Sipping Vashon: Wine, cider and more just 20 minutes by ferry from Seattle

Garden tasting area at Palouse Winery

No time for a getaway to California wine country this spring?  How about spending a day of sipping in the sunshine on an island just 20 minutes by ferry from Seattle?

Locals call Vashon Island the "Heart of the Sound" for its location midway between Seattle and Tacoma. Once known for its strawberry and blueberry farms, it's now home to a cluster of boutique wineries, cideries and breweries, with picnic areas and  views that invite lingering on lazy weekend afternoons.

Fuel up with breakfast in town at the Snapdragon Bakery and Cafe, loved by locals for its  plate-sized pastries, or pick up lunch- to-go at the Saturday farmers market. Then map out a route using the suggestions at  

If you're up for biking up the long hill into town from the ferry dock, leave the car at home. Otherwise, appoint a designated driver, or sip sparingly and stagger tastings with visits to the islands many art studios, nurseries and farm stands.

Depending on your timing, you could begin or end the day at Palouse Winery,  closest to the ferry dock. Cars lined the street and filled a small parking on the Saturday afternoon my husband and I stopped by. 

A sunny patio with high tables crafted from barrels leads to a small tasting room stocked with wine casks. Visitors are invited to sample refreshing whites and bold reds, sold only here, through the winery's wine club or at island restaurants. 

Palouse Winery tasting room 

Owners George and Linda Kirkish source their grapes from vineyards east of the Cascade mountains in the Rattlesnake Hills, Columbia Valley and Horse Heaven Hills AVAs (American Viticultural Areas) to produce 1,500 cases per year of mostly single vineyard, single varietal wines. 

We wandered into a back garden overlooking the Puget Sound  to relax over a glass of Dog Day Chardonnay, a crisp white dedicated to the winery's dogs, with a portion of profits benefiting the Vashon Island Pet Protectors.  CQ 

Nearby is Vashon Winery  where owner Ron Irvine,  a founding partner of the Pike and Western Wine shop in Seattle's Pike Place Market, directs tastings in what he calls a "garagiste" winery, a moniker used in Bordeaux, France to describe garage-size wineries that make wines without owning their own vineyards.  

Ron Irvine
Look for the landmark red barn where Irvine produces just 600 cases of wine, much of it made with "cool climate" grapes he buys from vineyards on Vashon, and others around the Puget Sound. Four wines and a vintage cider made from European cider apples are usually available.  

Vashon Winery

Devoted to hard ciders made from apples and perry, an alcoholic beverage made with fermented pears, are Dragon's Head Cider and Nashi Orchards

Nashi (named for a type of pear cultivated in Japan) plans to move its tasting room in mid-June to a new location closer to the center of  town (marked on the map), but until then, visitors can try its ciders and perry at its location off Wax Orchard Road at the south end of the island. Here, owners Jim Gerlach and Cheryl Lubert grow Asian and European pears and heirloom apples on 27 acres they purchased 15 years ago that happened to come with 300 Asian pear trees. 

Cheryl Lubert in the Nashi orchard

Using what they grow locally as well as purchase from other orchards, they produce 10 varieties of cider and eight types of perry including an aged heirloom draft cider available in growlers, and a delicate Flora Perry, a blend of Asian pears, Jonathan apples and quince.  
Laura and Wes Cherry, owners of Dragon's Head Cider, turned their hobby into a business when they moved to Vashon from Queen Anne in 2010 with the goal of making a lifestyle change for their family, and a dream of  starting a cidery. 

The former tech industry workers began planting English and French cider apples on 30 acres of former strawberry fields. Today they grow about 35 percent of the fruit used to make the ciders and perry they sell at the farmers market and at their orchard tasting room.  

Karen Jensen pours perry at Dragon's Head Cider

Bring a picnic (blankets provided) or linger while lounging on a hammock next to a shady pond. Dogs and kids are welcome (they just can't taste). There's usually something on offer at the orchard that's not available elsewhere. The day we visited, it was a dry, champagne-style sparkling perry made with seedling pears likely harvested from trees planted by the island's early homesteders.   

In the center of town, two family-friendly breweries, both with patios and indoor tap rooms, offer alternatives for beer geeks. Both serve food, making either convenient for a late afternoon stop before heading back to Seattle.

The newest is Camp Colvos Brewing  with a dog and kid-friendly tap room in a former 1955 Shell gas station. The brewery was four years in the making for Vashon resident Matt Lawrence and his team who named their venture after Colvos Passage, the tidal strait running between Vashon and the Kitsap Peninsula, and then threw in the word "camp" just for fun.

On tap are several IPAs, a Belgian pale ale, and my favorite, the Up Town Porter. Most beers are available to go in "crowlers," 32-ounce sealed aluminum cans, the equivalent of a half-growler. Camp Colvos also serves beef, ham and cheese and curried vegetable savory pies made by Island Queen across the street.

A five-minute walk from Colvos is the Vashon Brewing Community Pub. Cliff Goodman left his daily ferry commute and accounting career to start Vashon Brewing in 2011. He opened the pub last year as a family-friendly community gathering space with live music, trivia and open mic nights. 

Goodman uses locally-sourced barley, seasonal fruits and other ingredients, adding a fermentation enzyme to reduce the gluten. Current brews include a Hibiscus Sour, made with a wild lactobacillus culture created at the brewery, and a Summer Perle K├Âlsch brewed with Pilsen, Pale and Vienna malts from Skagit Valley Malting.

If you go:

Just 13 miles long and eight miles wide, Vashon Island has 45 miles of shoreline. Get there via a 20-minute ferry ride from West Seattle aboard the Washington State Fauntleroy/Vashon ferry.  A walk-on water taxi operates on weekdays.  

Best times to visit are Saturdays and Sundays when tasting rooms are open in the afternoons. Call ahead for appointments on other days. See for a map showing locations and hours.

Dragon's Head ciders at the Farmers Market

Vashon is home to dozens of small family farms and nurseries. Find local products, crafts and plants at the Vashon Island Farmers Market, 17519 Vashon Hwy SW, Saturdays, 10 a.m.-2 p.m. at Vashon Village Green. Many farm stands around the island are open during the growing season.

For visitor information, contact the Vashon Maury Island  Chamber of Commerce 

This story appeared in the Seattle Times on Sunday, June 9.

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