Can you guess the flagship white grape for the Puget Sound region in Washington? Chardonnay? No. Pinot Gris? No. Gewürztraminer? Close, but no again. The correct answer: Madeleine Angevine. This is a Riesling-type vinifera from the Loire Valley in France that is also popular in the United Kingdom and Germany. The early-ripening grape is a cross between Madeleine Royale and Précoce de Malingre grapes and grows well in cooler climates - much like the Puget Sound AVA.
One Puget Sound winery, Bainbridge Island Vineyards & Winery, produces a dry Madeleine Angevine wine, with a trace of sweetness, and a sweeter "Ferryboat White" blend. The winery decided to cultivate this grape after the winery’s winemaker, Gerard Bentryn, worked in vineyards in England where Madeleine Angevine thrives. Since Seattle is actually dryer than the Isle of Wight and the Devon areas in England, Mr. Bentryn thought that the grape would do even better in the Puget Sound AVA than in England. Ironically, they were able to purchase vines close to home on Vashon Island, but the vines were sold as "Early Muller Thurgau" because the nursery did not know the true nature of the vines. After vinifying the grape, the winery has had no problems gaining public acceptance. The Madeleine Angevine wines sell out every year and the Ferryboat White is their best seller. They have a far more difficult time getting wine shops in the Seattle area to stock these wines. Mr. Bentryn also comments that wine writers and judges like to dwell on the endless repetitions of Chardonnay, Cabernet, and Merlot. “They seem to be cognitively unable to enjoy the almost endless "uncommon" grape varieties out there.” Once again it appears that the general wine public is in the forefront. Finally Mr. Bentryn believes that “Madeleine Angevine is truly a wine for the Puget Sound region. For those discerning few who seek the full spectrum of the "qualities" of wine, landscape, culture, spirituality of time and place; wine grown where you live, not just manufactured where you live; Madeleine Angevine and all of the wines that are grown here are the keys to becoming an integral part of this wonderful place we live”.
Another Puget Sound winery, San Juan Vineyards, also cultivates Madeleine Angevine and in their case, produce a dry wine that they market as oyster wine. The winery opened in 1999 after planting the Madeleine Angevine and Siegerrebe vines three years previously. The winery’s tasting room is situated in a historic one-room schoolhouse built in 1896. According to Yvonne Swanberg, the winery’s General Manager, their estate Madeleine Angevine wine has a devoted following from visitors to their tasting room or other public tasting. The wine sells out every year and the winery announces the release of their latest vintage to their Wine Club members so that they get first crack. The wine’s peach and apple flavor apparently goes very well with oysters; considering there is an oyster farm on San Juan Island - San Juan Vineyards has become a destination spot for wine and shellfish.
Lopez Island is one of the many islands in the Puget Sound and is home to Lopez Island Vineyards. This is a small family owned and operated winery that produces wines from organically grown grapes. Brent Charnley, the wine maker, became interested in Madeleine Angevine, while working as the wine maker for Mount Baker Vineyards in the 1980s. Mount Baker Vineyards grew 30 different varieties so Mr. Charnley was able to see firsthand which varieties ripened well and what kind of wine they made. When planning which grapes to plant for the Lopez Island Vineyards, the grapes had to meet two criteria: (1) early ripening and (2) match well with food – especially seafood. Not only did Mr. Charnley feel strongly that Madeleine Angevine met these requirements based on his past experience with the grape, but also it is a wine he personally enjoys to drink. The Lopez Island Vineyard Madeleine Angevine is a complex, dry, estate grown wine that is 100% barrel fermented and according to the tasting notes, “complement the flavors of grapefruit, tropical fruit and herbal qualities that are the characteristics of this grape.” Mr. Charnley recommends serving the wine with seafood and shellfish, in particular Dungeness crab and raw oysters “due to its sharp acidity and citrus (grapefruit) character, but it is a great match for oysters with a mango and grapefruit salsa on top!” Even though this wine has won numerous awards since the winery’s inception (at the San Diego National Wine Competition, Enological Society of the NW, Indiana International Wine Competition, Riverside CA International Competition - among others), people are reluctant to try the wine unless it can be compared to one of the 2-3 best known white wine grapes. Once people taste the wine, they are generally pleased with it.
Finally, Greenbank Cellars, located on Whidbey Island, cultivates Madeleine Angevine because the grape thrives and produces larger yields in their climate. The winery resides in a 100+ year old barn – which is the featured on their wine labels. Madeleine Angevine, as well as all their other white wines, are vinified in the Alsatian style, meaning dry, fresh, crisp, citric flavors, and no oak. The result is a food-friendly wine that the winery recommends with seafood. The winery is very proud of their Madeleine Angevine and has compared it favorably to other white varieties vinified in warmer regions. Like the other wineries mentioned, Greenbank Cellars must struggle with the general public’s lack of familiarity with the grape.