Olalla Vineyards

Olalla Valley Vineyard and Winery is a unique destination vineyard and winery, with a focus on agricultural tourism. (Photo courtesy of Olalla Valley Vineyard and Winery)

Have you ever experienced a leisurely dance with nature as you wind your way through the sunlit roads of Olalla, WA? This charming hamlet nestled snugly in the heart of Kitsap County feels like a well-kept secret, a hidden gem that unveils itself amidst a lush canopy of trees and weathered barns. It's a place where quaint meets quirky, where the community spirit is as strong as the bonds of nature that surround it.

The town offers small-town respite to the weary urban soul. As you enter this hidden gem amid thick woods, it may feel like you’re in a mystical realm, a community in tranquil harmony with the nature surrounding it — especially when you encounter one of the town’s infamous “chicken crossings.”

Yes, you read that right.

In Olalla, chickens have the right of way. You may even hear locals quip that chickens run the town. Bigfoot sightings are also a common topic of conversation in Olalla. It’s a reminder of this small community’s quirks. Olalla proudly marches to its own beat.

Olalla Vineyard and Winery: A Labor of Love

Case in point: The Olalla Vineyard and Winery. Eight years ago, Mary Ellen Houston and her husband Stuart took over ownership of the winery, full of passion and a dash of naivete, unaware of the adventure to come.

The husband-and-wife team were living in Sammamish and had no prior experience running a business or making wine when they stumbled upon the winery, which had been listed for sale by its previous owners. It was love at first sight.

In its previous life, the winery had been the hobby project of another couple; they’d lovingly tended the vineyard since 1999, transforming it into the property that left Houston and her husband awed and excited.

“They had laid a beautiful foundation for us to build upon because they had beautifully manicured ground, very quaint tasting room, beautiful vineyard,” said Houston. “So we thought… we could do a lot with this."

Seeing the potential, the new owners enlisted the help of a skilled winemaker, Matthew Love. Under Love’s guidance, they started producing wines using grapes both grown on-site and sourced from Eastern Washington.

As the wines quickly gained popularity, it was clear to Houston that the winery was no longer just a hobby, but had grown into a thriving business, producing about 1500 cases of wine each year, covering a huge variety including Pinot Gris, Pinot Noir, Cabernet Franc, Viognier, and a unique Ukrainian wine made from a grape called Saperavi.

Washington is home to no shortage of wineries. But what sets Olalla Vineyard and Winery apart is its commitment to sustainability. Houston practices what’s known as dry farming, which means the winery relies solely on rainwater and natural resources, and are essentially organic, although they choose not to seek certification. 

The space produces more than just wine: As a hub for Olalla’s close-knit local community, it also builds connections. In this friendly enclave, neighbors greet each other by name. It’s the kind of  place where front porches are meant for sitting and sharing stories, and lending a hand is second nature.

At the vineyard in early September, Olalla residents belonging to a local advocacy group were gathered at the vineyard — not an unusual sight for Houston, who provides the space to nonprofits and community groups at little to no cost. “It’s not always about money,” she said.  “It’s about being open and… serving the community.”

Each month, the business selects a local nonprofit to support, focusing on small grassroots organizations. Through wine sales, events, and tips, they contributed to various nonprofits, including animal rescue organizations Collar of Hope and A Pony Up Rescue. 

And while the vineyard is deeply rooted in the local community, its wines have made their way all across the Pacific Northwest, from Seven Seas Brewery in Gig Harbor to the Tacoma Yacht Club. Going forward as the sole operator, Houston intends to continue to create delicious high-quality wines as one of the few female-owned winemakers in the region. She has big plans for the winery’s future — and learning even more about her hobby-turned-business.

“There aren’t many women winemakers,” she mused, “and I’m really passionate about what I’m going to be learning…  I really want to… basically jump in with two feet and start stomping and just do everything that I need to do to make this place even better than it is.”


The view from the patio at Olalla Bay Market. (Photo courtesy of Charlee Glock-Jackson)

A Market Rooted in Community 

Just down the road from the winery, you’ll find yet another center of the Olalla community in the Olalla Bay Market & Landing. Over the last 125 years, this juncture of Banner Rd. SE and Crescent Valley Rd. has morphed through the eras. It’s been a post office, a barber shop, and, as of last spring, a market offering a curated selection of local goods, espresso and house-made sourdough pizza.

The owners, Gregg and Claudia Olsen, who have called Olalla home for nearly three decades, were motivated by their profound attachment to the place and its people. The market, the Olalla boat ramp park and the beach across the street are all elements that play a vital role in bringing the community together.

“We were a young family when we arrived and fell immediately in love with the people, the place, and the role the community plays in our lives,” said Gregg Olsen.

Olalla Bay Market is a reflection of that community, with numerous locally sourced products, including produce from Moss & Madder Farms and Leet’s Local Lettuce, A Small Specialty fruit salsa, beers from Wet Coast Brewing, sweet treats from Larry & Kristi’s Bakery and more. Olalla Vineyard’s wines are also prominently featured.

The journey to opening Olalla Bay Market wasn’t without its challenges: The Olsens contended with a fire, a king tide flood, and more. But the rewards of seeing their neighbors enjoy the waterfront and each other has “made the journey well worth it,” said Gregg Olsen.

“We really do have that small-town feel,” said Mary Ellen Houston. “We have a Facebook page called ‘Fans of Olalla,’ and that’s how a lot of people communicate with each other through the community... we just, we're a very small, close-knit community.”

And Olalla has its own way of expressing that sense of community. Take its unofficial mascot — a life-sized scarecrow — and the town’s annual autumn scarecrow-building competition, in which locals compete to create the most outlandish and creative scarecrows, which then line the streets in a whimsical backdrop to daily life.

Legend has it that an earnest debate once arose among the townsfolk regarding the “correct” way to pronounce Olalla, a term derived from the Salishan and Chinook Jargon term for “berries.”  

Olalla is a place that seems to exist at the intersection of serenity and quirk. It’s a destination where chickens rule the road, scarecrows keep watch, and Bigfoot hides in the shadows. But beneath its idiosyncratic exterior, it’s a tight-knit community that embraces newcomers with open arms.

In a world that often rushes by, Olalla is a haven where time stands still just long enough for you to appreciate the whimsy, beauty, and genuine warmth of this Kitsap County community. Next time you find yourself on the winding road to Olalla, be sure to slow down, roll down your windows and let the enchantment of this place wash over you.

Upcoming Events:

The next event at the Olalla Vineyard and Winery is a special vegan dinner night on October 21 prepared by Chef Kyle Campisi of Subtle Approach Catering. Chef Campisi will prepare a six-to -eight-course meal to be expertly paired with the Vineyard’s wines. With only 28 reservations, the Vineyard recommends reserving a spot soon and following their Facebook page for more information.

Be on the lookout for wine and dinner to-go, a service Olalla Vineyard and Winery established during COVID with local chefs to continue bringing fine wine and dining to folks during the pandemic — it also works for those who don’t enjoy the Big Dark.  “[P]eople sometimes, during the winter, they don’t even want to just get all dressed up and go out to dinner or in a restaurant,” said Houston. “They want the same [quality] but that they want it at home.”

Beginning Wednesday, October 4, the Olalla Bay Market and Landing switches to Winter hours and is closed Monday, Tuesdays and Wednesdays, aside from special events. Upcoming events include a South Kitsap Fire & Rescue for a fire safety and emergency preparedness talk on October 4 at 6 pm. The Olalla Bay Market has plans for a winter craft expo and holiday pop up shop in the coming month and encourages visitors and community members to follow their Facebook page for more information.