The Wines of Sweetgrass

Marguerite Barrett
Contributing Writer

Back at Sweetgrass, I found a place at the bar, perused the Tasting Menu, and despite the urgings of my hosts that afternoon decided to skip a tasting of the gins in favor of tasting all five of Sweetgrass’s wines and the Cranberry Smash.   Leading the way was the Blueberry wine, made from some of the 8,000 pounds of Maine Wild Blueberries that Sweetgrass harvests each year.

Blueberry A 100% blueberry wine, aged in French Oak.  The color is that beautiful medium/dark bluish-purple of ripe blueberries.  The nose has deep smoky notes of blueberry.  In the mouth, the wine really surprises – the deep notes of blueberry in the notes are not as prominent in the mouth.  Definitely a dry wine, the blueberry essence is quite subdued, present but tantalizing you through hints of blueberry, rather than overpowering your palate.  The oaking provides notes of smoke and leather which were very interesting and, for me, very unexpected.

I have cautioned people – and admonished myself – many times in these “pages” about not presuming, not assuming, and keeping an open mind.  And yet, I catch myself again and again being surprised, not realizing that I had preconceived ideas of what I would be tasting.  And yes, it happened again.  While I have learned that I can expect interesting complex fruit wines from the vintners here in the Northeast, I realized that I still expected to find them to be cleaner wines – less or no oaking.  The strength of the oaking in this wine really took me by surprise.  I also feel it may have overpowered the wine a bit, helping to subdue the blueberry character.   My overall impression was that while this isn’t a bad wine by any means, the oaking was too strong for my taste.

Beaujolais Also a 100% blueberry wine made in a Beaujolais style – hence the name – I found this a much more appealing wine than the Blueberry.  The color is similar to that of the Blueberry and the nose has lovely notes of fresh blueberries.  In the mouth, the wine is much more discernibly blueberry, but the fruit is not overpowering.  Still a dry wine, the stronger presence of the fruit provides a light sweetness which gives the wine a light, refreshing character.  I definitely preferred this to the previous wine.

Apple Hands down, this was my favorite of the Sweetgrass wine line=up.   Made from heirloom New England apple varietals grown at the Sweetgrass Farm, this is crisp and refreshing.  The color is a very pale yellow and the nose has lovely notes of apple blossom.   In the mouth the wine is crisp and lightly sweet with notes of tarter sweet apples, but without the tartness of Granny Smiths.  There’s a nice balance of acid on the finish which balances the fruit’s sweetness and really gives the wine some character in the mouth.

Others agree with my assessment.  Not only was it my favorite of the Sweetgrass line-up, but the Apple wine also won a gold medal at the Big E wine competition and was named Best Wine Grown & Produced in Maine.  Congratulations to winemaker Keith Bodine!

Cranberry Apple A 50/50 blend of locally grown cranberries and apples, this was another wine that both surprised and intrigued me.  The color is a lovely deep rose, not so much a blush as a deep rosy-pink.  The nose is soft and fruity with notes of both the cranberries and the apple.  In the mouth the wine is sweeter than any of the previous three wines, but balanced with a tart tanginess from the cranberries.  I found cranberry to be the dominant note, but it was overly tart – the blending with the apples really softened what could have been a harsher edge from the cranberry, producing a softer, richer more interesting wine.

Peach The wine selection finished with Sweetgrass’s Peach wine.  The sweetest of all of the wines, it’s smooth enough to be a light dessert wine as much as a sweet table wine.   Generally, I’m not a fan of peaches in anything; I don’t dislike them, but they don’t really do anything for me either.  And that apathy, I’ve found, has carried over into wines as well.  Sweetgrass’s Peach is a nice wine, a lovely golden color that sparkles in the glass and a surprisingly earthy, somewhat grassy nose.  In the mouth the wine is pretty – sweet with subtle notes of peach.  There’s a low amount of acid on the finish, just enough to give the wine a bit of depth, but not enough to disrupt the overall smoothness of the wine.  While not one of my favorites, I anticipate many people will find this wine quite appealing, particularly people like my friend Cheryl, who prefer their wines smoother.

Cranberry Smash Having made my way through the five table wines, I bypassed the gins and vermouth in favor of sampling the Cranberry Smash, a port-style wine made from a blend of Cranberry wine and Cranberry brandy.   Winemaker Keith Bodine described it as “liquid cranberries,” and he wasn’t kidding.  In the mouth the wine is lush, rich and sweet – and very cranberry.  The cranberry tartness that I didn’t find in the Cranberry Apple was present here, but by fortifying the wine with brandy and producing a port, Bodine has managed to keep the essence of the cranberry – tartness and all – and still produce a sweet, very drinkable wine.  As you can probably tell, this also went to the top of my list – as well as coming back home with me for a more leisurely sampling later.

At this point, it was time to pack up and head back to my hotel for the evening.  But overall, definitely a very successful first Win(e)ding Road foray into Maine – and one I look forward to repeating again soon.

Sweetgrass Farm Winery & Distillery ~ Union, Maine

Marguerite Barrett
Contributing Writer

The first thing I noticed as I entered Sweetgrass Winery & Distillery, my last winery stop during this, my first Maine trip, was the smell of alcohol.  Quite pungent.  The smell subsided quickly, but that first waft is strong.  Not surprising given that Sweetgrass produces more spirits than wines, and indeed, has been recognized for the quality of their gin, with their Back River Gin being named one of Wine Enthusiast’s Best Spirits in 2008.

Despite the awards, in addition to Back River Gin, Sweetgrass’s Apple wine was named best Maine wine at the 2010 Big E Wine Competition, Sweetgrass Farm is an unpretentious operation.  The winery/distillery is set in a charming two-story, shake sided building which on the exterior resembles a Maine cottage.  Inside, a large u-shaped wooden bar shares space with the fermentation and distilling tanks.  The dim, cool interior was a welcome respite from the late afternoon sun, and despite a lack of bar stools, the casual atmosphere was extremely comfortable and encouraged people to linger.

The bar is large enough to hold perhaps 30 or 40 people comfortably, and there’s plenty of room for 3 or 4 servers behind the bar.  I arrived late in the afternoon, close to 4:00 pm, and there were only a handful of people there ahead of me, including a group of 20-somethings  who were vacationing in the area.   I found a spot at the bar easily, and Keith Bodine, Sweetgrass’s owner and winemaker, was on hand to welcome me and walk me through their tasting menu.

Sweetgrass’s tasting menu was one of the more unique I’ve encountered since beginning my win(e)ding road adventures, as it includes both the full range of spirits as well as the wines.   A tasting includes your choice of six of any of the items listed on the menu, with no premium charges for the spirits.   Both the wines and spirits are fruit based, principally cranberry and, of course, blueberry.  Sweetgrass Farm produces 8,000 pounds of Maine Wild Blueberries a year, most of which make their way into the wine and spirits.

To those “purists” out there who too quickly dismiss fruit wines, I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again – don’t count the wines or the winemakers out.  I continue to be impressed with the overall quality of the wines I find across the Northeast, fruit wines included.  A big robust California Cab they are not – but that makes them no less appealing.

Winemaker Keith Bodine produces five wines, 10 spirits including gin, rum, brandy, vermouth and bitters and a pure vanilla extract.  As my focus, and preference, is wine, I selected all five of the wines and the port-style, Cranberry Smash for my tasting that afternoon.  Despite Bodine’s urging that I should try the Back River Gin, I just didn’t feel up to something so strong after a long day of driving and touring.  However, as I sit down to capture my impressions of the visit, I find myself rather regretful that I skipped that.  Not that I didn’t enjoy the selection, but I probably should have at least tried one of the “50 Best Spirits.”  Looks like I’m adding Sweetgrass Farm to my next Maine itinerary.

Sweetgrass is open daily 11:00 am – 5:00 pm from mid-May through December 31st.

Coming Thursday…  The wines I did sample

Sweetgrass Farm Winery & Distillery
325 Carroll Road
Union, Maine 04862

Savage Oakes Vineyard ~ The Reds and Dessert Wines

Marguerite Barrett
Contributing Writer

Having finished the whites and blushes, next up were the reds and dessert wines.   On the menu that afternoon were four table wines and a dessert wines, opening with

Barn Red 100% Leon Millot, all gorwn locally, and aged in a 50/50 split of French and American oak.  This was my first encounter with Leon Millot, at least as far as I was aware.  The color is a very deep purple, and hte nose is rich, smooth and fruity with discernible notes of cherry.  In the mouth, the cherry is also present but not as strong a presence as in other cold climate red grapes, particularly the Marechal Foch.  The wine is somewhat fruit forward with smooth notes of cherry in the front and finishing with notes of leather in the back.  According to their website, this is Savage Oakes “signature red wine” – and it’s definitely worth a stop, if for no other reason than to add Leon Millot to your list of grapes.

Blue Moon A table wine, Blue Moon is 100% Maine Wild Blueberries and aged in French Oak.   The result is not at at what I expected.  Don’t be put off by the fact that this is a fruit wine; like many of the fruit winemakers here in the Northeast, the team at Savage Oakes has produced a dry table wine that has a degree of complexity that one doesn’t anticipate in a fruit wine.  The color and the nose are what I expected from a blueberry wine: a lovely deep blue-purple color and a nose that evokes late summer blueberries on the vine – it’s really a lovely nose.  In the mouth, though, the wine really surprises.  Not only drier than I anticipated, the blueberry notes were much more subdued and subtle – they tantalized the palate.  The finish is peppery with light notes of smoke, and the wine built nicely in layers over subsequent sips.  It wasn’t my favorite of Savage Oakes wines by an means, but it was more interesting than I had assumed it would be.

Come Spring Hands-down, my favorite wine of the entire Savage Oakes line-up.  Come Spring is a Beaujolais-style wine made from locally grown Marechal Foch grapes.  I’ve come a long way since my first encounter with Marechal Foch at Haight-Brown winery almost two years ago.  At the time I was put off by the “bite” I found at the end and attributed the brightness to the wine’s being young, rather than it being a characteristic of the grape; definitely was not an initial fan.  However, over time and with more chances to experience the grape, including Haight Brown’s beaujolais-style Nouveau Foch, I have become more and more intrigued.  Savage Oakes Come Spring, obviously, did not disappoint.

The color is a lovely dark purply-ruby.  The nose has the soft cherry notes that are a hallmark of the grape.  And in the mouth, the wine is lush and smooth with the Marcheal Foch bright tangy notes of cherry and notes of pepper and leather finish.

Concord The last of the reds is named, as you can image, from the Concord grapes used in it’s production.  An interesting choice as Concord grapes are used more often jams and juices than in wine.  I found myself approaching the wine with some slight trepidation – while I love lush dessert wines, particularly Ice Wines and Late Harvest Wines, I’m generally not a fan of most sweet or even semi-sweet table wines, and wasn’t too interested in a wine that probably tasted like grape juice.  But I’ve learned never to assume – always to taste.  Rather than being fermented grape juice, the wine is subtle and very much drier than anticipated.

The color is a lovely garnet color, the first surprise, as I half-expected the wine to be a dark purple similar to grape jelly.  The nose was definitely Concord, lightly jammy with lush notes of grape.   In the mouth, the wine has a touch of sweetness (the tasting notes indicate a 1.0% residual sugar) that is not overpowering.  The grape notes are present, but are more reminiscent of fresh grapes than of grape juice or jellies.  There are nice tannins on the finish providing just enough of a bite to give the wine some depth.  Overall, this is a more interesting wine than I, and I expect many people, initially give it credit for.

Blueberry Pi The tasting concluded with another 100% Blueberry wine, this one a dessert wine.  Although not fortified, this is made in the port-style, and fermented to a 17% alcohol content.  Like the Blue Moon, the wine is garnet color.  The nose, interestingly, has very discernible notes of Concord grapes with soft notes of blueberry.  In the mouth, the wine is rich and sweet.  The mouth feel is thick and lush, although not so thick that it coats the mouth.   The blueberry notes are stronger here than with the Blue Moon, but interestingly they pick up more in the back of the mouth than in the front.

In addition to the ten wines on the Tasting Menu, Savage Oakes website lists several other wines in their repertoire, including a recently released Marechal Foch Rosé and three wines which are currently sold out: Sterlingtown, made from Niagara grapes, and two apple wines, Crooked Tree and Apple Wine.

Savage Oakes Vineyard ~ The Whites & Blushes

Marguerite Barrett
Contributing Writer

Savage Oakes has been growing their own grapes since 2002; this is their fifth year producing wines grown from these locally grown grapes.  75% of the fruit they use in their wines is grown on their farm in Union, Maine, making Savage Oakes the largest winery that produces locally grown Maine wines.

This year Savage Oakes co-sponsored, with the Maine Wine Guild, a wine pavilion at the Union Fair, the first ever wine pavilion at a Maine agricultural fair.  Thirteen different wineries participated.  Unfortunately I wasn’t able to make it back up to Maine for the fair, but if any Vino Verve readers attended, I’d love to hear details.   We can even feature you as a guest contributor.

But on to more important things – such as my tasting.  We kicked off with the two whites; first up:

Seyval Blanc Made from 20% locally grown grapes and 80% grapes from the Finger Lakes region in New York, this is a crisp, dry white wine.  Aged in French Oak, the color is a very pale yellow, and the nose is very soft and subtle with just a hint of citrus.  In the mouth the wine is smooth with nice fruity notes of citrus, a hint of lemon, and just a hint of light cream on the finish which balances out the acid on the finish, producing a smoother Seyval than I’ve often experienced.   I liked the wine, but I think I would have liked it with a bit more acid on the finish – somehow it was just a bit too smooth for my taste.

Georges River My favorite among the whites and blushes, no question, this is also one of the two most popular wines Savage Oakes produces.  So popular, it’s already sold out for the 2010 season.   100% locally grown Cayuga, the color is an extremely pale straw, almost clear.  The nose has lovely notes of canteloupe.  In the mouth the wine, which is labeled as off-dry, is just this side of sweet and lightly tangly with soft notes of the melon I picked up in the nose.  There’s a nice bite of acid on the finish which balances the sweetness and keeps the wine from straying into the semi-sweet category.

White Rose The second of Savage Oakes’s two most popular wines, the White Rose is a rosé style wine made from the blue Steuben grape, a grape more often used in juice and jellies than in winemaking.  The first thing you notice about the wine is the color, an extremely pale blush; in fact there’s almost no color.   Not at all what I expected; rosés generally are “pretty in pink,” and the blue steuben grapes certainly leads one to anticipate a darker color.  The nose is rich and fruity, reminiscent of a Vidal nose, with definite notes of apricot.  In the mouth the wine is surprisingly crisp; I say surprisingly because the rich fruitiness of the nose beguiles you into anticipating a lusher, sweeter wine.  It is a sweet wine, but not overly so, with notes of apricot balanced by a light citrus.  It’s a more complex and interesting wine than I anticipated from both the description as well as the nose.  Because I had made some assumptions about the wine based on the grape and the nose, that first sip was a bit like a “gotcha” – and totally fun.  Like the Georges River, the White Rose is also sold out for the season, but I’ll definitely be heading back next Spring for samples of the next vintage.

Daybreak Blush Next up was the Daybreak Blush.  100% locally grown, this is a white Cayuga blended with a touch of Marechal Foch.  Color-wise, this is a much more traditional rosé than the White Rose, with a lovely rose, almost dark pink color.  The nose was soft and subtle with light notes of citrus; not surprising given that this is a Cayuga.  I often find Cayuga to have subtle noses.  In the mouth the wine is sweet with notes of pink grapefruit and just a hint of tartness on the finish.  The tartness, I believe, comes from the Marechal Foch as the wine has just a hint of that “bite” I’ve often found in Marechal Foch.

Vineyard Blues The last of the blushes, the Vineyard Blues is also the first wine on the menu to feature the Savages’ primary crop, Maine Blueberries.  Interestingly, it’s not listed on the website.  Not sure if that means it’s been sold out for a while, or they no longer produce it, but I hope not the latter as I found it the most interesting of the three blush wines.  A lovely rose color, the nose is drier and duskier than any of the previous wines; to my mind it had more in common with a red nose than a white or a blush.  In the mouth the wine is drier than I expected given it’s a white wine blushed with blueberries.  There are light notes of of blueberry, but they are very subtle.  The finish has a slight, very slight, bitterness which is not unpleasant, and a nice balance of acid.  Overall the wine took me by surprise – I was really expecting something much sweeter, and definitely more “blueberry.”  As before, I liked that feeling of “gotcha!”  I didn’t fall in love with this wine immediately, but I found myself intrigued by it – and regret not having brought a bottle home for a further exploration.  I do hope the Vineyard Blues makes it back onto the wine list next year, as I will definitely be back.

That concluded the first half of the tasting – on to the Reds and Dessert wines.  But for those you’ll have to wait until Tuesday…

Savage Oakes Vineyard ~ Union, Maine

Marguerite Barrett
Contributing Writer

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.

Savage Oakes Vineyard
174 Barrett Hill Road
Union, Maine 04862

Cellardoor Winery ~ The Wines

Marguerite Barrett
Contributing Writer

Logo from Cellardoor Winery's website

I took my time over the tasting menu, and it was hard to settle on just six.  Some of the choices I passed up this trip included Celladoor’s Pinot Gris and Syrah, and some interesting red blends.  But I decided to go for wines that I, perhaps, don’t encounter quite as frequently, starting with the

Viognier Pale yellow in color, with a lovely, rich honeysuckle nose.  In the mouth the wine is dry and crisp with a really nice bite of acid on the finish.  Initially the wine is very smooth on the tongue, with light notes of peach in the front.  The wine is lightly oaked, providing a slight smokiness that gives it just a bit of bitterness with subsequent sips.  The smokiness should mellow slightly when paired with food, and this should be a very versatile wine for pairing.

Cellardoor’s website features a wine & food pairing section, providing some very specific suggestions and featuring recipes for some of those suggestions.  For the Viognier, they suggest pairing it with “wild mushroom risotto, mussels in white wine sauce, spicy Thai peanut chicken, or camembert cheese topped with apricot morstada.”  An interesting range…

Vino DiVine I only chose 2 whites that afternoon, and for my second selected Cellardoor’s Vidal Blanc, Vino DiVine.  The color is also a very pale yellow, although it is slightly darker than the Viognier.  The nose surprised me a bit – very light, very subtle with the barest hints of citrus.   Unoaked, the wine, while dry, was a bit sweeter than than the Viognier, which is what one would expect from a Vidal Blanc.  Citrus notes predominate across the palate with light sweet/tart notes of grapefruit and the rich, but slightly bitter, notes of orange zest/orange pith.  There’s a higher level of acid in this wine, and I found it hit the tongue in the middle rather than in the back, where I’m more used to finding it.  As a result it gives the wine a bit of tanginess that worked well with the citrus notes.  There also were subtle notes of earthiness from some light mineral content that balanced the wine, toning down slightly the brightness of the citrus.  A very interesting wine, and of the two whites, my favorite.

Cellardoor’s recommended food pairings include “fresh chilled shrimp dipped in a spicy pepper sauce, lobster salad with a mango dressing, soft goat cheese with tarragon, or fish and chips.”

Prince Valiant My first selection from among the reds was a blend of Zinfandel (46%), Mouvedre (23%), Tempranillo (23%) and Malbec (8%).  I was as intrigued by the grape combination as I was caught by the name.  The color is a medium purple, and the nose is fruity and lightly peppery.  In the mouth, the wine is definitely fruit forward with notes of black raspberry hitting right on the front.  There are strong notes of pepper and spice on the finish, and over time the pepper’s heat starts to dominate.  I found this to be an interesting wine, and I don’t think a 1 oz tasting does it justice – although one could say that about any wine.  But in this case, I think the wine is more complex than I was able to appreciate from just a tasting.  Unfortunately, it didn’t occur to me to bring a cooler and ice packs with me on this trip.  I think the fact that I was staying overnight threw me, and I didn’t pack as I would for a normal day on the wine trails.  As the day was pretty warm, I didn’t want to ruin the wine by buying a bottle only to have to leave it in the car on a hot afternoon, so I’ll just have to make the sacrifice of making another trip to Maine in the future.

Cellardoor’s suggested pairings: bbq pork ribs, aged cheeses, and hard salami.

Artist Series Grenache Each year, Cellardoor crafts one limited edition wine and pairs with a local artist who produces the painting featured on the label for their “Artist Series.”  20% of the proceeds of the sale of this wine is donated to the Bay Chamber Concerts, a music festival and school in nearby Camden, Maine.  This year, the Artist Series wine is a double-gold award winning Grenache.

The color is a lovely rich ruby color.  The nose is fruity with rich notes of plum and black raspberry.  In the mouth, the wine is medium-bodied, smooth on the front and strong tannins on the finish.  More lush than the Prince Valiant, the wine opens up in the mouth.  There are light berry notes and some earthiness on the front, and smoky pepper on the finish.  The heat of the pepper starts at the back of the mouth and actually extends into the chest, and one of the things I noted is that the finish hits the back of the nose as well as the throat.  It might not be to everyone’s liking, but I found the wine to be a more fully sensory experience than I often experience.  I really liked this wine, and will definitely be going back for seconds, or perhaps ordering a bottle or two from Cellardoor’s website.

Recommended pairings: “rich cheeses, duck, wild game, and salmon.”

Monti al Mare “Mountains & Sea,” my final wine of the day was a Chianti-style blend of Sangiovese (70%), Malbec (24%) and Syrah (6%).  The color is a dark, bright ruby, and those is fruity, rich, and lush with notes of black currant.  Medium-bodied, the wine has the smoothest finish of the three reds I tasted that afternoon, and lovely notes of dark berries, black cherry and plum.  The finish has light notes of pepper which provide a bite of heat, but note enough to overpower the wine or the smoothness of the finish.   I liked this wine, and if I had brought a cooler, would definitely have picked up a bottle for more leisurely sampling later.  But I still found that Grenache calling to me; I don’t know if I would say it was my favorite of the afternoon, but it was definitely the one I was most intrigued by.

Cellardoor’s suggested food pairings for the Monti al Mare include “baked pasta, herb-encrusted rack of lamb, and aged cheeses.”

With only one selection remaining, I left the reds and moved on to the dessert wines.  I’m a sucker for dessert wines, loving their lush, silky sweetness – and if there’s a dessert wine on the menu, it will usually find it’s way onto my tasting menu.

Serendipity Of Cellardoor’s several “Maine-inspired” wines, I opted for a dry Riesling infused with 20% pure Maine maple syrup.  To date, or at least as well as I can remember, I have only tried one other maple wine, the Sapling Vermont Maple Liqueur which I found at last year’s Vermont Wine Festival.  While, obviously not as rich or concentrated as a liqueur, Cellardoor’s Serendipity is a lovely dessert wine.  Pale gold in color, the nose is almost vidal-like with a rich, sweetly fruity nose similar to an ice wine.  In the mouth, the wine is rich and smooth with a touch of apricot from the riesling balancing the dominant, but not overpowering, note of the maple syrup.  The result is very interesting – in my notes, I likened it to fruit pancakes in a glass.  Definitely worth inclusion among anyone’s tasting selections.

With my tasting finished, I made a mental note to stop again on a future Maine trip, although perhaps next time at the vineyards themselves.

Cellardoor Winery ~ Lincolnville, Maine

Marguerite Barrett
Contributing Writer

Would you believe I’m still only half-way through my week-long August Win(e)ding Roads vacation?  Amazing, I know.  At the time I remember thinking that one week would give me enough material for months, but heading into the last week of September, with five wineries to go?  What can I say – it was quite a week…

So, after trips to the Hudson Valley and Newport as well as a couple stops in Connecticut in between, I gave myself a break on Wednesday before heading north to Maine for a two-day, three-winery trip.  I’d been wanting to visit Maine since I moved to the Northeast – everyone says it’s beautiful and definitely a must see.  So I packed up the car and headed northeast on I-84 on a beautiful Thursday morning, destination: Maine’s mid-coast.  I chose the area because I actually had a brief business meeting with an employee who lives outside of Augusta, Maine Thursday evening.  The area’s wineries, while not quite as numerous as the regions further south, gave me plenty of choices.  Knowing I had a four-hour drive each way, I selected only three wineries this trip all within 45 minutes of Augusta.

My first stop was the Cellardoor Winery in Lincolnville, Maine.  Until recently, Cellardoor was solely a winery, producing wines made from grapes brought in from other regions.  A few years ago, however, they planted approximately 5 1/2 acres of grapes just outside of the town of Lincolnville.  The vines are still maturing, and it will be another few years before Cellardoor is producing estate-grown wines at which time they anticipate that about 20% of the grapes in their wine will be locally grown.

Cellardoor has two locations: the winery and vineyards near Lincolnville, and the “Villa,” a retail outlet about ten minutes down the road in a beautifully restored Victorian farmhouse in Rockport.   I stopped that afternoon at the Villa, more by luck than by design.  I had programmed the address of the winery into the GPS, but as I approached Lincolnville, the GPS instructed me to turn left at a major intersection.  Upon turning, I saw the sign for Cellardoor Winery right in front of me.  Not noticing that the GPS directions were not saying “and you will arrive at your destination,” I assumed this was it and pulled into the parking lot.  It wasn’t until I had started my tasting that I realized the vineyards were actually a few miles down the road.   I understand from others I met later in the afternoon that the Cellardoor Vineyards and Winery are lovely, but I’ll have to pick them up on the next trip.  As I was already well into my tasting when I figured it out, I decided to continue on to the other wineries on my list rather than make a second stop at the Cellardoor Vineyards.

That’s not to say that the Villa is not worth a stop.  If nothing else, stop to see the beautiful restoration work that was done on the house.  Dating back to the 1800s, the house was renovated in 1998 and shortly afterward opened to the public.  The restoration work was lovingly and carefully done, and it shows – overall the house is lovely and absolutely charming.  The outside of the house has all of the character and charm of a large Victorian farmhouse.  The parking lot is discreetly located behind the house and provides plenty of parking without disturbing the charm.  Beautiful large wood doors with inset beveled glass panels greet visitors and welcome them into a large rectangular room with lovely dark wood floors and fixtures and walls covered in a dark purple flocked wallpaper.  The wallpaper fits perfectly with the style of the house and the overall ambience of the tasting room.  A beautiful wooden staircase leads up to the 2nd floor which has additional retail space and a beautiful Tiffany-style grape-vine window lets light wash in over the staircase.

The main floor is divided into two areas – the main room which runs much of the length of the house – is taken up with retail space with large wooden wine racks holding center court.  In a large alcove jutting out over the back of the house sits a large oval, granite-topped bar with plenty of room for guests enjoying tastings.  Comfortable bar stools line the oval, and the inner circle, which has room for a good 4 or 5 people, is fully stocked with sinks, glasses and, of course, the wine.   Interestingly they have the same bar stools that Kevin and Gretchen have in their kitchen – which I think I forgot to text Gretchen about while I was there.  All in all it’s a very comfortable space, and the hosts encourage you to relax and linger over a tasting or a glass.

Cellardoor produces 18 wines: 8 whites, 7 reds, and 3 Maine-inspired specialty wines.  And being Maine-inspired, you know blueberries are involved somehow.  Tastings are complementary, and you can select up to six of the wines as part of your tasting.  Both the whites and the reds range from dry to semi-sweet, and the staff is very knowledgeable about the wines, providing detailed tasting notes and assisting in organizing your selections into an optimal progression from dry to sweet – which in some cases means you move from white to red and then back again to white.  An interesting way to approach a tasting, but one I found I liked.

For my tasting I chose two whites, three reds, and one of the Maine-inspired dessert wines.  For my impressions, you’ll just have to come back on Thursday…

Cellardoor Winery @ the Villa
47 West Street
Rockport, Maine 04856
Hours: May 1 – December 31  11-6 Daily

Cellardoor Winery @ the Vineyard
367 Youngstown Road
Lincolnville, Maine 04849
Hours: May 1 – October 31 10-5 Daily