Much could be written about the impact of the grape industry in Mason County and Grapeview.  Below is a summary of that history as it relates to the Grapeview area.

From its very beginning back in 1872, grape-growing in the State of Washington has a rich history in Grapeview and with the early settlers who played vital roles in developing an industry that would be thriving in the 1920's, 1930’s and 1940’s. It was a local Mason County man, Lambert B. Evans who planted the first vineyard in the state, at the time still a territory. Evans set out the first grapevine in the Northwest on Stretch Island, where he had taken up a homestead on 160 acres of fertile soil.


Shelton-Mason County Journal - 1973

 Seventeen years later, Adam Eckert, originally from the Chattauqua Grape Belt area of New York, visited Evans' log cabin.  When Eckert saw Evans' vineyard he was excited about the possibilities and sent for more native American, black labrusca vines from New York.  He bought 40 acres of the original Evans homestead and began experimenting with these varieties at his new vineyard on Stretch Island.  He continued crossbreeding of these concord-type vines and eventually produced a variety well-suited to his vineyards, which he named Island Belle.  Back in the day, the Island Belle grape was marketed as the “finest American Grape for wine making purposes now grown”.  For many years, the "Eckert Fruit Company" produced grape juice, and fresh grapes for markets in Tacoma, Seattle, Shelton, and Olympia. 


Eckert Fruit Company Grape Juice Label (MLB Collection)

According to Walter Eckert (as reported in the Shelton-Mason County Journal in August of 1947), when his father first came to Stretch Island, the Concord Grapes always ripened well, probably because of the large amount of smoke in the air every summer from unchecked slash burning and forest fires.  When the government put restrictions on summer fires, the Concord grapes would not ripen, and his father began experimenting with new types.  The Island Belle grape was the final result.  "The Island Belle was used with equal success for fruit juice, wine making or the table" Eckert added. (Shelton-Mason County Journal 12/7/1947). 


"Bob Dormus Collection" - Photo by Carla Pomroy

In 1918, Lambert Evans' widow sold the remaining Stretch Island property to Charles Somers. Somers would build and operate the St. Charles Winery, which became the first bonded winery in Washington State in 1933.    Most of the wines produced were the semi-sweet, and sweet wines popular at the time, including loganberry, muscatel and unfortified ports and sherries.  The St. Charles Winery and the Somers family have a great history in the Grapeview area and in the early Washington State wine producing industry. 


St.Charles Winery Wine Labels (MLB Collection)

By 1936 the Island had three wineries, all with prime vineyards and two grape juice factories.  Unfortunately the grape boom would not last in the area.  California wines were not allowed to be sold in the state until the 1950’s and when irrigated farming began to develop on a large scale in Eastern Washington, the Concord grape flourished in that environment in great abundance.  By the early 1960's, two of the wineries had closed or were sold and the vineyards became abandoned and neglected.  At its peak, St. Charles Winery was a 100,000 gallon winery.  It was purchased in 1965 by Alhambra Wine Co, closing the existing facility on Stretch Island.

The Stretch Island Winery was established in 1935 following the repeal of prohibition. The original partners included Edgar Wright, Herb Drew, Dr. Henry Benson, Erich Steenborg (the winemaker) and Wilbur Reeves (the manager). Steenborg was a German immigrant with oenology training and made the table wine called “Belle Isle”. The Stretch Island Winery was liquidated in 1950.  Edgar Wright was very active in the grape growers and wine makers associations of Washington during that time.


Stretch Island Winery "Belle Isle" Wine Bottle - image from www.woodinvillewineupdate.com

The Davis Winery was owned and managed by Peter Davis and his family who sold the winery to the Stretch Island Winery in the early 1940’s.  The Davis Winery’s trademarked wine was called "Chambelle".


Davis Winery "Chambelle" Wine Bottle (T.Stone Collection)


Davis Winery "Chambelle" Wine Bottle (T.Stone Collection)


Davis Winery "Chambelle" Wine Bottle (T.Stone Collection)

The "Island Belle Grape Juice Company" was established in the early 1920’s (1921 Trademark Registration) by Peggy & Harry Hillman. In 1921, the Hillmans purchased land in Grapeview on Stretch Island. They cleared the land, planted grapes, and operated the Island Belle Grape Juice Company, a business that thrived for almost 30 years. They resided in Seattle until 1931 when they moved to Grapeview full time. The trademark was renewed as late as March 9, 1946, to Harry P. Hillman, doing business as Island Bell Grape Juice Co., of Grapeview, Washington. Their juice was marketed as “The Drink Divine”. Peggy Hillman designed and drew the bottle labels herself. Harry Hillman was born on January 12, 1887. He died in April 1973 at 86 years old.


Island Belle Grape Juice Bottle (M.Benson Collection)


Island Belle Grape Juice Bottle Label (M.Benson Collection)


Island Belle Grape Juice Co. Label (Bob Dormus Collection)

 


Island Belle Grape Juice Bottle - One Quart (MLB Collection)

 


 Island Bell Grape Juice - Bottle Cap (MLB Collection)

 

Gallery Images


c1940-1950's Island Belle Display Sign 11"x17" (MLB Collection)
Island Belle Grape Growers Association

 


Werberger Winery (Shelton) Wine Label (MLB Collection)

 


Shelton-Mason County Journal Adv c1940s

 


Shelton-Mason County Journal 1941

 


Shelton-Mason County Journal Adv c1940s

 


Shelton-Mason County Journal Adv c1940s

 


Shelton-Mason County Journal Adv c1940s

 


Shelton-Mason County Journal Adv c1940s