“‘How’s the Frontenac noir this year?’ asked no one, ever,” jokes Kendra Knapik, the owner-grower-winemaker at Vermont’s Ellison Estate Vineyard. But she certainly knows the answer — Knapik and her husband, Rob, grow this little-known hybrid on their 50-acre plot, which they purchased four years ago on an island near Burlington. By Valerie Stivers and Hank Zona
As climate change redraws the wine-making map, many believe the industry’s future will be in cooler regions like this, where a “use what you have” ethos is producing exquisite results. The Knapiks are part of a new crop of Vermont vintners who have taken over vineyard sites planted with previously underappreciated American grapes: hardy, disease-resistant, and an obvious fit for low-intervention agriculture and natural winemaking.
Ready for a wine tour at one of the New England vineyards? Read on for the producers to know.
New England vineyards perfect for a wine tour
Ellison Estate Vineyard
Two visionaries with backgrounds in medicine and science, Kendra and Rob Knapik bought this previously abandoned vineyard on Grand Isle, in Lake Champlain, which was planted mostly with St. Croix (a dark-red-fleshed hybrid that makes wine with notes of black currant and forest floor). Visit in summer to try bottles of surprising richness and depth in the tasting room of the bucolic estate, where the grass is mowed by a flock of sheep — or look for winter pop-up events in Stowe, the couple’s winter home and production headquarters.
Shelburne vineyard + Iapetus
Just south of Burlington, Ken Albert’s prestigious and long-standing Shelburne Vineyard has been making wine from hybrid grapes such as Marquette (notes of black cherry and baking spice) and Louise Swenson (flowers and honey) for years. Current grower-winemaker Ethan Joseph represents the next generation; he recently launched Iapetus, his own line of experimental wines in hazy hues. Both are on pour at Shelburne’s sleek, Craftsman-style tasting room.
The pioneer of natural winemaking in Vermont, Deirdre Heekin launched her groundbreaking winery farm in Bethel in 2010, providing guidance — or at least inspiration — for many who came after. Heekin sells layered, story-driven wines, made from varieties like the white grape la crescent (bright, acidic, oranges and apricots), through the La Garagista website. She also hosts occasional pop-ups and offers curbside pickup.
Vermont native David Keck travelled the world as an opera singer before he became a master sommelier, cofounded a successful hospitality group in Houston, and finally returned home to make wine. Keck leases vineyards from the first-generation vintners at Cambridge’s Boyden Valley Winery and released the first wines from his label Stella14 in late 2021, made from Marquette (red fruit, violets, roses) and Frontenac noir (herbaceous, dark fruit). A tasting room is set to open later this year at one of the popular New England vineyards.
+ More places to taste
Vermont’s local producers are supported by a burgeoning market for sustainable, high-quality wine. Three locations of Dedalus offer a combination bottle shop and cheese-wine-charcuterie counter. Or try the multipurpose Cork Restaurant & Natural Wine Shop, in Stowe; design-conscious Wilder Wines, in Burlington; and newcomer Salt & Bubbles Wine Bar & Market, in Essex. Visitors staying at Burlington’s Hotel Vermont (doubles from USD 209 or INR 16,316) will find local wines at the hotel’s bar and restaurant, including a house, pour made in collaboration with Iapetus.
(This story first appeared on travelandleisure.com)