Lopez Island Vineyards
by Debby Hatch
Did you know that the Madeleine Angevine and Siegerrebe vines at Lopez Island Vineyards are twenty years old this year and that the winery opened fifteen years ago this September? “We should be celebrating this double anniversary,” farmer and winemaker Brent Charnley said, shaking his head and smiling, a little surprised by these milestones.
On a quiet morning recently, as we sat behind the counter in the vineyard’s tasting room, Brent looked back on the experiences that have brought him to this point and ahead to his plans for the future.
“What inspired me to do the vineyard goes back quite a ways,” he said. “My family spent summers at the Henderson’s camp which became camp Nor’wester, so being on the island, immersed in its natural beauty and pristine environment are some of my earliest and best memories. As I became an adult I wanted to have that a part of my life without spoiling it.”
“I probably first thought of wine and grapes as a crop in the mid-70’s because wine would be shelf-stable,” he continued, remembering the Lopez organic farmers he admired during his late teen years struggling to get crops to market before they spoiled. “Then in 1979, when I was hitchhiking through France and stumbled into a vineyard where I worked for a while, it coalesced as a dream. I came back to the states and went off to UC Davis, studying both viticulture and enology because I wanted to be involved in a small operation that was doing both. I started researching grapes for Lopez, had a couple of experimental plantings and settled where we are now in 1987.”
By 1992, the first wines were ready to sell. “For a long time it was hard to sell them outside of the winery and the island,” Brent recalled. However, “in the last couple of years that has changed a lot. The wider public seems to have become aware of the numerous other varieties beyond Chardonnay and is willing to try wines with difficult names, like Madeleine Angevine and Siegerrebe.” And the wine is winning prizes, most recently a gold medal for Madeleine Angevine at the 2007 Los Angeles International Wine and Spirits Competition.
Though proud of the recognition his wines receive, Brent seems even more proud of his stewardship of the land that produces his grapes and the family and community that support him. “Besides being organic since the beginning and certified organic when that program got going, now we are certified Salmon Safe,” Brent explained. “My partner Maggie Nilan was and is very active in founding and running the winery and our sons help with harvest and all aspects of winemaking and farming.” And as for the Lopez community: “we wouldn’t exist here as this business if it wasn’t for the community help that we’ve received,” beginning with the first planting of vines and continuing annually with the harvest party.
What’s next for Lopez Island Vineyards? “We are planning at this point on expanding our vineyard and production on island. I don’t want to be so big that I no longer can be in the field, but the economy has changed and expansion will help us provide a fair wage for our employees.”
As he did when he first developed the vineyard and winery, Brent will offer shares in Lopez Island Vineyards to raise capital for this expansion. Here’s an opportunity for more of us to invest not just in the vines and the wines, but also in the preservation of farmland, farm jobs and community on Lopez.
To learn more about Lopez Island Vineyards, visit: http://www.lopezislandvineyards.com
First published in the Islands’ Weekly, December 11, 2007