They’re not whining but COVID has caused problems for BI vintners

Local breweries, distilleries also have faced costly restrictions

Third in a series

If not for his savings, Mike Lempriere’s Perennial Vinters would have been wiped out by COVID-19 restrictions.

“I’d be living in a cardboard box under a bridge in Seattle,” he said.

Buying wine is all about the experience, he said. Along with tasting it he likes to tell customers stories and give them tours of his 1½ acres of grapes.

“I can’t do that now,” he said.

Lempriere moved to Bainbridge Island in 1997, started making wine in 2003 and started selling it in 2006. On a recent Saturday he had had only one visitor by noon, when normally he would have up to 25, he said.

“I’m basically closed for the year,” he said.

Mostly a one-man operation, his tasting room is so small, “There’s no way we could social distance in there,” he said.

He thought about trying to set up tastings outdoors once he found out those would be legal, but by the time he did that, “The summer would be over. It’s almost harvest season.”

Lempriere has been selling bottles of wine to customers. And he does have a wine club. He’s also offering 30 percent off each bottle as his COVID-19 price.

He said the epidemic has caused, “A million little problems that weren’t there before,” and they all cost money.

Other wineries

Brooke Huffman said all seven wineries on the island are down this summer because of a lack of tourists. Huffman is executive director of the Winery Alliance of Bainbridge Island.

She said the year got off to a great start with the second-best Wine on the Rock event in the past four years in February.

“We were excited to see the momentum build,” she said, adding that event put on four times a year put island wineries on the map.

“That’s when we started seeing an increase in interest in wineries on the island,” she said, adding most attendees were from off the island. “It was a focused event to get tourists on the island.”

Then COVID-19 hit. No tastings for two months.

The wineries were flexible: sold bottles, did curbside pickup and free local delivery. Many did free shipping within the state.

“The biggest shift was moving wine sales more online,” Huffman said.

That is her specialty so she has helped some of the more traditional wineries become more tech savvy by updating their websites to sell their products there.

“It forced those who didn’t see the value to understand it now,” Huffman said.

Once Phase 2 started wine tastings started up again outside so that has helped many wineries. If they have food, they can even serve inside.

Still, like Lempriere, said, buying wine is all about the experience.

“Most of our sales are direct with the consumer coming into the winery and drinking wine on the premises,” she said. “They make most of their money in the summer, and it has to carry them for the whole year.”

Huffman said locals have helped some but they “aren’t buying enough wine to make up for the deficit from the tourists.”

Wine clubs have helped a lot, she said, with many members buying more than usual to help the small wineries survive.

She said vintners are optimistic for the future, adding none are cutting back on production, hoping, “This will all come to an end soon.”

In the meantime, they are doing what they can to make locals and visitors safe when they visit.

“They’re going above and beyond the requirements to make customers feel safe,” Huffman said, adding her website is “It’s not just throw on a mask and here’s your wine.

“It’s as contactless as possible.”


Chuck Everett of Bainbridge Brewing said his two breweries are faring well because they have a retail and wholesale side to it.

But because of restrictions put on places like restaurants even that part of the business is not doing as well as usual.

“Doc’s and the golf courses are busy, but everywhere else is down,” he said.

Selling to stores has helped.

“Everybody still goes” to markets, Everett said, adding his breweries are putting more of their beer in cans, where sales have doubled.

He said he’s trying to think of more ways to get food to customers because many local food trucks have disappeared. With food there can be limited indoor seating.

Limited ferry service has hurt tourism. However after missing a boat, instead of waiting two hours many people come by for a pint at the nearby Alehouse.

His businesses were open for takeout, curbside pickup and delivery, but in June got to open for outdoor seating in Phase 2.

They don’t normally do that because it takes up parking spaces, but this year it was essential.

“We’ve been able to double and even triple our outdoor seating,” he said. “People like that this time of year, but when it gets cold we’re going to have some pretty slow months coming up.

“We’ll make it, but it won’t be easy,” he said.


There are two distilleries on the island, and they have had to follow pretty much the same protocol as the wineries and breweries.

One big difference is they both made hand sanitizer when that was a huge need in the country after COVID-19 hit.

Both make many types of alcohol. “Alcohol is essential as an agricultural product,” Huffman said.

Bainbridge Organic Distillers makes its alcohol on site with organic grain from Walla Walla, Skagit and Snohomish counties. It makes award-winning vodka, gin, whiskey and syrup from bourban barrels. They have an outdoor area open for tastings. It has an online store.

Highside Distilling makes single malt whiskey, gin, fernet and amaro. Their spirits are sold at many local markets and restaurants. They are open for tours and tastings and also sell products online.

They’re not whining but COVID has caused problems for BI vintners
They’re not whining but COVID has caused problems for BI vintners
They’re not whining but COVID has caused problems for BI vintners