A friend once asked me how I select the wineries I’m going to visit. The answer isn’t as straight-forward as she anticipated. My goal is to visit all the wineries in the six New England states: Connecticut, Rhode Island, Massachusetts, Vermont, New Hampshire and Maine. As it’s taken me about 2 years to complete the entire Connecticut wine trail, I figure New England alone will keep me in Vino Verve posts for some time to come. I don’t limit myself to just New England, though, as my recent forays into New York’s Hudson River Valley and last year’s stops in New Jersey attest.
But I haven’t really answered the question, when I head out on any given day, how do I select the wineries for that trip? I wish I could say there was a method to the madness, but there isn’t. As I near my initial goal of visiting all of Connecticut’s wineries at least once, I’ll select one of the wineries I haven’t yet visited and then look to see what else is in the general vicinity. When I’m ranging further afield, I’ll often start with a destination I want to visit. My first trip to the Newport area wineries was as much an excuse to visit Newport as it was to experience the wineries.
With Maine, business took me to Augusta so I looked for wineries within an hour’s drive of my hotel. And, as I scanned the list wineries what should jump out at me but a winery on Barrett Hill Road. Well, that had to be fate calling to me, and I certainly wasn’t going to turn a deaf ear. So Savage Oakes Winery made the cut for this trip, and the rest of the wineries fell into place due to their geographic placement between Union and Augusta.
Turns out, the fates really were calling to me that day because Savage Oakes was the highlight of the Maine trip, and one of the most fun afternoons I’ve spent in a winery in a long time.
Savage Oakes is owned by Elmer and Holly Savage, who bought the farm from his parents in 2000. The farm, called Barrett Hill Farm, has been in the Savage family since the 1790s and when Elmer and Holly purchased it, it was home to flocks of sheep, herds of cattle, and the ubiquitous Maine blueberries. After their first year’s profit was a whopping $5, the Savages decided to look for more creative ways to make blueberries pay. In 2002, they planted their first grape vines and began their journey into winemaking, naming their vineyards and winery the combination of Holly Savage’s married (Savage) and maiden (Oakes) names.
The Savages currently have four acres of wine grapes under cultivation and have one of the few wineries in Maine that grow their own grapes. They currently grow 10 varietals including Leon Millot, Marechal Foch, Frontenac, St. Croix, Corot Noir, and Marquette among the reds, and Cayuga, St. Pepin, Frontenac Gris, and LaCrosse among the whites. In addition to the grapes, they have 15 acres of Maine blueberries which they use in about 1/3 of their wines. Savage Oakes currently produces 10 wines: 2 whites, 3 blushes, 3 reds and 2 dessert wines. A tasting is complimentary and includes all ten wines.
As you head up Barrett Hill Road towards the farm and winery, don’t worry about missing the winery – the Savage’s beautiful chocolate lab is on duty and has no hesitation about walking out in the middle of the road to herd cars to the parking area in front of the tasting room. In addition to parking attendant, he also serves as the winery’s major domo, waiting patiently by the car door to greet you as you alight before bounding across the road to alert the family of your arrival.
The tasting room is a fairly small structure about the size of a large shed. The interior is charming and informal, with a long wooden table serving as the tasting bar. The golden wood planks on the walls, ceilings and floors produce a warm glow that helps make the space feel cozy and inviting. It’s not a space designed to hold crowds of people, but it’s open and inviting and could likely accomodate 6-8 tastings at at time.
I had the place to myself that afternoon (I understand the afternoon rush usually hits about 4:00), and my host was co-owner Holly Savage. She’s a wonderful host, presenting detailed tasting notes while also engaging you in general conversation about what you find in the wines. I think it must be hard to be a winemaker and listen to people talk about your wines; I would feel excruciatingly self-conscious no matter whether people liked my wines or not. And I, personally, am not the most immediately outgoing person, being a bit shy and often awkward in new situations. But something about Holly broke down my reserve right away, and she very openly asked what I thought about and what I was tasting in each wine. The result was just a fun conversation that ranged from her wines to my wine trips and recommendations for other wineries I should try in the area.
In addition to the wines and blueberries, Savage Oakes also raises and sells farm-fresh beef and pork, and even the kids get into the act, raising chickens for farm-fresh eggs. I would have loved to take some of the beef home with me, but even if I had thought to bring a cooler on the trip, I doubt the ice packs would have been enough to keep meat fresh overnight. As it was the end of the day, and I was shortly heading back to the hotel, I did take a chance on picking up a bottle of wine – which I’ve since drunk and can say survived the night at the hotel and the trip home beautifully.
Savage Oakes is open every day from 11:00 – 5:00. Their annual harvest festival is this Saturday, October 9th, from 11:00 – 5:00. Check their website for more details.