Touring wineries on Whidbey Island never gets old, so we’re lucky there are so many good ones to choose from! Our team visited Whidbey’s very first vineyard – Whidbey Island Winery – this month, and it was an insightful, enjoyable experience.
Greg and Elizabeth Osenbach were living different, off-island lives in the mid-1980s when their dreams of being winemakers outgrew their basement winemaking reality. They had always wanted to move to Whidbey Island, and bought the property now known as Whidbey Island Winery with a vineyard in mind. The state winemaking industry was growing at that time, and the Osenbachs and their dreams were ready to grow with it.
They began planting grapes in 1986. Whidbey Island Winery’s first commercial vintage was produced in 1991, and the winery’s doors officially opened in the summer of 1992. At that time, they were producing around 400 cases of wine each year. Fast forward to now, over 20 years later, and Whidbey Island Winery produces approximately 3500 cases per year. And each of those cases holds bottles that are still hand-labeled. The labels for the winery’s new vintage rosé had just arrived the day we visited.
One quarter of Whidbey Island Winery’s production comes from Whidbey Island itself. The remainder is sourced from partner farms in Eastern Washington.
“Everything comes in as grapes here,” Greg said. “Everything is done here.”
Greg led us on a wander through the vineyards, explaining the two-year planting cycle to us as we walked. As we listened to Greg, it became clear that we were listening to an expert, humble winemaker. As the co-founder of Whidbey Island’s first vineyard, Greg has had to learn much of the craft the hard way. His genuine passion for sharing his knowledge and experience with his now numerous fellow Whidbey Island winemakers indicates that he has no regrets over the path he forged. You can tell he is the type of person who will drop anything to help another vineyard, to help promote the growth of the industry here on our little island, to share all the things he has learned in his 30-plus-years as a winemaker.
“…A lot of blood, sweat and tears honing our craft…”
After an enjoyable conversation in rain (this is still March in Washington, after all), we moved inside to the tasting room. Our first offering was Whidbey Island Winery’s Island White. Greg described it as a good event wine, “not too sweet for dry people, not too dry for sweet people”. It was delicious. The Island White is a blend of estate grown Madeleine Angevine and Madeleine Sylvanver, with Eastern Washington Riesling. The result is crisp and refreshing and definitely a wine I will be looking for on the wine list at Whidbey Island restaurants.
Our second tasting was of the winery’s Madeleine Angevine, an estate-grown dry wine, followed by the award-winning Siegerree, a delicious variety with hints of honey and pear. This was another favorite of mine. We all enjoyed that Greg was tasting with us, which we found to be unique and a nice touch. It gave a different feel to the tasting, a bit more like sipping with friends in their home rather than a vineyard I’d never been to before. Greg is a classic host, and a good one.
We concluded our tasting with a fourth white – the Roussane – with citrus and green tea flavors, and one red, the Grenache. None of us typically opt for red wine, but agreed that the winery’s award-winning Grenache, with its berry and spice flavors, was one to make an exception for.
Whidbey Island Winery is a definite must for wine tasting, but the property also lends itself to be worthy of a visit. Four 100-year-old fruit trees remain in the orchard, and the patio and lawn is open for picnics in summer. The winery would also be a lovely setting for your summer rehearsal dinner!
We enjoyed our time at Whidbey Island Winery, and the history lesson that accompanied it. I love that our island has historians like Greg, people who have lived and loved their craft and who are so genuinely passionate and excited to be involved with educating, helping and encouraging those that have come after them.
Whidbey Island Winery is a must for you and your family and friends. Their Langley tasting room is open from 11-5 (closed Tuesdays) in summer, and is just a 10 minute drive from the Clinton ferry. Stop in and see Greg and the team and enjoy a beautiful and delicious part of Whidbey Island history!