QUEEN OF THE PUGET SOUND VINEYARDS
by Jerome Richard
photos by Lara Ferroni
Grapes have been grown in the Puget Sound area since 1872, when Lambert Evans planted some on Stretch Island—but they were labrusca, or table grapes. Very few growers attempted the more finicky vinifera and the few commercial wineries that existed around the Sound were gone by the 1960s.
The modern planting of premium wine grapes in Washington began in the Yakima Valley, and quickly spread south to the Columbia and east as far as Walla Walla. Chateau Ste. Michelle built a handsome winery in Woodinville in 1976, but it was largely a showcase. Wine was made there, but the grapes were from eastern Washington. The Puget Sound area was too cold and rainy for the classic wine grapes like Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Chardonnay. Then, along came the charming Madeleine Angevine.
Madeleine Angevine is a cross between Prococe de Malingre and Madeleine Royale. It appears likely that it was developed in the Loire Valley of France in the mid-19th century, but it was grown most successfully in the cooler climates of Germany and England. The second half of its name is thought to derive from the French city of Anger, but no one knows who the royal Madeleine was.
In 1977 Gerard Bentryn, who had worked at vineyards in England and Germany, among other countries, planted the grape at his Bainbridge Island Vineyards. The next year Al Stratton planted it at Mount Baker Vineyards about twenty miles east of Bellingham. Stratton had tried 60 different varieties to see what would make the best wine in the Puget Sound area, and decided that Madeleine Angevine was more complex than most.
It can also be blended, as it is in Bainbridge Island’s Ferryboat White. Bentryn at Bainbridge is even experimenting with a blend of Madeleine Angevine and an unusual red grape called Duncklefelder to make a rosé (look for it at the winery next year).
In 1995, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms recognized the Puget Sound Viticultural Area as a distinct vinifera growing region. The designated district is essentially the lowland areas surrounding the Sound, including the San Juan Islands. At present there are eleven wineries in the Puget Sound AVA, plus Mount Baker, just outside the delimited area.
Seven of these wineries produce Madeleine Angevine from their own vineyards. “Estate grown” on a wine label means the wine was made where the grapes are grown. Some wines made by Puget Sound wineries are processed from grapes imported from eastern Washington, but not Mad Angie.
Because all of the Puget Sound wineries are relatively small, getting your own Mad Angie may be a bit of a challenge. The easiest way to find her is simply visiting the wineries in person. Or, like me, just keep your eye out for her long neck as you wander the local wine shops—you never know where she might turn up.
Jerome Richard has written about beer, wine, food and travel for Wine Enthusiast, Northwest Palate, Wine Times, Robb Report, Northwest Prime Time and several newspapers. He took time out to write the novel The Kiss of the Prison Dancer, a finalist for the 2005 PEN/Hemingway Award.