On a stormy winter night, what better pairing could one find than a glass of wine and tales of the sea? Although you may need to get out your smartphone.
More than a few Northwest wineries have looked to the region’s history when seeking inspiration for their names. Mosquito Fleet Winery, based in the Olympic Peninsula town of Belfair, Washington, takes a little explaining. It has nothing to do with mosquitos, except that the constantly buzzing insects were the namesake for the swarming fleet of steamers and sternwheeler passenger ferries that darted from town to town on the waters of the state’s inland seas, including Puget Sound, from the mid-19th century to mid-20th century, the precursor to today’s Washington State Ferries.
The winery is the partnership of two couples, Brian and Jacquie Petersen and Scott and Jacy Griffin.
The two couples, Brian Petersen said, had traveled together on wine-touring vacations through California’s Napa and Sonoma valleys as well as British Columbia’s Okanagan.
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“My wife made the mistake of saying, ‘Well, you know, we could do this,’ and we looked at each other and the idea was born,” Petersen said.
Petersen, a Belfair-area native who continues to practice as a chiropractor, took on the job of wine maker.
“I was already comfortable with the science background and started reading voraciously,” he said. The more he learned, the better questions he could ask of mentors that included Peter Prager, who helped him craft his port wines, and Washington wine giant Bob Betz of Chateau Ste. Michelle and Betz Family Wines.
The couples found property for the winery off south Puget Sound’s Case Inlet, near a Mosquito Fleet museum, the perfect inspiration for the winery’s name. The winery launched its first vintage in 2009 with a Cabernet Sauvignon, with grapes from Walla Walla’s Pepper Bridge Vineyard, Petersen said.
From the start the winery has honored the Mosquito Fleet’s legacy by featuring a particular boat on various wines. Its Meritage blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cab Franc and Petit Verdot features the SS Dauntless, a D Fleet steamer built in 1899. But to get the full story on the boats — and some tasting notes on the wine — you’ll need to snap a picture of the bottle’s QR code, that pixilated box of smaller boxes, with your smartphone.
“We’re really fascinated with the rich local history of the boats, from Gig Harbor to Seattle to the San Juans,” Petersen said. The winery does its own research, finding images for the illustrations and getting the stories, some funny, others tragic, about each boat’s history.
The Cabernet Sauvignon, whose 2011 vintage was selected by Great Northwest Wines’ Andy Perdue as one of its 50 top wines for 2014, honors the SS Dix. The Dix was a steamer launched in 1904 that sank two years later a mile off Seattle’s Alki Point after it was struck by the iron ore freighter, Jeanie, causing the deaths of between 40 and 54 of the boat’s estimated 77 passengers.
A bottle of Sophia, a blend of Syrah, Mourvèdre and Cabernet Sauvignon, tells the story of the Sophia’s captain, Petersen said, who had trained his dog during foggy weather to wait at the end of the dock and bark when he heard the boat’s horn to help lead the captain in. It was a system that worked well before the days of radar and GPS, but it wasn’t foolproof.
“One foggy day a group of people standing on the dock included a woman who was tired of the barking dog, so she shooed him off the dock and down the beach,” Petersen said. The captain, as he always had, followed his dog’s barks and ran the boat aground.
History and wine have proved a good marriage, Petersen said. The winery often gets visitors, older residents, who share their own stories of riding the Mosquito Fleet boats.
“It’s been fun to revisit that history and retell those stories that are so important locally,” he said.