Established in 1996, San Juan Vineyards is a Puget Sound American Viticultural Area winery destination for locals and tourists alike. The wine room, a renovated schoolhouse that was built in 1896, is an easy 10-minute drive from downtown Friday Harbor. The pastoral setting makes this winery a popular destination for oenophiles, tourists, weekend adventurers and party planners alike. San Juan Vineyards’ owner, Yvonne Swanberg, and winemaker Chris Primus also source warm climate grapes from several premier Central and Eastern Washington vineyards. Tucked within the rain shadow of the nearby Olympic Mountains, San Juan’s growing season of about 180 days is perfect for grapes common to Germany’s Rhine River Valley.
The 30-acre property includes a seven-acre vineyard of carefully cultivated and pampered Siegerrebe, a German varietal. Siegerrebe is a white grape developed in 1929 by viticulturist George Scheu. Rich creamy sauces will completely obliterate the delicate features of this exceptional low acid wine — so don’t even go there.
Riesling is a variety with an allure all its own. Few are blasé about Riesling: one is either a fan or not. The 2013 Riesling will convince the blasé and convert the nonfan from their charlatan ways. Stone fruit and honey wash over the palate in a cascade of flavors one after the other: apricot, nectarine, raw honey and finally a lingering finish that loiters long after the first sip. At $14 the 2013 Riesling is an exceptional value.
The judicious use, or not, of oak is a difficult secret to hide. This is most apparent in the 2013 Chardonnay, which is well priced at $20 a bottle. This wine is a lighter and brighter interpretation — due in large part to the complete absence of oak. Personally, I am a huge oaked Chardonnay fan, and yet, I find myself drawn to this fantastic wine like ants to a picnic basket. The convention is that oak is compulsory in production of a solid chardonnay; however, San Juan Vineyard is successfully challenging that notion.
On a sweltering summer day few libations are more satisfying than Rosé. The 2013 Afterglow is a lovely dry wine that absolutely hits the mark. And at $17 a bottle it is an exceptional value. Fermented in neutral oak barrels, this Rosé is a mélange of Chardonnay, Riesling, Pinot Gris, Cabernet Franc, Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon. Afterglow is quite possibly the perfect sipping wine for those long hot summer afternoons.
Cabernet Franc is an indulgence one ought never to grow accustomed to. Of course there are those who may find it a tad too pretentious, but those folks are simply wine snobs. After 20 months in French Oak barrels,the 2010 Cabernet Franc is an exceptional treat. And critics agree, awarding this wine a Double Gold Medal at the Seattle Wine Awards. Modestly priced at $25, the 297 cases won’t last long!
It doesn’t matter how you get to San Juan Island: fly, swim, sail boat, yacht or ferry. Once there, make sure that your excursions include a relaxing stop at San Juan Vineyards to sample a few wines, enjoy a glass of Afterglow on the deck, and buy a few bottles to remind you of your island holiday. Take advantage of this unique opportunity to observe how the carefully groomed vines thread along the horizontal trellis. Understanding the labor involved in creating exceptional wines often stimulates an appreciation for each luxurious sip. If you can’t make it to San Juan, you can always order your wines online by visiting sanjuanvineyards.com.