Thursday, August 7, 2008

excursion--Lincoln Peak Vineyard

We are driving along the open expanse of the Champlain Valley, the broad, open roll of land between Lake Champlain and the Green Mountains. It is a classic summer day: hot, a curtain of haze hanging from the sky to the earth, a soft sun heating the gauze of the air. We drive with the windows open, the scent of the dairy farms pungent as we pass them.

We are making a trip based on nostalgia, stopping in a town we used to live in, exploring roads that used to mark our days, marveling at how much it has changed, how much we’ve changed, and how much it has all stayed the same. Some changes are discouraging—the development of the small shopping strip in town and the “caught-in-a-time-warp” sameness of some of the shops on the main street, but other changes are exciting—the presence of a Wednesday morning farmer’s market loaded with breads, cheeses, fruits , and the evolution of a local strawberry patch into a vineyard.

Vineyards seem an unlikely aspect of Vermont life. Our growing season is wistfully short and for seven to eight months out of the year, we are cold or covered in snow. When people think of wine and vineyards they think of the temperate climbs of California and southern Europe.

But this is all in the imagination. Parts of Italy, France, and Spain are alpine with plenty of glacial snow and cold. And they grow wine in these places. At least eighteen other people have thought these same thoughts in Vermont, and there are at least 18 vineyards here, more planting all the time. If New York State could do it, if Quebec could do it, why not Vermont?

The vineyard stories are inspiring, on-the-edge of collapse dairy farms that took a chance on a fledgling wine economy planting 8,000 vines in fields that used to feed cows, a California winemaker who came to Vermont to start something new, a veterinarian who had a passion for wine and agriculture, and a strawberry farmer who had a passion for making wine as well and pulled up the small fruited strawberry vines and replanted his fourteen acres with Frontenac Gris, Frontenac, Marquette, St. Croix, and Swenson.

Lincoln Peak is the name of this vineyard, and it is one of the prettiest vineyards I have ever seen. Perhaps I feel this way because it is Vermont and it is still strange to see vines planted in this landscape, yet I feel it is appropriate for the contours of our meadows and fields, and want to root for these young vines that are starting to grid our land.

The rows are neatly mowed, the vines lush with mid-summer fruit, the roses planted at each row showing the health of the earth. Between the vines the grass is kept at bay, but growing, an earmark of natural wine growing. The tasting room is built near a pond with cattails edging the water. I remember this building as more ramshackle and utilitarian years ago when we would come at the beginning of summer to pick berries, eating along the way, our lips and fingers stained with the fresh red fruit.

We taste four of the five wines the vineyard offers, all of which are extremely well made. The dry white, the Frontenac Gris, reminds us of sauvignon blanc with it’s grapefruit character, the semi-dry white calls to mind a Muscat or moscato d’asti, the rose a balanced blend with berry fruit and an earthiness calling to my mind an obscure Calabrian rose I serve at the restaurant. When we taste the red, we are slightly nervous, as if this is the true test of the winemaker in Vermont. Drumrolls, please. We smile. It is dry at the finish, elegant on the palate, and honest in its flavors. The vines are only six years old, just beginning to find their roots in the earth. In the future, they will mature in flavor adding even more depth to their character with terroir.


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