Your Vermont Wine Guide, Part One


Harvest time in Vermont conjures images of dried cornstalks, heaps of pumpkins, fresh cider donuts, and multi-colored leaves. Amber, orange, and yellow images may be iconic to autumn in the Green Mountain State but lately hues of red, white and rosé are showing-up in an expanding agricultural economy where cold climate fruits are fermenting into value added libations to become unique facets of the modern wine world.

Commercial vineyards and wine making have been in Vermont for three decades, with plantings of French-American hybrids as well as forays into traditional vinifera, resulting in success with the former and sporadic survival among the latter. The last ten years have marked a revolution in northern wine making from Wisconsin to Maine with the widespread propagation of cold hardy varieties developed by Elmer Swenson, Cornell, and the University of Minnesota. These vines, hand-cultivated over multiple generations through a complex inter-breeding of European wine grapes and "wild" grapes from North America and Eurasia, have borne offspring that offer disease resistance, ripen in a short growing season, can withstand the deep cold of arctic winter...and can still make decent wine.
Many folks would say that the wines are even better than decent and that they are downright good. Vermont is a fine wine consuming state and regularly ranks high in per-capita purchasing. Restaurant culture has exploded with world class offerings and with that raised bar the wine lists have evolved to rival those in big cities. It is within this context that a nascent local wine industry has to find a place. Farm wineries are not only surviving but thriving and garnering attention within their communities and beyond. The farm-to-table movement has been a big boon to Vermont wineries whose aromatic whites and fresh red wines tend to be inherently food-friendly and are lively matches for cuisine that is grown, raised, harvested, foraged and hunted nearby.

In terms of terroir, tiny Vermont is vast in its meteorological patterns, topographical variety, and geological diversity. The Lake Champlain Valley and Islands, the Green Mountain slopes, the Great Western Valley, the Eastern Piedmont, the Northeast Kingdom and the Connecticut River Valley are all distinct areas with subtly different growing seasons and ripening idiosyncrasies dependent on the year. What is consistent are the varieties that enjoy this extreme environment where it is said "if you can grow apples, you can grow cold hardy grapes". LaCrescent is a favorite fresh aromatic white and Marquette a desirable red that has strong cherry notes and ripens to solid medium body wines. A supporting cast with names like Louise Swenson, Brianna, St. Croix, and the Frontenac siblings Noir, Gris and Blanc, fill out production with varietal wines as well as playing their parts in unique proprietary blends.

This piece has barely scratched the surface, and so the Vermont Wine Guide will continue next week for a second installment covering up-and-coming producers on the Vermont wine scene. See you then!

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