Three east Skagit wineries beckon

By Ben Smith
posted 7.10.09

East of Sedro-Woolley lie three notable wineries: Eagle Haven Winery, Challenger Ridge Vineyard & Cellars, and Glacier Peak Winery.

These small yet exceptional wineries grow the grapes for their wines in their own vineyards on site and from select grapes out of Yakima Valley vineyards. Each winery has a tale; all are fast becoming recognized as premier wineries in this part of Washington.

With unique varietals, from Pinot Noir to Siegerrebe and Madeline Angevine Siegerrebe, these three pioneers of northwest Washington viniculture are making their marks and causing the wine world of Washington and beyond to sit up and take notice.

Eagle Haven Winery
Located approximately five miles east of Sedro-Woolley, just off State Route 20, Eagle Haven Winery began in 2000, and first offered its wines in 2004. The winery is an outgrowth of the Perkins family farm and orchard business, run by Jim, Tom, and Sue Perkins, who have been growing apples at the site since 1972.

The winery has a tasting room that is open Friday through Monday, and several acres of vines on sandy, rocky, fertile soil that is “perfect for vines” says Jim Perkins. He adds that working the vineyard is hard work, and harder than tending apple trees, as the vines require much more labor throughout the growing season.

Perkins says that he got into wine grapes when, as a long-time farmer, he looked at what made long-term economic sense, and saw that grapes would be the perfect crop on the rockier, sandier acreage that had once also been in apples, but was not ideal for them.

Eagle Haven produces Siegerrebe, Madeline Angevine, Siegerrebe Madeline Angevine, Pinot Noir, Apple, Blackberry and Winter Pear wines from fruit grown at the vineyard. Its Syrah and Sangiovese wines are made on site from grapes selected from the Yakima Valley area.

Perkins likes all of the wines that Eagle Haven produces, but is especially pleased with their unique Madeline Angevine Siegerrebe Blend wine, the 2008 Northwest Wine Summit Silver Medal winner at Mount Hood. Their Madeline Angevine Siegerrebe Blend is to his knowledge the only one of its kind in existence.

Challenger Ridge Vineyard & Cellars
At 43095 Challenger Rd., just west of Concrete alongside State Route 20, Challenger Ridge was born in 1999. Its original founders were Paul Rosasco and Frenchman Louis Dailly, who were drawn to the extremely well-drained south slopes and long growing season of the site.

Challenger Ridge was purchased in August 2006 by Doug Spady and Ryan Costanti of Bow, Wash., along with friends from Seattle and Colorado. Also in 2006, Randy Bonaventura, an experienced young winemaker, became the winemaker at Challenger Ridge, which features a tasting room and renovated historical farm buildings and farmhouse. The tasting room is open Friday through Sunday.

Challenger Ridge offers several distinctive blended wines, with more planned by Mr. Bonaventura. “Randy loves blends,” said Cora Thomas, Tasting Room manager and sales representative.

Challenger Ridge produces wines in Pinot Noir, Liberty Bell 5 White Blend (which was a bestseller in summer 2008, and named after the winemaker’s love of skiing around that North Cascades mountain), Pinot Gris, Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Bordeaux Cabernet Blend, Syrah, Syrah Blend, Viognier, Black Currant and—coming soon—a Cabernet Syrah Blend. Their Pinot Noir is grown on site, while their other wines are crafted from grapes selected from contracted acreages in the Yakima Valley/Red Mountain appellations, particularly from the Rattlesnake Hills area.

The signature wine at Challenger Ridge is their Pinot Noir, the main grape varietal that they grow on their 10 acres of vineyards at the winery. This spring, two acres of Pinot Meunier, Sauvignon Blanc and more Pinot Noir vines were added to the approximately eight previously planted acres of Pinot Noir.

Challenger Ridge also has a newly opened tasting room in Woodinville, Washington.

Thomas says that Challenger Ridge aims to be a “comfortable, fun, relaxing destination winery.” Plans are in motion for the sale of building lots at the winery for wine bungalows, as well as plans for a lodge and second tasting room. As summer picks up speed, Challenger Ridge is ready for another busy year.

Glacier Peak Winery
Located just east of Rockport, near Milepost 104, Glacier Peak opened in 2002 with Stephen and Susan Olsen as owners. Stephen likes to say that they began making wine in 1998 as “a hobby that went bad,” and that their guidance at the winery is that they “want to produce really great wine.”

The Glacier Peak Winery tasting room is located on the same site as the vineyard, and offers seasonal hours of operation, so call ahead to make sure you don’t miss out (see sidebar).

Each of the Olsens’ wines are handcrafted on site, from Pinot Noir, Siegerrebe, and Agria grapes grown on their own vines, to the Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah and Merlot they produce from grapes personally chosen and delivered by the winemaker from premium vineyards in the Yakima Valley.

Stephen Olsen is especially pleased with Glacier Peak’s very unique white Siegerrebe wine. He said that their Siegerrebe grapes grow and mature especially well in their eastern Skagit climate, which averages 10–13 degrees warmer daytime summer temperatures than Burlington. He added that the Siegerrebe is becoming so popular that “a lot of people walk in saying they only like red wines, and leave with a bottle of our white Siegerrebe.”

Sales of the Glacier Peak’s white Siegerrebe have grown to comprise 38 percent of their total. He adds that their 2007 Pinot Noir also did well. Glacier Peak Winery anticipates another good summer and year.

More than wine
Our local wineries set themselves apart from the crowd by offering more than exceptional wines. Set against the incomparable backdrop of the upper Skagit Valley and North Cascades, the wineries already are a destination for individuals, couples, families, and groups for summer and harvest time fun and recreation.

Many events take place at the wineries throughout the summer and fall. Look for hiking, biking and horseback riding trails at Challenger Ridge, as well as other special events. Eagle Haven has special music events throughout the summer, and its facilities are available for events of many kinds, from weddings to parties of any occasion. And Glacier Peak has partnered with Blue Sky Outfitters to offer Skagit River float trips paired with lunch and a wine tasting experience. Contact each winery for details on additional special events.

©2013. All rights reserved.