Setting up a wine shop in the middle of a historic farm located smack-dab in the midriff of a scenic island that splays across Puget Sound makes for some interesting talk during tastings.
Customer conversations at Whidbey Island’s Greenbank Farm Wine Shop range from livestock to loganberries, Pinot Noirs to non-profits, tannins to tuberculosis, orcas to orchards.
Daughter and father proprietors, Hollie and Jerry Swanson, are likely to offer up a few tidbits about the territory while pouring samples of local fruit of the vine.
“This barn was built in 1904 as a dairy farm,” Jerry Swanson tells some out-of-towners on a recent Saturday afternoon. “In the 1930s, a bull that was brought in to breed had tuberculosis. The whole herd got infected and had to be destroyed. Then someone had the idea to plant loganberries and it turned into the largest loganberry farm in the country.”
Dry, dense, full-bodied and flamboyant descriptions are also tossed about as visitors perch on stools and sample a variety of whites, reds, ports and dessert wines for $1 a taste.
“We have wines from all the local wineries,” Hollie Swanson says while pouring a round of samples. “By far, our biggest seller is the Loganberry wine.”
Rows of Whidbey Island wines are featured in one corner while two center racks feature other wines made in Washington. The Swansons added hard cider, craft beer and allowed a couple bottles from other states to creep in when they purchased the shop 16 months ago.
“Yes, we have two Idaho-sourced wines,” Jerry Swanson admits, holding them up. “This is a chocolate wine and this is called Huckleberry Soft Wine. It’s a great sipping wine, 80 percent huckleberry, 20 percent white wine grape. And ‘soft’ is the right word to describe it.”
The shop emphasizes the ever-growing Whidbey Island wine culture with at least two bottles from every grower or producer.
“On average, people have about four tastings and more than half the people who sample buy a bottle,” Hollie says.
The shop is offering its own chocolate and wine tasting Feb. 11-19 during the annual Whidbey Island Red Wine & Chocolate Tour, which runs two consecutive weekends, Feb. 11-12 and Feb. 18-19. (A $25 ticket is needed for the tour but not for the Greenbank wine shop.)
Hollie, along with her parents, Jerry and Teresa Swanson, bought the wine shop in the fall of 2015 as Greenbank Farm was going through management changes.
Meyer, the shop dog who greets customers when not snoozing in one of his two doggie beds, is also part of the team. Jerry minds the shop a couple days a week, Teresa Swanson prefers to help out behind the scenes, while Hollie and Meyer are there most days.
Hollie, who grew up in Ballard, was looking for a new career that wouldn’t be as bruising as her past jobs — structural city firefighter and commercial single-engine aviator for skydiving companies.
Living on Whidbey, Hollie heard of an opportunity to get into the wine business by buying the Greenbank Farm wine shop.
Her credentials come from consumption, she jokes.
“I always had a glass of wine with dinner,” she says. “Also, I had a friend in California and toured Napa Valley wineries many times.”
She admits to a huge learning curve the first year. Visiting local vintners and regional wine-tasting spots and meeting with distributors kept her so busy, she said, “there was so much to do, our Grand Opening never happened.”
Hollie’s parents agreed to form a three-person LLC business partnership with their daughter as majority owner. The store has a beer and wine shop license, which allows for tasting but not serving by the full glass.
Her dad built more oak wine racks while she changed the decor, added jewelry, hats, scarves and other items made by local artists.
“We self-financed. We were fortunate enough to be able to do that,” said Jerry Swanson, who retired from Boeing in 2010.
There’s been steady business from locals, Seattle weekenders and tourists, Hollie says, “We’ve been staying on budget and we’ve been able to add to our inventory.”
The tasting room and wine shop at Greenbank Farm originally opened in 1987 when Chateau Ste. Michelle owned the farm.
The company produced and popularized Loganberry wine, Loganberry liqueur and a cabernet sauvignon-based port it named Whidbey’s Washington Port.
Greenbank Farm is now owned by the Port of Coupeville. In 1995, a citizens groups staved off a planned 350-housing development for the rolling green pastures that offer a panoramic view of the sound and mountains.
Hollie is board secretary for the new nonprofit group Friends of Greenbank Farm.
Jerry Swanson, obviously proud of his daughter’s connection and contribution to the Greenbank Farm community, looks around the colorful shop that sprouted from a grey concrete space.
“She’s got a wonderful merchandising sense of what people will like,” he says. “We’re one of seven different merchants here. She’s doing very well.”
As savory scents waft in from the business next door, he adds, “Well, being next to the Pie Cafe doesn’t hurt.”
Feb. 11-12 and Feb. 18-19, four Whidbey wineries and distillery are holding the annual Red Wine & Chocolate Tour. Tickets are $25 in advance and $30 onsite. 360-321-0515. www.whidbeyislandvintners.org