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!

Mentioned in this article


  • Snooth User: Takret
    1374479 39

    Many thanks for introducing an area largely unknown to a European vinophile!
    I look forward to the next instalment with great interest.

    Oct 30, 2014 at 2:17 PM

  • Snooth User: NEUncorked
    481978 55

    The interest is certainly growing for cold climate wines. As a broker in NH (I carry ONLY New England wines) I can attribute to the amount of work that is being done to change the notion that good wines only come out of warmer climates. To the contrary, although New England is still fairly new to wine making and the more experienced we get the better the better the product, we are already winning blind tastings against product from well established regions.

    Oct 30, 2014 at 4:10 PM

  • I visited Vermont this summer for the first time, and enjoyed several delicious Vermont wines, both red and white. I live in Virginia, and I compare the VT wine industry to that of VA in that the wines being made are good, technically correct, but are more expensive than similar quality wines from more established wine producing areas of the world. But if you're drinking a Seyval Blanc (which was my favorite wine tasted in VT), what do you likely have to compare it to (although in VA we do produce great Seyval Blanc wines) - you just know it's delicious, and it costs $20 a bottle.

    Oct 30, 2014 at 5:52 PM

  • Snooth User: snoman
    229582 210

    Great timing, GDP! We stopped at one of the highly-regarded VT vintners on the budding Wine Trail 2 years ago in October. It was just before Halloween, and the wines were truly scary. LOL!

    Oct 30, 2014 at 6:04 PM

  • Snooth User: ddmcs
    1014213 53

    Come visit. We love love the company. Now you can add wine to the many reasons to make the trip. Fresh Tracks vineyard, just outside the capitol city of Montpelier, is my personal favorite. They make a wonderful LaCrescent and a couple very nice reds, Digger's Dance and Free Rider Red. The staff is friendly and knowledgeable. The location and tasting room is beautiful.

    Oct 30, 2014 at 8:27 PM

  • The Vermont grape and wine industry is a microcosm of a revolution being played out in cold-climate regions across North America. The use of classical breeding methods employing native wild grapes, which are highly adapted to northern growing regions, is leading to cold-hardy, disease resistant varieties which can form the basis for a truly sustainable wine industry in those regions. Watch closely, because the potential is enormous for creating new varieties with new flavor profiles. These varieties will create local industries where European varieties will not grow, in places as diverse as Vermont, Minnesota, Sothern Illinois and Nebraska.

    Oct 30, 2014 at 9:41 PM

  • Nicely done Todd. I also need to app theCompass map for Vermont. Cheers.

    Oct 31, 2014 at 12:59 PM

  • Todd - Thank you for this lovely piece on our industry! workin' hard against all the odds - but love our wine!
    Meg Guilfoy - Huntington River Vineyard

    Oct 31, 2014 at 4:28 PM

  • Snooth User: Joestar
    1546902 1

    Having just installed a 10 acre vineyard (6,200 vines in 6 varietals), I am so pleased to read such a positive article. Bravo Todd!
    Joe Klimek - Mad River Vineyard

    Nov 03, 2014 at 9:51 PM

  • Are you still doing a second installment to this story?

    Nov 19, 2014 at 5:08 PM

  • Part two of this piece is found at:

    Dec 05, 2014 at 12:46 PM

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