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Eagle Haven Winery: Good to the last drop

Nov 2nd, 2012 | Category: Community, Farms

Company produces 1,200 to 1,300 cases each year

by Jessamyn Tuttle

Even in bad weather, Eagle Haven Winery sits in a beautiful spot, just east of Sedro-Woolley in the Skagit Valley. It’s raining when I visit the farm, with fog settling down over the valley, and the picnic areas are packed up for the winter, but the trees are heavy with apples and the foothills are still green and picturesque. Even with the sound of traffic on nearby Highway 20 there’s still a sense of isolation and peace.

Jim Perkins pours a glass in their tasting room. PHOTO BY JESSAMYN TUTTLE

Tom Perkins, a retired military officer, moved to the property outside Sedro-Woolley in 1968, after coming to the area for years to hunt and fish. In 1972 he began planting apple trees, which gradually became Perkins Apple Orchard. “One row turned into two rows, two turned into six,” said his son Jim Perkins, who now runs the orchard and winery along with his parents. There were also cattle on the farm, but the orchard eventually displaced them.

“It was a good gig for a while,” said Perkins, but a glut of apples on the market eventually made it less profitable. In the late 90s the family took a hard look at their business and decided that grapes might be a good additional venture. They contacted several wineries who agreed to buy all the grapes they could produce, and vines were planted in 2000. After only a couple of years, however, they cut out the middleman and made the wine themselves.

“Dad was a hobbyist winemaker,” Perkins noted, but they still needed some help getting started. The name of Bothell-area winemaker Chuck Jackson kept coming up. He helped them in the beginning, and remains an advisor for their winemaking program. He’s now building a house and planting grapes nearby to start his own winery.

“At first we had a red, a white and a fruit,” said Perkins of their original wine lineup, but now Eagle Haven offers 13 different wines. “We try to produce something for everyone.”

PHOTO BY JESSAMYN TUTTLE

Eagle Haven makes 1,200-1,300 cases per year, and sells all of their products themselves, without a distributor. Most of the wines are made with grapes they grow themselves, including Pinot Noir, Madeline Angevine and Siegerrebe, but they do buy some of their grapes from eastern Washington, looking for fruit with the right parameters for the wines they’re hoping to make. This season Perkins is buying Barbera and Dolcetto grapes from Gilbert Cellars in Prosser, both unusual selections for winemakers in this area. “That’s one thing I try to be, is quirky,” said Perkins. “I’m in Sedro-Woolley, not Woodinville.” They don’t try to do a lot of common reds like Merlot or Cabernet Sauvignon, although since their first Syrah developed a cult following they felt obliged to continue it.

They also make several fruit wines, including plum, apple, winter pear, and a blackberry wine so tart and sweet it really is like eating late summer berries. Their tasting room is set into a corner of the old apple sorting shed, lined with golden knotty pine, and the tasting list mentions possible food pairings for each wine.

Across from the tasting room is the apple store. The farm grows 30 acres of apples, including 40 varieties such as Honeycrisp, Jonagold, Gravenstein, and Gala, some of which go into the apple wine but others are sold fresh. They pick and sell continuously from late August through November. Around Christmas, they donate the remaining apples worth eating to the food bank, and send the less than perfect fruit to Skagit Fresh, where it’s turned into their special UV-treated apple cider.

In addition, Eagle Haven offers a wine club (which in recent years has grown from only 40 people to over 200), a summer music series with a pavilion, and facility rentals for weddings, reunions and other events. Their most recent event was as Toys for Tots fundraiser with Leroy Bell that brought out 450 people.

The business is still family owned by Perkins and his parents, who are now in their 80s. Perkins develops wine according to his own palate, but consults with other members of the business to decide what is mostly likely to appeal to customers.

“We’ve struggled to find something that works,” said Perkins, and taking advantage of agritourism is part of that. “I love the cycle of agriculture,” he said, noting that he’s been farming since he was in fourth grade, but staying viable as a small farm means looking for added value. He’s considering starting a distilling business on the side, featuring small, limited edition brandies.

For more information, visit the Eagle Haven Winery and Apple Store at 8243 Sims Road in Sedro-Woolley. Contact 360-856-6248 or visit www.eaglehavenwinery.com.

Published in the November 2012 issue of Grow Northwest.

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