Galileo Galilei once said, “Wine is sunlight, held together by water.” In the San Juan Islands, local winemakers Marti McConnell and Chris Lawler have taken that sentiment to heart with their new label, new vintages, and new winery in Friday Harbor.
Their joint venture began with a small stainless-steel tank that held their first vintage, Sparkling Siegerrebe, hand-harvested at Lopez Island Vineyards. It was a rock star beginning as their sparkling wine was selected as one of the top 5 white wines in Washington by Compass Wines in Anacortes and was on the menu at The Willows on Lummi Island in 2019. The few bottles that are reserved in the archives are quite ethereal.
The 2020 COVID shutdown offered Chris and Marti time to dream big and launch a distribution brand in cooperation with Orcas Island Winery. AO Wines, a new label, was born in the spring of 2020. AO is the superhero of the Washington wines they love and can be found in the Islands and the greater Seattle area.
Specializing in Sparkling Wines
Now in their fourth vintage together, that one little tank is still in use, but it is no longer alone. The new facility is an opportunity to expand and improve production. Archipelago purchases fruit from local sources whenever possible and travels as far as the Columbia Gorge for fruit that suits the Salish Sea food and beverage culture.
They specialize in sparkling wines made in the petillant-naturel style, with minimal intervention. The wines are lovingly hand-crafted: hand-picked, fermented and fed, bottled, and they apply their self-designed labels one by one. Their winemaking style lies somewhere between natural and international style wine, which they call analog wine. Much like a live music performance, their winemaking is a passionate expression—authentic, raw, not over-produced.
Unique Wine Experiences
Rather than conventional tastings, Chris and Marti create customized wine experiences.
“We’re inspired to make wine more approachable, more every-day, more casually enjoyable,: she says. “Appointments suggest some level of exclusivity…but this isn’t exclusive at all. It shocks people. It works. People come to a wine encounter expecting pompous wine makers and stuffy rules about wine and food, maybe even 4 forks at the place setting, and then we pull out the BBQ potato chips. Each encounter is about this place, this moment, these people, these memories we build with our guests.”
For those who have never been, the San Juans, an archipelago of islands off the coast of Washington State and easily accessible by ferry, are a magical combo of natural beauty, nature’s bounty found in farms, orchards, wineries, a cultural dedication to sustainability, land stewardship, and small food producers as well as delightfully charming small towns and villages set against the backdrop of Puget Sound.
Now, after a year of pandemic and social distancing, it’s time to celebrate to return to the island and experience in real time the food and farm culture of Lopez, Orcas, and San Juan islands, the largest of archipelago’s 170 islands.
And what better time to do so than during the 14th Annual Savor the San Juans? It’s a fine time to taste and tour with so many special events going on such as harvest dinners, film festivals, farm tours, wine tastings, demonstrations, and more. And of course, there’s plenty to explore on your own as well.
Can’t make it this year, then bring a little of the island into your kitchen with the following recipe.
Cook Like a Coho Restaurant Chef: Roasted Garlic, Pear, and Goat Cheese Flatbread
Ingredients for Flatbread Dough
1 tsp active dry or instant yeast 1 tsp granulated sugar 3/4 c warm water 2 c (250g) all-purpose flour or bread flour 1 Tbsp olive oil, plus 1 tsp for brushing the dough 1 tsp salt
How to Make Flatbread Dough
Mix the ingredients together by hand or use the dough hook of a stand mixer.
If making by hand, place dry ingredients in a large bowl, make a well in the middle, and add wet ingredients. Incorporate the wet with the dry and knead for ten minutes. If using an electric mixer, place all ingredients in the bowl and beat for five minutes, until all the ingredients come together into a smooth ball.
Place dough in a greased mixing bowl and cover tightly with plastic wrap. Let rise in a warm, draft-free place for 45 minutes.
Punch down the dough and separate in half. Form each half of the dough into rounds. Sprinkle the countertop with flour.
Take your rounds and roll them out to a football shape and length. Press your fingers lightly into the dough and dimple. This helps prevent any large air bubbles. Brush with olive oil to keep the crust crisp.
For best results, especially if this is your first time making flatbread, bake the flatbread before topping it. Transfer dough to a baking sheet. There is no need for parchment paper with this dough.
Bake at 450°F for 15 minutes or until lightly browned.
Top with goat cheese, garlic, and pear. Bake for another 5 minutes.
Top with arugula and balsamic reduction.
1 cup balsamic vinegar
How to Reduce Vinegar
Pour balsamic vinegar in a shallow pot over medium heat and bring to a simmer. Let reduce until your balsamic is a thick consistency and coats the back of your spoon.
4 cloves of garlic
How to Roast Garlic
Peel four cloves of garlic and place in oil until submerged, cover with aluminum foil and roast at 450°F for fifteen minutes or until golden brown. You will be able to smell the garlic when it’s ready.
Whipped Goat Cheese
1/3 cup goat cheese 2 tsp water
How to Whip Goat Cheese
Place goat cheese and water in a blender or food processor. Blend for two minutes until it is smooth and easy to spread.
An archipelago of islands off the coast of Washington State, there are 172 named islands and reefs in San Juan County but the main three–all with ferry service–are San Juan Island (with the county seat Friday Harbor), Orcas Island, and Lopez Island. Not only are they the most populous but each offers a myriad of lodging, dining, and activities for visitors.
The 13 defining tastes of the San Juan Islands are salmon, heritage fruit, foraged botanicals, shellfish (think oysters and clams), crab, lamb, Mangalitsa Pork, seaweed and salt, lavender and hops, cider and apple brandy, grains, goat cheese and white wines.
Here’s a sampling of what visitors can find:
Spiced apple with chocolate and pumpkin cream-filled doughnuts. Cardamom buns. Buckwheat tahini chocolate cookies. Savory brioche tarts with leek, chevre, and kabocha squash. All of the ingredients for these mouth-watering pastries? Entirely sourced locally by creator and owner of new Seabird Bakeshop, Brea Currey, from Orcas Island farm stands like West Beach and Maple Rock, eggs from neighborhood chickens, and flour from Fairhaven Mills in Burlington. Since September, Seabird Bakeshop has been thriving on Orcas Island where chefs are thinking creatively about how to bridge food and entrepreneurism during the time of coronavirus. Thus far, Currey’s success is, among other things, a testament to the power of baking as a 2020 survival strategy on Washington’s farm-to-table captivated island. Find Seabird on Facebook and Instagram: @seabirdbakeshop
Myers Creamery on Orcas Island, Quail Croft on San Juan Island, and Sunnyfield Farm on Lopez Island all are expect at making fresh chevre, herbed cheeses, washed-rind and aged cheeses, all of which can be found at each island’s farmers’ markets, and at the Orcas Island Food Co-op and the San Juan Island Food Co-op. Following the seasons, goat cheeses start out fresh and creamy in springtime when the goats graze on spring grass. As the grass matures, so does the flavor of the cheese, until at the end of fall, the cheeses are more intense, earthy and, dare we say, “goaty.”
Cold pressed cider. Small batch granola. A box full of farm-fresh greens. Locavores, look no further: the newly aggregated Washington Food and Farm Finder features 1,700 farms, farmers markets, and food vendors with offerings “grown, caught, raised, or made” across the state. Find San Juan Islands favorites like Ursa Minor, Madrone Cellars, and Buck Bay Shellfish Farm. The guide has filters for pickup or delivery services, markets, food trucks, or specialty food and beverage locales. Icons designate sustainable fishing or animal welfare certifications, as well as veteran-, woman-, and BIPOC-owned businesses. For more information: https://eatlocalfirst.org/wa-food-farm-finder/
Island makers Girl Meets Dirt and Madrone Cellars & Ciders are winners in the annual Good Food Awards for 2021. Madrone’s Barrel-Aged Currant took top prize in the Cider category. Girl Meets Dirt has winners in both the Preserves and Elixirs category. Their Rhubarb Lavender Spoon Preserves are a great choice for charcuterie. The Rhubarb shrub and Shiro Plum Tree bitters give some extra oomph to your signature cocktails. Shop Girl Meets Dirt winners here: www.girlmeetsdirt.com/shop and Madrone Cellars here: https://madronecellars.com/
Local favorite San Juan Sea Salt is rolling out a new line of flavored salts: the Deli Series, starting with Everything but the Bagel. All the yum of everything bagels, none of the carbs! Try this on avocado toast, mixed with your breading for fried chicken, and snacking on it straight from the jar! Everything but the Bagel joins the Dill Pickle Salt as an homage to class deli flavors. The Dill Pickle Salt is a tangy, dilly, zesty, garlicky salt with just the right magic to give your mouth the déjá vu feeling of crunching into a darn fine pickle. Find these and others here: www.sanjuanislandseasalt.com/online-store/NEW-c48889151
Buck Bay Shellfish Farm on Orcas Island is a hidden gem where you can stop in for a couple of pounds of fresh clams or oysters, or you can while away a whole afternoon shucking oysters and drinking wine (BYOB) while looking out over the serenity of Buck Bay just yards away.
New owners Eric and Andrea Anderson rebuilt the docks and oyster shack at Westcott Bay Shellfish Farm on the north end of San Juan Island. They’ve also linked the property to trails connecting to English Camp, making their shellfish farm a destination for hikers and bicyclists as well.
Island wineries produce light, refreshing whites that pair well with seafood and other San Juan specialties. Owners Yvonne Swanberg of San Juan Vineyards, and Brent Charnley of Lopez Island Vineyards grow and makes Siegerrebe and Madeleine Angevine from their estate vineyards.
Westcott Bay Cider, one of the oldest cideries in the state of Washington, ferments three types of ciders from the “bitters” and “sharps” from their orchard, from traditional dry to medium-sweet styles. The cider is then distilled into a clear eau-de-vie and aged in wine barrels.
Local farmer Brady Ryan started San Juan Island Sea Salt, made by collecting salt water from the Salish Sea and drying it in special bins to retain the fluffy white crystals that are then flavored with such botanicals as smoked madrona bark, dried kelp, lemon peel and various dried herbs.
In any list of definitive island flavors, lavender deserves its own category, partly because it is a cultivated botanical rather than a forged one. But it’d also an important part of island culture.
Pelindaba Lavender Farm has been growing lavender and creating lavender products for almost 20 years. At the farm, you can stroll the lavender fields, learn about how lavender oil is extracted and distilled into almost 250 products made onsite, including many food products such as lavender teas, salad dressings, ice cream and herbal rubs.
Island grown hops are used in the beers made by Orcas Island’s Island Hoppin’ Brewery, adding floral and bitter notes and a local touch to these tasty beers. You can visit the brewery and tasting room just outside of Eastsound.
Chef Geddes Martin, owner of the Inn at Ship Bay, raises his own Mangalitsa hogs in partnership with his friend and farmer, John Steward of Maple Rock Farm and Hogstone’s Wood Oven. Mangalitsa is a breed that’s known as the “hairy pig that is the Kobe beef of pork,” with more flavor and marbled fat than standard industrial-raised pork, and makes for amazing pork belly or pork loin.