Maine Wine: Yes, Grapes Are Grown in Maine!

Maine: How Life Should Be … Just Add Wine

There are several good reasons to visit Maine.

Spring brings rebirth and summer offers the warmth of all that’s good about life. Autumn arrives in a blaze of color, while winter has its own quiet sense of beauty. Maine is mountains, lakes, and rivers – an outdoor sports enthusiast’s paradise. Maine is rugged picturesque coastline teeming with fresh seafood just waiting for you to sample. Maine is National Parks and trendy beaches. And Maine is a shopping and gastronomical delight. There’s literally a new discovery around every turn.

Maine Wine … Really?

Being wine inclined, one of the first questions we asked upon arriving in the oceanfront city of Portland was to a vendor at one of the city’s farmers markets. Are grapes grown in Maine?

Yes. Grapes are grown here, despite a growing season 90 days shorter than Napa Valley. Numerous hardy varieties thrive here, along with several delectable types of fruit. We visited 7 wineries on this wonderful trip and enjoyed numerous well crafted wines, almost all produced from Maine grown grapes and fruit.

With our curiosity satisfied, our mid morning arrival via Amtrak’s Downeaster from Boston gave us almost two full days to explore Portland, where just about everything is within sight or scent of the sea.

Exploring Portland

Upon checking into our accommodations, the historic Eastland Park Hotel, we learned that almost a third of Maine’s population lives in the greater Portland area. The city itself isn’t large, with a population of about 65,000. Like most port cities, you’ll hear the foghorns of ferries, fishing boats, and other sea faring vessels throughout the day and evening.

We were drawn to the Old Port area, arriving a few hours in advance of our scheduled harbor excursion. Brick and cobblestone streets are brimming with restaurants, art galleries, boutiques, and artisan shops. The air here is fresh and cool, with the ever present smell of salt. When you visit, climb the 102 steps to the view deck of the Portland Observatory for an invigorating view of the city and harbor below.

To really get a flavor of Maine’s coastline, take one of the many boat cruises or excursions available from Portland. We were surprised that a few cruise lines make Portland their home port, offering everything from ocean excursions to Maine coast sightseeing trips. We opted for a Casco Bay Harbor Cruise and were enchanted by a group of seals frolicking near one of the dozens of harbor islands.

Stop in at Gritty McDuff’s Brewpub for a pint of their Vacationland Golden Ale and a barley coated fried haddock sandwich.

Our First Maine Winery

The next morning, we set out north from Portland up Route 302, just about 1/2 hour to Blacksmiths Winery, in Casco.

Located at the former site of a blacksmith shop, chances are good you’ll be greeted with a tail wag from Allie, the resident winery dog and a chocolate lab rescued from the streets of New York. Allie happily assists owner and winemaker Steve Linne. Steve produces a rotating selection of almost two dozen wines, several of which will be available for tasting when you visit.

In the tasting room, we learned that Maine is well known for its blueberries. In fact, Maine is America’s largest wild blueberry growing state, and many make their way into Blacksmiths Winery’s Blueberry wine which is actually a blend of two wines. It is fragrant, off dry, and fruity, perfect for summer.

Blacksmiths also offers several traditional wine varieties, made from grapes imported from growers across the country. But we so enjoyed the blueberry, and the fact it’s born from Maine soil, that we sampled another “grown in Maine” wine, the Elderberry.

We learned that Elderberries are the one fruit that can produce a Bordeaux-style wine, other than red wine grapes. This wine is aged in French Oak barrels for 18 months, resulting in a rich red wine that’s distinctly Maine. The elderberries used in this wine are grown in the state, and the wine regularly sells out year after year.

The Jewel of the Maine Coast

After linking back to Maine’s primary artery, Route 1, we headed to the Mid-Coast area and the town of Camden, our next overnight stop.

This area of Maine is appealing for all sorts of reasons. Alphabetically, this mix of nouns and adjectives might paint a picture: cosmopolitan towns, farmstands, galleries, gardens, lighthouses, lobster, music festivals, picturesque harbors, sailing, seafood and last but certainly not least, wineries.

There are four wineries in and around the town of Camden, known as the Jewel of the Maine Coast. We can see why … Camden is an idyllic harborside community with a climate that’s tempered by the Atlantic Ocean. Let’s visit each of the wineries in this area to see what they have to offer.

Our first stop is Maine’s very first winery, Cellar Door Winery and Vineyards, near Camden in the small community of Lincolnville. The winery is located on a farm that dates back to the 1790s, complete with a vineyard, orchards and fruit trees.

Cellar Door is a fun place to visit and congregate. There’s always something to do here. The gift shop and tasting room are located in an historic barn, dating back to the beginning days of the farm. You’ll find Maine artisan products, from food to crafts. And of course, Cellardoor wines.

We started with the Cantina Porta (since that means cellar door in Italian). This one awoke our taste buds like a good Chianti-style red should. You’ll love the slightly spicy character. Another can’t miss is the Ned Said Red, a semi-dry red made from chambourcin grapes. Sticking with the Maine blueberry theme, we tried and proudly purchased the Blue Lobster Blue, and enjoyed it later with … what else … lobster and bleu cheese.

Next it was off to Union, just a few miles west from Camden harbor, for a stop at two wineries. Union is home to Savage Oakes Winery and Sweetgrass Winery and Distillery.

We were intrigued by Savage Oakes‘ tagline: “Featuring Maine Wines From Maine Grown Grapes.” Owners Buddy and Holly Savage produce wine from nine different varieties of hybrid grapes, grown right on their 95-acre farm. On our visit, seven wines were available, all interesting and well-made blends that highlight Buddy’s deft hand and passion for winemaking.

Particularly recommended are the Seyval Blanc, a dry white table wine, and the Come Spring, a light red wine blended from Marechal Foch and chambourcin grapes. Savage Oakes has about 2,000 vines, with a panoramic view of the farmland. We also took some time to visit with some of the farm animals who call this impressive property home.

Next, we took the short drive over to Sweetgrass Farm Winery and Distillery, the only combination winery/distillery in Maine.

Sweetgrass opened their winery in 2007, focusing upon fruit wines and their award-winning Back River Gin, with fruit brandies next on the agenda. It’s a picture book property, with a hiking trail that travels through the farm and overlooks the Medomak River Valley. Take advantage of the picnic area while enjoying a glass or two of their crisp and fruity Apple wine, or Bleujolais, a fruity and spicy blueberry offering. Of special note, the wine labels on their bottles are works of art in and of themselves!

Next in our journey is Winterport Winery, just north of the harbor town of Rockport in Winterport. Located right on Main Street in town, Winterport Winery has been open since 2001. Owners Michael and Joan Anderson proudly oversee the 3,200-square-foot winery, complete with a tasting room that’s particularly popular in the late spring and summer.

Winterport’s forte is fruit wine, and it was a lot of fun for us to compare the Maine fruit wines from winery to winery. When we first started getting interested in wine and wineries many years ago, we were fortunate enough to learn to approach each winery with an open mind. If we hadn’t opened our minds and palates, we’d never considered trying some of these highly enjoyable wines. We encourage you to do the same, and remember, there are no rules with wine. Drink and enjoy what you want.

At Winterport Winery, I was immediately drawn to The Flying Dutchman, a blackberry port. Only after tasting it did I find it was a silver medal winner at the 2007 Indy State Wine Competition. Full bodied and rich, it’s a fine choice for after dinner. Continuing on the blueberry quest, Winterport’s Blueberry offering trends in style to a Merlot, with fruit flavors up front and a balanced, dry finish.

The tasting room staff at Winterport was especially friendly and accommodating. It’s a perfect place to ask questions, learn about wine and compare notes.

On to DownEast

After enjoying a full morning of shopping and strolling in these charming coastal towns, it was on the road again. Our destination is Bar Harbor, in the shadow of Acadia National Park.

This area of Maine, known locally as DownEast, is the easternmost part of the state. You’ll find authentic working harbors, incredible scenery, historic villages and fresh seafood.

The main community in this area is Bar Harbor, and it’s a place to linger for a few days. Bar Harbor has a charming shopping district in the village center, and shops along Route 3. We were impressed by the great diversity of shops, galleries and boutiques, and how easy it was to walk amongst them. If you’re looking for something distinctive, chances are you’ll find it in Bar Harbor shops. Most of the shops in the village are located on West, Cottage, Mt. Desert and Main Streets, but don’t overlook the shops on side streets. Stop at Beals Lobster Pier, located in Southwest Harbor near Mt. Desert Island. They offers fresh fish, clams, and lobster right off the boat … literally! Bark Harbor is one of the many great specialty shops in Bar Harbor, this one specializing in gifts for your pet.

As you travel along the Maine coast, you’ll understand why this state is so immersed in agriculture, even as far north as it is. The ocean moderates the climate, with typical summer temperatures in the 60s to 80s. Winter temperatures benefit as well, with a typical range of 20 to 40 degrees, certainly not unbearable.

As a result, various crops thrive. You’ll find ample evidence as you move between coastal towns, with numerous farmstands and farmer’s markets along the way. The two wineries in this area take full advantage of Maine’s bounty — Bar Harbor Cellars in Bar Harbor, and Bartlett Maine Estate Winery in Gouldsboro.

Visiting Two DownEast Wineries

Bar Harbor Cellars is actually located on Mt. Desert Island, easily accessible by bridge. On the island, you can visit both the winery and the nearby Atlantic Brewing Company, which offers exceptionally good Maine microbrews.

Bar Harbor Cellars, established in 2003, uses grapes from their own vineyard. We tasted the Maine Meadows Apple wine, and immediately asked if we were given a Riesling instead. We learned that Bar Harbor Cellars ages their apple wine for two years, giving it an exceptionally smooth character. Highly recommended. Also, take some time to wander around in their gift shop, featuring all sorts of local products, some of which are from the Bar Harbor Cellars farm, on which the winery is located.

Navigating along the Maine coast on the road to Acadia National Park, you’ll see a large granite sculpture which marks the entrance to Bartlett Maine Estate Winery, the largest winery in Maine.

For 25 years, winemaker Bob Bartlett has pushed the envelope to produce some of the most superbly drinkable fruit wines in the country, with numerous awards and recognition to his credit.

The winery produces about 7,000 cases per year, trying different varieties ranging from dry wines to sweeter dessert styles. The tasting room, housed in a unique stone building, offers a taste of these complex wines. The pear wines here are exceptional, don’t miss them! Just as appealing to us was the Coastal White, a blend made from pears and apples and medium dry.

Bartlett’s Blueberry Winemakers Reserve was a special treat. Made only in years when Bob feels the fruit is exceptional, this gem is aged in French oak barrels and was reminiscent to us of an outstanding Cabernet. Suffice it to say, we took home a mix and match case from this winery, and wish we’d bought more.

It was a week in Maine, and very tough to leave. Even though any time is nice for a visit to Maine, summer and fall really showcase the state. We truly hope you get a chance to experience Maine!


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