Thinking Outside the Bordeaux

Charles Dodge
Charles Dodge of Putney Mountain Winery

Written By

Claire Fitts Georges

Written on

September 01 , 2011

Folks have been fermenting things for as long as there have been reasons to get drunk. Okay, crop preservation was probably more of a reason for fermentation, but I’m sure that inebriation was an added perk for many early consumers. Before refrigeration was an option, people needed to either dry, ferment, or culture foods to carry them through the lean months. When Vermont was more rural, each farm needed to produce food for their own winter larders, so fermented fruit, honey, and maple drinks were common.

As skills are wont to do, the production of fermented drinks fell away with the growth of cities and electricity, but the process is now making a comeback. The high sugar content of grapes, and their suitability for European growing conditions, made them de rigueur for wines around the world, but just about anything with enough sugar and water can be fermented and preserved. While grapes are finally being grown with success in Vermont, our lush soils and short growing season have long been better suited to fruits like apples, blueberries, rhubarb and raspberries, so it is no surprise that Vermont wineries started out with fruit.

Boyden Valley Winery in Cambridge is Vermont’s oldest existing winery, with a registration year of 1996. David and Linda Boyden launched their winery using apples grown on their farm. Since then, they have branched out to create a wide variety of grape, maple, and fruit wines. They continue to use their own apples—and blend in other Vermont apples—to make wines like their Vermont Maple (a light apple and maple wine), Gold Leaf (a barrel-aged dessert apple and maple wine), Vermont Ice Cider (a barrel-aged apple dessert wine), and Vermont Ice Apple Crème (a blend of Vermont Ice Apple Cider, apple brandy, and Vermont cream). They use Vermont-grown cranberries for their light, semi-dry Cranberry Wine, Boyden Farm rhubarb for their medium-body Rhubarb Wine, Vermont blueberries for port-like Blueberry Wine, and Vermont currants for their sweet Cassis dessert wine. Any of these delicious varietals, when seasonally available, can be sampled in their wine-tasting room in Cambridge.

Charles Dodge of Putney Mountain Winery in Putney was a professor of music at Dartmouth College when he kept hearing about the beers his students were making. He thought about making some himself, but on a drive home past an apple orchard, he decided that wine made from local apples seemed like a much more fruitful idea. After years of making apple wine for his friends and family, he opened Putney Mountain Winery in 1998 with his wife, Kate. Their focus is entirely on fruit wines made from fruits grown in Vermont; the only fruit they buy from out of state are cranberries grown on a small family farm on Cape Cod. They have a sparkling apple wine—Heirloom Cuvee—an Apple Maple wine, and Vermont Cassis, all of which are available year round. Their seasonally available wines include two other sparkling apple wines, their Rhubarb wine, Cranberry wine, and Pear wine, as well as a Strawberry Rhubarb wine and a Blueberry Apple wine. All of their wines can be sampled in their tasting room at the Basketville store in Putney.

Vermont may have a short wine-producing history, but the state, and theVermont Grape and Wine Council, have been working to make up for lost time. (According to their website, the Council has 30 members, 6 of which produce fruit wines.) Because federal law allows each state to regulate alcohol in its own way, there is a patchwork of alcohol regulations across the country that can help or hinder local wine production. Only in 2007 did Vermont law change to allow wineries to sample and sell their wares at farmers’ markets. The law now sees a farmers’ market as a tasting room and allows each winery to sell at up to 10 farmers’ markets or tasting rooms. David Boyden says customers today are much more educated about wine and that global wine production has opened people up to thinking outside the Bordeaux. Vermont, long known for its quality food production, has been able to use this vast wine landscape to bring attention to quality Vermont wines.

Many Vermont wineries use similar fruits, but as with grapes, there are many different ways to yeast a fruit. Choosing different yeasts allows a winery to pull out different flavors from a berry or an apple. In recent years, yeast strain cultivation has helped Vermont producers develop unique flavors for our burgeoning wine market. Two different cranberry wines from two different wineries are going to taste wonderful in two entirely different ways. You might expect a fruit wine to be sweet and syrupy, which they can be, but they also can be dry and spicy, light and crisp, or assertive and bold. You can pair different fruit wines with dinner or dessert (or breakfast, if you prefer to get your morning fruit juice the boozy way). And you can experiment with cooking with fruit wines, as well.

Kir Royale is a classic French drink of cassis mixed with champagne (or you can drop the “Royale” and mix in white wine instead of champagne). Putney Mountain Winery recommends cooking their Apple Maple wine with cinnamon, cloves, and maple syrup, then topping it off with a little gently heated wine. Boyden Valley Winery recently had a contest for mixed drinks using their Vermont Ice Apple Crème. (Check out the winning entry on their website.) A delicious favorite is a Maple Cranberry Wine Limeade with salt. Mix together lime juice, maple syrup, water (or seltzer), cranberry wine of your choice, and kosher salt to taste (a generous pinch or more if you’re a salty type). Serve that yummy concoction over ice. The pork chop recipe at right could be made with a simple red grape wine, but the cassis wine brings it to a whole new level. And the jelly recipe? Divine. Eat it with apples and blue cheese. Or local bread. Or on a spoon. Oh yum….

About the Author

Claire Fitts Georges

Claire Fitts Georges

Claire Fitts Georges is the owner of Butterfly Bakery of Vermont, a mom of two wee ones, and a recipe developer in Montpelier. Her popular hot sauce line includes Maple Wood Smoked Onion, a star on Season 7 of the food show "The Hot Ones". 

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