During a recent visit to Fletcher Bay Winery on Bainbridge Island, owner and winemaker Jim Wilford and marketing director Brook Huffman talked about many things, since the winery was growing a lot and things were changing. For example, they have upped their overall case production from 850 to about 1,500 total gallons. Of those, 1,150 gallons are produced right at the winery and 350 are produced off-site, in addition to wines they have to blend and so forth.
“And ideally, I think the goal would be to get to about 2,000 gallons. And to do that, we’d need a lot of extra barrel space because it’s the red wines that take up the space, since most of our focus is on full-bodied red wines,” Wilford said.
They rented a warehouse down the street, and it should be able to hold most of the barrels for now. Wilford thinks the warehouse is going to handle a lot of the growing pains.
The winery will produce pinot noir this year for the first time. During the 2016 harvest, they went down to the Willamette Valley and picked up 4 tons of pinot noir.
“We do have the luxury of accessing grapes from all over, and that includes Oregon. We’re not restricted to Washington. I guess it gives us a bit of a variety,” Wilfrord said.
They also started selling three fruit wines: strawberry, cranberry and plum. A lot of tourists coming in from the Midwest were looking for fruity wines so Fletcher Bay brought those fruity wines in and they have proved popular. The fruit for the fruit wines comes from around Kitsap County.
“So we’ll be keeping those three fruit wines; they’re going to change in the varietal of fruit and we’ll keep them in very small batches,” Wilford said. “It’s kind of a nice thing to do in the summertime, before we start doing our big harvest on making the grape wines.”
The winery started in Wilford’s garage, at his house on Fletcher Bay, which is how the name of the winery came about. Fletcher Bay is on the west side of the island directly across from Brownsville.
Everything was produced there and Wilford had a little guest cottage that was used as a tasting room. The winery outgrew that space, as it could only produce about 400 or 500 cases there. To grow, they needed a commercial space that would allow them to be open as many days as they would like as long as they would like, vs. one weekend a month. In 2008, the winery moved to the current address.
The Fletcher Bay logo was inspired by a commercial ship that was called The Bainbridge. It was used to ship a lot of stuff by the Hall Brothers and eventually crashed off the coast of North Carolina in the early 1900s. Bainbridge had this four-masted ship in the logging industry in the late 1800s, although the name is sometimes confused with Navy ships called The Bainbridge.
Huffman joined the business in the summer of 2016, bringing a strong marketing background. She and her husband are now minority owners in the winery.
According to Huffman, the millenials are an important part of the segment that the winery is targeting, especially from Seattle. But the winery also has a strong following among locals and the older crowds. More than 200 customers are part of the wine club, which ships wines on a quarterly basis and also has a quarterly wine party.
A remodel was recently underway, with island interior designer Ruth Cashell and local woodworker Alan Vogel as well as cabinet maker David Kotz providing their services.
“(The remodel) is focused on a nautical theme, to clean and freshen it up to play on our logo,” Huffman said.
She added, “If you look across the Washington wine landscape, wine is becoming such a huge thing. People are interested in wine and going on tasting weekends, and we really wanted this to become such a really cool destination that they would want to come from Seattle.”
She said it’s also a place where local people connect, with some customers seeing Fletcher Bay as a place where “everyone knows your name.”
“We didn’t want to lose that in the remodel,” Huffman said. “We just wanted to attract some new people.”
On Wednesdays, there is live music, $5 glasses of wine and a food truck. The winery is also part of the Wine on the Rock events, which take place four times a year. Each has a theme, and all seven island wineries participate.
“We really try to provide a winery where people can go to enjoy the wine and have an enjoyable afternoon or evening,” Wilford said. “People know we are a nice destination to show off the winery.”
The winery has 13 wines, with reds a bestseller but white wines also popular in the summer.
“We also sell local, packaged cheeses and meats for people to enjoy with the wines,” Wilford said. “We provide them with the plates, so it works out pretty well.”