When one first disembarks the ferry on San Juan Island, visitors are greeted by bustling restaurants and shops along Friday Harbor’s marina. What’s not as immediately noticeable, sporting only a watercolor logo of a Madrona tree, is the tasting room for the boutique cidery/winery Madrone Cellars– but you’d be remiss not to stop in for a glass.
Owners Shaun and Amy Salamida began achieving their lifelong dream of a winery in 2017 working out of Amy’s father’s garage. Within the year they had found the ideal production space, a farmhouse dating back to 1900. After establishing as a mainstay at the small and colorful San Juan Farmer’s Market, they signed the lease for their current tasting room location in 2020.
“It was definitely a challenge to try and open in the middle of a pandemic, but we made it through and are happy to have a space where locals and visitors can come and enjoy our wines and ciders,” Shaun says.
Madrone focuses on making cider in the petillant natural method (pet-nat for short). Borrowing from similar techniques used in champagne, this cider is conditioned in bottles. This means the final stage of fermentation occurs in the very glass you pour from, rather than being force-carbonated. The old world innovation of petillant natural allows the most genuine expression of the apples and pears, while also empowering these ciders to be aged for years.
Like most responsible production operations, Shaun and Amy do everything they can to reduce food miles associated with their fermenting. According to Shaun, 60% of their pears and apples are sourced from San Juan Island itself, while all other fruits are carefully picked from farms using biodynamic processes. Having planted their own acreage of vines on the island, they’ll soon be able to farm their own grapes for wine.
There are three kinds of flights available in the tasting room: cider, wine, and sparkling wine. A wide variety is found here, including cider using kiwi berries (an increasingly en vogue fruit that thrives in Western Washington’s climate). Shaun’s personal favorite right now is the Piquette Sparkling Rosé. For the uninitiated, a piquette is a lower alcohol wine created by pressing grapes a second time with the addition of water. Easy on the liver and the eyes, it’s beverages like these that perfectly pair with a midday picnic or sunset beach.
I would almost characterize the tasting room’s decor as minimalist. Sparse modern-chic chairs, a well-polished bar, and a beautiful patio (which plays host to numerous summertime events) are all offset by the sheer magnitude of bottles lining the walls.
Having already offered you two potentially new words in your vino vocabulary, let me assure you that there is nothing to fear in the way of intimidation here. The folks behind the bar sport the same welcoming smile and willingness to share.
“There is a lot to learn about wine and cider, and we really want the experience for people to be fun and educational regardless of their current knowledge about wines or ciders,” Shaun says. “In the end it really comes down to the enjoyment of wine and cider and the story behind the making and farming, and that’s what we strive to bring to customers who come into our tasting room.” 40 1st St. S., Friday Harbor, 970.319.2821, madronecellars.com