Fall 2015

Whidbey Island’s Langley wineries worth the trip

The town of Langley, located on southern Whidbey Island 10 minutes from the Clinton/Mukilteo ferry landing, is one of those options. Home to slightly over 1,000 residents, Langley’s historic “downtown district” has a decidedly artsy feel to it, while surrounding rural areas boast bucolic settings where expansive views of Possession Sound are either on the horizon or just a stone’s throw away.

Four wineries claim a Langley zip code, and each offers a unique tasting experience by utilizing grapes that range from Eastern Washington vineyards to those grown on the island within the Puget Sound Appellation.

Distribution for Langley’s wineries is almost exclusively limited to Whidbey Island, so unless you order online, a visit is recommended for those who wish to taste the wines firsthand. And that’s not a bad thing at all, because beautiful scenery, a laid-back atmosphere and good wines can only add up to a memorable experience that make the trip to Langley well worth it.

OTT & MURPHY WINES

Located on Langley’s main drag with a waterfront tasting room, Ott & Murphy Wines provides wine tasters with both a cozy wine bar and ample table seating that invite guests to linger over a glass while enjoying the view of nearby Camano Island.

Owner and winemaker David Ott has lived on Whidbey Island for over 30 years and started the winery in 2007 with Eric Murphy (whom was bought out a few years ago). The winery’s first release in 2009 was a natural progression for Ott, who tried his hand at making beer before moving on; first to fruit wines and then to premium grape varietals in about 2002.

From the beginning, “we were able to get really good grapes,” Ott notes, with a nod to his sources, “(and now) we have very good wines that are almost entirely attributable to the brilliance of our growers. They really make us look smart.”

Elephant Mountain, Boushay, Lawrence, Sugarloaf, and Coyote Canyon are just a few of the Eastern Washington vineyards used by Ott & Murphy. Although the winery features European-based varietals, Ott’s winemaking skills really shine through on those from the Rhone Valley, with stand-alone varietals and blends that include Viognier, Roussanne, Grenache Blanc, and Mourvèdre, to name a few.

THE COMFORTS OF WHIDBEY

When Carl and Rita Comfort purchased their 22-acre Langley farm in 2006 they had no idea it would soon become a winery. Included on the property was the Island’s largest vineyard: four acres of grapes originally planted in the late 1990’s consisting of Madeleine Angevine, Madeleine Sylvaner, Siegerrebe, and Pinot Noir.

The Comforts continued to grow the grapes and sell them mostly to local wineries. But in 2009, a large order that was unavoidably canceled at the last minute forced them to “save the crop and do things ourselves,” says Rita. “It was either feed the birds or make wine.”

“We worked with Ken and Virginia Bloom (of Blooms Winery) in Freeland that first year,” recalls Carl. They told us, “you have such a perfect spot for a winery, just start one,” and the Comforts of Whidbey was launched shortly thereafter.

Since that time the Comfort’s production of red wines, such as Sangiovese and Malbec, has been in Woodinville. But a new on-site facility, scheduled to open in September, will house all of their production in Langley.

The three-story building will also be home to a new tasting area, event/meeting room, and six-room bed and breakfast service. Carl enthusiastically notes, “we’ve got so much flexibility (here).weddings, music, and farm-to-table dinners,” are just some of the possibilities.

SPOILED DOG WINERY

Jack and Karen Krug moved to Whidbey Island from Colorado with plans for a winery and vineyard from the start. "We had come up here sailing and we knew this area specifically,” says Karen. After the soil tests proved favorable, roughly three acres of Pinot Noir grapes were planted on their 25-acre property just south of Langley. Spoiled Dog Winery was established in 2003 and the winery’s first vintage was produced in 2007.

“We have seven clones of Pinot Noir on the estate,” Karen says, “which gives the wines (added) complexity.” She notes that their estate grapes are farmed using all-organic practices and an additional Pinot Noir they produce, sourced from McMinnville, Oregon, is made from biodynamically grown grapes.

“We’re picky about our grape growers and their practices,” Karen says with a smile, noting that some of the winery’s other red wines are sourced from Connor Lee and Klipsun Vineyards. Current releases also include a Pinot Gris and Sauvignon Blanc for those with a preference for white wine.

And yes, there really are dogs at Spoiled Dog Winery. They’re likely to greet guests on the drive in or be waiting inside the contemporary-styled barn, which serves as both barrel and tasting room.

WHIDBEY ISLAND WINERY

Greg Osenbach has to be considered one of the trailblazers of the Washington wine industry, and most certainly for Western Washington wine producers and grape growers. He planted his two acres of Madeleine Angevine, Madeleine Sylvaner and Siegerrebe nearly 30 years in Langley. “We’re a little bit wetter than the north of the island, but also a little bit warmer,” he explains.

That extra heat makes the difference for grapes in this part of the state, and Osenbach’s wines have been rewarded with a number of accolades, not only from his locally-grown varieties, but also for those he sources from east-of-the-Cascades vineyards such as Crawford in Yakima Valley and Destiny Ridge in the Horse Heaven Hills Appellation.

In addition to the three varietals planted at the estate, Pinot Noir is also being grown on the island a few miles to the south. The 2014 vintage is in the barrel and should be available for release in spring, 2016.

Pinot Gris, Malbec, Sangiovese, Dolcetto, and Grenache are just a few of the many other wines you’ll find at a winery that now produces over 3,000 cases annually. There’s so much to choose from that even Osenbach sheepishly admits, “I may have a problem.”

Problem or not, Whidbey Island Winery has something for virtually everyone’s taste preference in wine, with versatile, well-crafted choices that are impeccably balanced.

This story was originally published September 2, 2015 3:53 PM.

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