Eleven Winery is dedicated to producing great wine, and to making sure that you have a great time drinking it. Anyone who tells you that wine tasting is serious business or makes you feel bad about your level of wine knowledge is just plain missing the point - and we'll be more than happy to straighten them out for you. We'll also be happy to answer all of your questions about wine so that you can hold your own in party conversation with the snobbiest wine geek. We don't believe in dumbing down our wines for novice tasters – we believe that everyone can enjoy a great wine and that the better the wine, the more fun you'll have.
Our production focuses on somewhat offbeat varieties, including Malbec, Syrah, Mourvedre, Petit Verdot, Pinot Grigio, Roussanne, Viognier, and a few others. We make a dry rosé, as well as both white and red dessert wines (about 3500 cases altogether). Our cutting-edge winemaking processes are risky, dangerous, and often painful, but the wine is worth it - ok, it's not actually all that risky or dangerous, and it is far more traditional than it is modern, but it is challenging and exciting, and we're thrilled to be able to share the results with you.
Matt Albee, Winemaker and Founder. Scientist. Chef. Bike racing fanatic. All of these words describe our founder and Wino-in-Chief. It may seem unlikely, but winemaking brings aspects of all of these things together. Making great wine requires careful study, meticulous preparation, and long hours of hard work (not to mention many hours behind the wheel traveling to far-flung locations). Matt's deep experience in the lab, the kitchen, and on the road prepared him well for the day that he first wandered into the cellar, and emerged changed. For Matt, winemaking encompasses all that is important in life: respect for the earth, hard work and careful study, sharing experiences with friends and family, and at the end of the day, enjoying a delicious meal with a great glass of wine.
Talina Wood, Tasting Room Manager. Talina Wood gets more excited about Eleven wine than anyone we know. Nothing brings her more joy than sharing the wine with visitors to our tasting rooms, and providing them with fabulous experiences. Her other great love is music, and Talina combined these two passions by creating our music series, which features live music from local musicians on Saturdays at the winery. Talina grew up on Bainbridge, so anything – or anybody – you'd like to know about our community, she can connect you.
Stephanie Bell, Wine Club Manager. Stephanie moved to the Pacific Northwest a few years ago from the wilds of South Carolina, where she did something very, very corporate. She loves it here and has gotten used to the raincoats and waterproof shoes, and now even has an REI membership. These days, in addition to making the Eleven wine club the most fun wine club around, you can find Stephanie using her considerable talents helping our furry friends through her work at the Seattle Animal Shelter.
Eleven is the result, ultimately, of an epiphany. Winemaker Matt, having hung up his bike racing wheels in 1998, started looking around for what to do next. Having left graduate school in physics years earlier to pursue bicycle racing while his legs were still young, he considered going back to school, but the slow pace of scientific research is enough to lull just about anyone to sleep, which is what it did to him one morning as he dozed over a neuropsychology text in the Fall of 1999. In that half-awake state where dreams and reality mingle and chat like guests at a party, the epiphany struck, as though everyone at the party stopped talking at once except for a single voice that said clearly "you should be a winemaker." Such a voice is not wisely ignored, so Matt set about finding a way to try winemaking. Matt and his wife Sarah were living in the San Francisco Bay area, where they had spent many weekends touring and tasting at wineries, so it seemed like giving winemaking a try might be feasible without having to go too far.
Matt had met the winemaker (Dane Stark) at Page Mill Winery, a small winery located near where he was living in Menlo Park, California. It was September, and his offer to help with harvest was met with an obvious "of course!" Within a few days he found himself standing atop the crush stand in the cool morning air, dumping 30-pound boxes of grapes into the crusher. Then and there, he knew that his destiny was sealed. He started going to the winery in the morning before work, and after a few days Dane suggested that he make a barrel of wine of his own, "and do it now,” he said, “because if you wait even a few weeks, you'll have to wait until next year." Matt found some grapes for sale and made a barrel of chardonnay that year, and continued helping out at the winery after harvest ended. Over the next three years, Dane, generous to a fault with his time, space, and equipment, taught Matt how to make great wine, and Matt spent as much time as possible working in the cellar.
After three years, Matt's ambitions outgrew the limited extra space at Page Mill. He and Sarah searched for a place to put down roots in California, but ultimately decided to return to the Pacific Northwest, where they both grew up. At the time the wine scene in Washington was just getting going, with a mere 250 wineries in the entire state. Matt and Sarah settled on Bainbridge Island for its community and natural beauty more than as a sensible place to start a winery (because it wasn't). They bought a fixer-upper house, fixed it up, refinanced it, and used the extra money to convert the large garage into a tiny winery. The first grapes were crushed in 2003, and the first whites were released in 2004. In 2011, the winery was relocated to larger space in a commercial building just a short distance from the original location, still on Bainbridge Island.
Why Eleven? We'll let Matt tell that story...
The winery gets its name from a bicycle racing term that captures our approach to the winery and to winemaking. Prior to starting Eleven, I was a bicycle racer for many years. I reached a level just high enough to have the opportunity to race against (and be pummeled by) the likes of Lance Armstrong et al on a regular basis. (Aside: winemaking, it turns out, is a source of similarly challenging mental and physical tests. That's part of why I love it so much.)
On a typical modern road bike the smallest cog in the rear cluster has eleven teeth, and it's the one that produces the maximum gear ratio. Therefore, when you're at the point in the race when it's all or nothing, when there's no choice but to put every ounce of strength and determination you've got into the pedals no matter how much you're already suffering, when you have to give it absolutely everything you've got, you use The Eleven.
At Eleven, we believe there is not one “best” style of wine. The right wine for the occasion will suit the food, the spirit, and the flavor of the event, be that event a 12-course state dinner, or laundry night at your house. With this in mind, we set out to produce a range of wines for different needs. Our main label is intended as dinner table wine – these are wines with diverse, intriguing flavors to pair with a wide variety of cuisine. They have enough structure (tannins and acidity) to work together with your food to create ecstatic experiences on your palate, while not being overpowering nor overpowered; and, they don't have so much alcohol that you can't have a couple of glasses with dinner and still participate lucidly in scintillating conversation. Our Ratio label was created for more casual situations: it's less structured and more quaffable, for those times when you just want to have a glass of wine and unwind. The next addition to our lineup (under development now) will be a cellar reserve series: wines built to age, which over time will develop the character and texture that only comes with additional years in the bottle.
We believe in simplicity in our winemaking to produce complexity in the wine. We also believe that while tradition and modernity both provide important fundamentals for winemaking practices, neither alone is sufficient to produce best practices for new world winemaking. It takes thoughtfulness and commitment to resolve the conflicting views of old and new perspectives, to challenge hidebound traditions and gimmicks that make little sense, and to integrate the latest understanding in a way that helps create wine with more character and more sense of place, rather than wine that is just an indistinguishable part of the vast ocean of perfected wine independent of vintage and vineyard.
GOOD, GREEN, FUN
Eleven Winery is not just committed to bringing pleasure to your taste buds – we are also committed to making the world a better place. How? One way is by donating a portion of our profits to charity. In the long term, our plan is to become a philanthropic vinification organization, and donate all of our after-tax profits. Today, the winery is small and growing, which necessitates that we reinvest everything (and then some) back into the business. However, we still donate approximately 1% of our annual revenue to charity – in particular, to World Bicycle Relief, an organization that supports economic development and education in communities in Africa. Like us, they believe in the power of bicycles to change the world. We also contribute locally, to organizations in our community that make a difference. In addition, we support a host of local charities through gifts of auction items and discounts on wine for fundraising events.
Sustainability is the other area in which Eleven is focused on making the world a better place. Living on Earth would be a drag without clean water, clean air, nice weather and a diverse ecosystem to keep us alive and healthy. As it turns out, humans are a species that is powerful enough to screw these things up. But there’s a chance that we’re smart enough not to. As a business we have a bigger footprint than a single citizen, which means we have additional responsibility to make sure that that footprint is as small and sustainable as possible. We live up to this responsibility in a variety of ways, including recycling, using renewable and recyclable packaging, using sustainably-grown grapes, and offsetting our carbon output – in fact, we were the first carbon-neutral winery in Washington State.
So that’s it. Our mission is to create wines that you not only love and have fun with, but feel really good about drinking.