If you turned at a vineyard, meandered through a meadow, passed a pair of alpacas and parked near walnut trees, you’ve probably found the Comforts of Whidbey.
Follow the sounds of hard work — perhaps a grape crusher or lawn mower — and you might also find the Comforts, that is Rita and Carl Comfort, the two farmers, vintners and bed-and-breakfast owners responsible for this idyllic Langley estate.
Their tale is that of two earnest people, both Army veterans, who went big when giving up was the only other option. But before delving into their story, consider the completed dream. Their three-story business, styled with steel beams and timber, opened about three years ago. It plays host to a B&B, tasting room and cellar, all under the same roof.
The top floor with its six rooms promises a relaxing stay, with views of Possession Sound instead of TVs. The clutter-free rooms are finished in simple Northwest style, with natural-edge wooden headboards and handmade quilts.
When the tasting room isn’t pouring wines made from the Comforts’ German-French grapes, it hosts breakfast for guests. Rita cooks with eggs from her 80 chickens, fruit from her orchard and vegetables from her garden.
In season, the garden also fills with dahlias, which are picked for special events. Rita cleared out her potting shed, which (like most things on this estate) has a view, so a wedding party could assemble bouquets with the flowers.
From the tasting room, which comfortably hosts parties of 100, visitors can wander onto an expansive covered deck for the view, perhaps best taken in with a glass of wine. Stairs lead down to two massive oak doors, complete with artisan iron handles, that conceal the wine cellar.
The lucky patrons who convince the owners to give them a tour of the winery will find a cool and tidy cellar packed with steel drums and wooden barrels. The unmistakable smell of sweet oak and fermenting grapes fills the air like perfume. With arched doorways, painted walls and concrete floors, the space is a mixture of craftsmanship and industry.
The estate has outgrown the vision the Comforts had when they purchased the 22-acre farm more than a decade ago.
The couple met in the Army, married in Turkey and eventually settled in Australia for 16 years. Just as their two children were approaching middle school, they knew the window on returning stateside was closing. The fear, Carl confessed, was that their kids might fall in love with their high school sweethearts in Australia and stay forever.
Carl hails from Whidbey, and the couple purchased land on the island with plans for a house. However, an ad for a boat they didn’t buy led them to the farm that would become their home.
They couldn’t compete with developers in the hot real estate market, but the farmer wanted to see his vineyard continue.
“It took us eight months to convince him that we were silly enough to keep the farm a farm,” Rita said.
It didn’t take long for the Comforts to realize the cost of growing grapes exceeded the money they made from selling them. Then, just two weeks before a harvest, their biggest buyer fell terminally ill and backed out. With 16 tons of fruit and no reasonable offers, they made a snap decision to launch a winery, and in 2010 they bottled their first wine.
Carl reached out to John Patterson, a household name in Washington’s wine industry, who, in addition to running his namesake winery, also offers consulting support to boutique wineries.
“They’ve had this consistent drive, whereas other people would tap out,” Patterson said of the Comforts. “They have a solid background and understanding. I have no problem recommending their wines.”
A small space off their garage and three parking spots played the role of tasting room, but the numbers still didn’t add up, Rita said. “It wasn’t sustainable.”
Carl had the idea to host weddings and events. They had a beautiful location, he said, but they lacked the infrastructure to support it.
Their thought process went something like this: An events business could support the wine, which could support the farm, and a B&B could provide a steady revenue stream. That’s when the vision for the estate came together.
Today it’s one of the nicer facilities of its kind, Patterson said. “It’s a fun place. I love going over there and hanging out… I’m always jealous.”
For the Comforts, the farm and winery have always been about creating community. On harvest day, they invite friends, family and a few strangers to help, rewarding them with a prime-rib lunch. They’ve since learned that it’s cheaper to hire hands than feed volunteers, but the annual event brings the community together. They couldn’t let the tradition go.
“It’s not what you do,” Carl said. “It’s why you do it.”
The Whidbey Island Vintners & Distillers Association is hosting a local gourmet food and wine pairing at each of its wineries and distill- eries, including Comforts of Whidbey, Spoiled Dog Winery and Whidbey Island Distillery in Langley, Greenbank’s Holmes Harbor Cellars and Blooms Winery in Free- land, from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. May 18 and 19. Tick- ets are $25 in advance via Brown Paper Tickets, or $30 the day of, at the venues.