Vermont wine is growing up gracefully

Vermont wine is growing up gracefully

Vermont marks 20 years of making wine from grapes

If you think of wine as something only made from grapes, then the term Vermont wine was an oxymoron until only 20 years ago. In this land of Green Mountains, known for apple farms and dairy barns, pioneers are creating a nascent Vermont wine industry. At today's Fete de Fermentation at Fable Farm in Barnard, the evolution of Vermont wine was on display, and a few of the ground breaking producers poured samples for the public.

Hardy hybrids make Vermont wines happen

John McCann of North Branch Vineyards in Montpelier has been growing grapes and making wine in the region for nine years. He explain that La Crescent, a hybrid grape developed by the University of Minnesota's renowned grape breeding program, is one of the most popular grapes grown in Vermont. La Crescent produces a very aromatic white wine with a nose reminiscent of Gewurztraminer and tropical fruit and nice acid on the palate.  It's a grape that's naturally high in sugar, and many winemakers leave a little sweetness in this wine, making it a good entry-level offering.  

Vermont grape vines are trained high and aim for the sun

Of course growing grapes in a region that gets so cold and receives so much snow is no easy task.  Vermont's yearly temperatures range from about twenty degrees below zero in winter to as high one hundred degrees in summer. So, in addition to selecting cold-hardy grapes, vineyard managers train the vines high, to keep the leaves and fruit far from the cold air of the ground. The vines are carefully pruned to give the grapes as much sun as possible throughout the day. 

Still, it's a tough place to make wine. Winemaker Christina Castegren of Fresh Tracks Farm in Berlin, Vermont, explained that years ago when she told New York winemakers that she was growing grapes in the state they acted like she was crazy. Her Digger's Dance proves them wrong. It's a blend of several red grapes including Marquette, an excellent cold-hardy grape, and it combines two vintages.  Christina doesn't worry about diverging from tradition by making a nonvintage blend. She and assistant winemaker Hannah Swanson are just trying "to make the best wine we can." This one had black and red fruit flavors, a little spice, medium tannins and the heft of a Chilean Cabernet Sauvignon. It's a wine that would proudly stand shoulder-to-shoulder with many American medium weight reds.

Winemaking philosophy elevates Vermont hard cider

But what if you expand your mind and consider wine can be made from other fruits? That's what Johnny Piana of Fable Farm Fermentory thinks people should do. He says the definition of wine is fermented fruit – it doesn't have to be grapes. According to Johnny, that's just what "the bureaucrats say." 

No matter what side you take in the "what is wine" debate, you can appreciate Johnny's tart sparkling ciders. He takes a winemaker's approach, pouring vintage ciders with a couple years of age. These are fermented beverages of great character – and meant to be had with food. No sticky sweet cider here; they're dry, zesty, and sophisticated. 

The evolution of Vermont wine 

It's clear that winemaking in Vermont has left its infancy and is starting to mature.  As new grapes are discovered that do well in the region - including Frontenac Gris, Louise Swenson, and L'Acadie Blanc - winemakers are figuring out what works best in this challenging climate. So far, they've made laudable progress in just two short decades, as the wines at the Fete de Fermentation proved. 

Make a wine detour in Vermont

Next time you're visiting central Vermont for skiing, hiking, or relaxing, why not be a pioneer too? Take a detour to some of these farms to try some of the state's newest fermented delights.

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