If you’re a wine traveler, a small batch spirits devotee, or connoisseur of farm-to-table slow food, then Washington State’s Whidbey Island needs to be at the top of your ‘go-to destinations’ list.
Largest of the many islands of Puget Sound, Whidbey is sheltered by the Olympic and Cascade Mountains, enjoying a drier climate than the mainland. This ‘rainshadow’ effect means that Whidbey is an agricultural oasis supplying most of the island restaurants with fresh, local produce, berries, honey, meat, cheeses, seafood, and wine.
With the addition of magnificent scenery and charming, walkable towns, its easy to see why this magical island, less than one hour from metropolitan Seattle, makes the perfect get-away, location.
The island is situated within the boundaries of the Puget Sound AVA, which lies west of the Cascades Mountains in North West Washington.
It’s the perfect locale for cool-climate grape varieties like Madeleine Angevine, Madeline Sylvaner, and Seigerrebe. You won’t find these vinifera grapes grown in many vineyards outside their homelands of the Loire Valley and Germany. Stop by Comforts of Whidbey and enjoy their estate bottlings of these delicious, refreshing, and seafood friendly wines as you gaze over the farmland, forest, and the Saratoga Passage.
Pinot Noir also shines on Whidbey—so much so that at Spoiled Dog Winery, its the only grape they grow. Check out their award-winning Estate Pinot Noir, and you’ll understand why.
Holmes Harbor Cellars has Siegerrebe planted in front of their tasting room. While we wait for it to end up in the bottle, enjoy their sumptuous Cabernet Sauvignon or a crisp Albariño crafted with fruit sourced from select vineyards in Eastern Washington State.
At nearby Blooms Winery, pair live music, art, and local cuisine with your wine-flight tasting. ‘Poetic’—a drinkable blend of Washington State Syrah, Malbec, and Petit Verdot with notes of dark fruit and mocha—is indicative of this winery’s elegant style. Their 511 Bistro serves tasty small plates, salads, and entrees featuring local suppliers—3 Sisters Lamb and Grass-Fed Beef, Samish Bay Cheese, and Penn Cove Mussels.
Locally grown berries and Eastern Washington grains have inspired some deliciously distilled beverages on Whidbey Island.
Mutiny Bay Distillery only has to go outside their front door to source organic blueberries for their eponymous liqueur. Their barrel-aged, wheat-based ‘Palouse Gold’ is a smooth yet serious whisk. Gin lovers will be enthralled with classic dry ‘Strait Gin’ with its juniper and herbaceous notes.
Steve and Bev Heising have been distilling ‘down in the Bunker’ of Whidbey Island Distillery since 2009. Their hallmark Bunker Rye is a scrumptious sipper or a base for creative cocktails (Check their website for tasty inspiration). Fruit for the liqueurs are locally sourced and include their flagship Loganberry, a raspberry-blueberry hybrid that grows on nearby Greenbank Farm.
An Interconnected Island
When you visit Whidbey, you begin to notice the supportive, interconnected network of wineries and distilleries, chefs and farmers, brewers and chocolatiers. They work together to produce their unique products and share them with the world. One such group is the Whidbey Island Vintners who get together several times each year to celebrate the seasons.
During the 2nd week of November (November 9-10, 2019), they will commemorate the island harvest during ‘Autumn on Whidbey Art, Wine & Spirits Tour.’ This self-guided, at-your-own-pace adventure can begin at any of the participating establishments mentioned above. You’ll taste newly release wine, specialty cocktails, and spirits plus meet many local artists as they create on-site. Their work, including paintings, ceramics, iron and glass work and more, will be on display as well. Let the holiday shopping commence!
In February, you can beat the winter chill on the ‘Red Wine & Chocolate Tour’ or enjoy the island blossoms during ‘Savor Spring Food, Wine & Spirits Tour’ when local restaurant tours and wineries show off unique pairings.
It’s easy to eat local on Whidbey. Chefs are proud to note the island sources of their ingredients, and you might become familiar with some sustainable favorites:
Glendale Shepherd, on the southern end of the island on what was once the Swanson Family Tree Farm, is now home to a sustainably raised (and loved) flock of sheep. The milk they produce and the cheeses crafted by owner Lynn have garnered Artisan Cheese and Good Food Awards. Visit this magical spot.
3 Sister Farm supplies many island kitchens with sustainable meats. Their farm overlooks Penn Cove and the Saratoga Passage. Here chickens, pigs, Angus Cattle, and lambs are raised on island-grown grain and roam free. The 3 Sisters Market on Holbrook Road north of Coupeville, is an Aladdin’s cave of local treats.
Penn Cove Shellfish is known around the world for its succulent mussels farmed in the fresh waters off Whidbey Island. No visit to the island is complete without a steaming bowl of blue shells, and you’ll have no trouble finding them on local menus.
Located inside Ebey’s Landing National Historical Reserve, Eckholm Farms produces hay, fruit, and a variety of livestock, but they are most well known for their honey. Their bees feast on local fruit trees, grasses, and flowers, creating an authentic taste of Whidbey in every jar.
At Sweet Mona’s Chocolates in Langley, their motto is “We sweeten the world.” Stop by the bright yellow house and swoon over the dark chocolate salted caramels or a cup of hot chocolate.
Mukilteo Coffee Roasters sits quietly in the depth of the island forest. Owner Gary deals directly with growers, and the beans are sent to Whidbey. Here, master roasters, many going back to the origin of the Washington Coffee Movement (think pre-Seattle’s Best and Starbucks) work their magic. The Café in the Woods is a great local hangout for a steaming cup of Joe and tasty fare.
Foodies are spoiled for choice on Whidbey. Here a few suggested establishments where local ingredients are king.
Coupeville is the 2nd oldest town in the state, going back to the 1850s.
Visit The Oystercatcher where Chef Tyler Hanson showcases local Spot Prawns, Penn Cove Mussels, homemade pickles, and Sourdough so delicious they had to open a bakery.
For local color and a great view, stop by Toby’s Tavern. Nothing pretentious just simple local food and fabulous people watching.
Just north of Coupeville is the Captain Whidbey Inn. Long an island institution (the building dates to 1909 when it was built as a fishing lodge), this historic hotel has undergone a revival thanks to new ownership. While only slight changes were made to the structures, the dining room menu enjoyed a complete overhaul by Executive Chef Eric Trunlass. Homey, seasonal, and locally inspired dishes like Duck Confit or garlicky island mushrooms are just the beginning. This local landmark is not to be missed.
Langley, in the southern part of the island, is filled with one of a kind shops and restaurants.
Orchard Kitchen is the ultimate farm to table experience. Vegetables from the restaurant’s garden combine with whatever the season, the supply, and the Chef, Vincent Nattress deems best. Book a seat at the farm-style table and enjoy the bounty of Whidbey.
How to get to Whidbey Island
Washington State Ferries travel from Mukilteo to Clinton on the south end of the island and from Port Townsend (on the Olympic Peninsula) to Keystone near Fort Casey State Park and Coupeville.
If you fly into SeaTac Airport (Seattle) or Paine Field (Everett), book a seat on the SeaTac Shuttle. You’ll be chauffeured to Mukilteo and onto the ferry, and there are stops from Langley in the south to North Oak Harbor. Car Rentals are available in Oak Harbor.
Drive over the Deception Pass Bridge from Fidalgo Island on State Highway 20.
For more information, visit: https://whidbeycamanoislands.com
Hilarie was a guest of Whidbey and Camano Island Tourism, but all comments and opinions are her own.