Sunday, September 6, 2009

Vermont Wineries

Next year, the Vermont wine industry will celebrate their 25th anniversary. The first licensed winery in the state was the North River Winery but they did not make wine from grapes, just assorted fruits and especially apples. It was not until 1997 that the first commericial winery that used grapes was established, Snow Farm Vineyards. Several other wineries also then sprouted up, producing wine from grapes.

Currently, there are at least seventeen wineries in Vermont, producing over 100 types of wine, though only around seven wineries use grapes. Apples still remain the most commonly used fruit, though the use of grapes is spreading. Only about 150 acres of farmland are used for grape growing, and winery production remains small, from about 300-5000 cases each year. The wineries also produce honey-based meads, dessert wines and ice wines.

Some of the wineries are importing their grapes, from places such as New York and Canada. As the grape growing industry is still relatively young, some of the wineries are waiting for their grapes to develop. Others have been using locally planted hybrid grapes, as well as a few other grapes, which are more resistant to the colder temperatures of Vermont. Some of the most commonly used grapes in Vermont include Cayuga, Frontenac, Frontenac Gris, LaCrescent, Marquette, Riesling, St. Croix and Traminette.

The Vermont Grape and Wine Council was established in 2007 to "to help raise awareness, eliminate red tape, and lead the state to provide money for marketing for what they see as one of its little-known agricultural products." You can check out their website for a little more information about Vermont wines, though content is lean. They definitely could better use their website to promote Vermont wines. But they are supportive of special events to showcase and promote Vermont wines.

Vermont state laws are still adjusting to the realities of wineries and wine tasting. For example, when I attended the Vermont Cheesemakers Festival, you were limited as to how much wine and beer you could taste. I was informed that pursuant to Vermont law, you could not be provided more than 8 ounces of wine and beer at a tasting. So, at the festival, you received 16 tickets, each for a 1/2 ounce pour. It did not matter if you spit or not, you could not try any more wine. That certainly is not the case in many other states. At Massachusetts tastings, you can sometimes taste more than 100 wines (though you should be spitting then!).

In May 2009, a new law was enacted in Vermont which allows "..wineries and distilleries to sell their products on site. Wineries, which already were permitted to offer tastings and sell bottles, can now sell glasses of wine, too. Distilleries, which could do neither, can now offer tastings and sell bottles. The new law also lets wineries sell and offer tastings of other manufacturers' wines, rent their sites for events such as weddings, and produce and sell fortified wines such as ports." This should be a boon to the wineries and distilleries and hopefully will better promote their products.

Here is a partial listing of Vermont wineries, mainly those with websites:

Artesano Mead
Boyden Valley Winery
Charlotte Village Winery
East Shore Vineyard
Eden Ice Cider Company
Fresh Tracks Farm Vineyard & Winery
Galloping Hill Farm & Vineyard
Grand View Winery
Honora Winery
Lincoln Peak Vineyard
Neshobe River Winery
North River Winery
Ottauquechee Valley Winery
Putney Mountain Winery
Shelburne Vineyard
Snow Farm Vineyard

At the Vermont Cheesemakers Festival, I had the opportunity to sample wines from a number of these wineries. I will go into more specific details in later posts but will provide a few generalities now. Please remember that these opinions are primarily based on this limited tasting, though I did visit two other winery tasting rooms outside of the festival.

First, as it is still a relatively new industry, there is much room for growth and experience. The wines should get better and better each year. I tasted a number of good wines, but few that really impressed me. They do show potential. Second, the hybrid grapes seemed to produce the best of their wines. Maybe Massachusetts could consider that and plant more hybrids. Third, the wine makers were generally a passionate bunch, eager to share the fruits of their labor and love. That is inspiring and hopeful for the future of their wine industry.

If you visit Vermont, consider stopping by some of these wineries for a tasting. Or if you don't have time for that, just stop at any of stores that sell wine as Vermont wine appears readily available at many of those places. Take a chance and try a Vermont wine. In the near future, I will give you some specific recommendations too.

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