Growing wine grapes in the Puget Sound region is a tough task by anybody’s measure, but Mike Gaede, co-owner of Raincoast Farms remains undaunted and focused on producing high-quality, organic, …
Growing wine grapes in the Puget Sound region is a tough task by anybody’s measure, but Mike Gaede, co-owner of Raincoast Farms remains undaunted and focused on producing high-quality, organic, low-intervention wines from estate-grown grapes on his farm just south of Port Townsend.
“The thing that makes it work here is a microclimate that is favorable,” Gaede said. “At Rain Coast Farms, we have one of the most favorable sites.”
The region, known as the Puget Sound American Viticultural Area (AVA) among winemaking folks, is home to about 100 producing vineyard acres and about 300 wineries. Of those 300 wineries, about 20, including Rain Coast Farms, actually grow their own “estate” fruit. The remaining wineries buy grapes from Eastern Washington and make their wine within the boundaries of the AVA.
The winery, situated just off the east side of Highway 19 about seven miles south of downtown Port Townsend, sits nestled in a grove of old-growth cedar. The forest surrounding the vineyard hums with primordial wisdom and shimmers in shades of deep green. Ferns and alders abound and the grounds are home to orchards, chickens, an orchid greenhouse, honeybees, a community garden for the food bank, and wine grapes – and all their nemeses – powdery mildew, botrytis, deer, birds, and the rain and muck so typical of the Puget Sound AVA.
“The first year was disastrous as far as powdery mildew went,” Gaede said.
“The first year there was definitely a learning curve getting started. I think I started with about 70 or 80 vines, but I wasn’t really intent on being a winery, I was mostly interested in growing their grapes.”
But Gaede, who grew up in California, had winemaking in his blood, and he soon found himself deeply involved in developing Rain Coast as a micro-winery dedicated to producing its own organic estate wines.
“My grandparents lived in Lodi,” Gaede said. “Right across the street was a major Zinfandel vineyard. From my upbringing, I was inundated with the smell of grapes growing and fermenting.”
But this wasn’t Lodi, and in order to succeed, Gaede realized he needed to tap into local knowledge and he began networking with other area grape growers to learn best practices.
“I knew I had to have at least an acre,” Gaede said. “I cleared the land, put in the proper irrigation and trellis systems. I became friends with local winemakers and Kit and Claire Africa (of Sailor Vineyards) became my motivators. It’s nice having them as friends and mentors. That’s what I love about this AVA. We’re all pitching in to help each other. With climate change, this could be the next Willamette Valley. A couple of years ago, it was something you couldn’t do.”
Gaede currently grows Siegerrebe, Rondo, Madeleine Angevine, and Pinot Noir. And while each varietal has its own unique flavor and character, Gaede said he is particularly pleased with how well Pinot Noir grows on the farm.
“The pinot noir,” Gaede said. “It’s amazing.”
Pinot Noir, with its thin skin, tight clusters, and late ripening, makes it one of the hardest grapes to grow worldwide, but Gaede has grown to understand his vines and his microclimate, and he’s ready to make a go of it.
“We’ve never used any insecticides or pesticides, and I use an organic spraying regime,” Gaede said.
“I believe that we have a good enough grape that we can go full tilt,” Gaede said. “We’re going to continue to produce estate wine. We’re going to be a micro-winery that produces estate wine with organic practices and minimal sulfites. That’s where we’re headed and that’s what we’re trying to do.”
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