegerrebe, $25
Orcas Island Winery: Dry Riesling, $20
San Juan Vineyards: Madeleine Angevine, $18