When you close your eyes and conjure up a postcard picture of Maine, its craggy coastline, white and red lighthouses and seafaring history come to mind like a Nor’easter pummeling the shore. You see clapboard farmhouses and the stark, rolling farmland immortalized by the late Andrew Wyeth, Maine’s most prominent 20th century painter. Rounding out the picture, and piled like the wooden mile markers you often see in rural island communities, are towering stacks of lobster traps, as this tender and succulent crustacean has long been the symbol of Maine. If you ask anybody if sun-kissed vineyards, terra firma and extraction come to mind, they will no doubt look at you and say, “They don’t make wine in Maine. Have you ever been north of Bangor in the winter? It’s like an expedition to the North Pole.”
While most of us think of American wine production as being concentrated in the lush hills of Napa Valley or the Finger Lakes Region of New York, there are countless, small-production regional wineries experimenting with bold flavors and new growing techniques.
Maine is no exception. There are twenty wineries in this northeastern corner of the U.S., and it proves that with a little Yankee ingenuity, hard work and a willingness to adapt, wine can be crafted in the most unlikely places. Not all of these wineries are using Maine grown grapes. Some vineyards are scouring the landscape for native ingredients to ferment and age in their bottles: blueberry, apple, strawberry and cranberry based wines are popular. However, there are a few wineries in Maine that are experimenting with hybrid grapes like the Fredonia and Delaware. Warmer winters, hybrid-vines and the fact that most of the wineries are located along the coastline, which has a more temperate climate, has made the art and science of vinification possible.
Cellardoor Vineyard, in Lincolnville, is the largest winery in Maine. It is a sprawling 68-acre farm, complete with a newly restored farmhouse and 1790s barn. Cellardoor Vineyard makes its wine from locally grown blueberries and sources its grapes from the best vineyards in the United States. It has light and full-bodied reds like Rugosa Grande and Barbera, as well as crisp and dry whites such as Trilology Blanc and the popular Pinot Gris. Tours and tastings are available.
A hilltop winery, a Civil-war era home and an excellent Riesling and Dry Blueberry wine, Bar Harbor Cellars at Sweet Pea Farm is the ideal place to get a feel for what wine making is all about in Maine. The scenic landscape in Bar Harbor is as good as anything you will find in Bordeaux or Mendoza. Bar Harbor Cellars currently uses grapes from co-ops in California and Europe to make its wine. However, using only organic techniques, it is in the process of growing hybrid grapes and hopes to have the first batch completed sometime in the next couple of years. After a hike through Acadia National Park, this is a great place for a tasting.
Located in Gouldsboro, Bartlett’s Maine Estate Winery has been in operation since 1982 and is the oldest winery in The Pine Tree state. It is the crème de la crème of fruit based wine production. In addition to white wines made from pears and apples, dessert wines and reds created from local blueberries, Bartlett’s also specializes in aperitifs and mead. Its signature wines include a Reserve Dry Oak Blueberry and a Blueberry Sangiovese, but be sure to sample the apple brandy, as it recently ranked third in an international competition.
One of Maine’s newest wineries, Breakwater Vineyards and Farm overlooks a stunning ocean vista and historic lighthouse in Rockland. It is currently using New York grapes to produce pinot noir, chardonnay and a Dry Riesling. However, it is the only winery in Maine cultivating vinefera grapes and hopes to produce a homegrown pinot noir and chardonnay in the future.