The Maine Winemakers Utilizing Hybrid Grapes

It's tough to grow grapes in unpredictable weather, but winemakers in Maine tackle the cold climate with hybrid grapes, co-ferments and gumption.
Illustration by Kavel Rafferty

Maine has a legacy of hardworking laborers known for their humble pride. Here, lobstermen pull traps from the icy Atlantic, construction teams build houses in the snow and students in the state’s northern reaches take “potato recess” to help their families harvest.

For winemakers, that determination has driven them to seek out fruit that can withstand the harsh winters. While local wineries account for just 2% of the state’s wine sales, hybrid grapes like Marquette, Frontenac and Cayuga are doing their part to boost numbers.

Less than 75 acres planted

31 wineries participate in the Maine Wine Trail

The average annual temperature in Maine is  45.65˚

Chesuncook, a coarse loam left by the glaciers, is Maine’s official soil

“The good news over the past 10–15 years is the progress on these hybrids have allowed the vineyards in Maine to become much more productive than years prior,” says Bettina Doulton, owner of Cellardoor Winery. “Several of us have also planted L’Acadie Blanc, which does incredibly well in Maine.”

Exploring all Things Local in Portland, Maine

Along with Cellardoor, Dragonfly Farm & Winery is using hybrid grapes extensively, as well as making wine from cold-weather-loving Concord grapes. Savage Oakes Vineyard & Winery has also found success, with 10 grape varieties and hybrids, and it’s getting innovative in its use of co-ferments with other fruits.

Common Grapes

Maréchal Foch, Léon Millot, Cayuga

Corot Noir, Frontenac, Frontenac Gris

Marquette, St. Croix, La Crosse, St. Pepin

Run by a husband-and-wife team, Elmer and Holly Savage, Savage Oakes was a farm for 200 years before the pair got into winemaking. Elmer takes advantage of both the rich soil and his agricultural degree to produce 90% of their wines from estate-grown fruit, mostly grapes and blueberries.

“I believe that wine from estate-grown fruit does give you a bit more sense of place than fruit sourced elsewhere,” says Elmer.

Wineries to Know

Bar Harbor Cellars, Cellardoor Winery, Dragonfly Farm & Winery

Eighteen Twenty Wines, Savage Oakes Vineyard & Winery

Urban Farm Fermentory, Winterport Winery

At Eighteen Twenty Wines in Portland, Owner Amanda O’Brien found that rhubarb wine has been well received, given its subtle rose-like notes. Plus, it’s easy to grow.

Winemakers in Maine may have individual approaches to the perfect glass, but they arrive there in the same trial-and-error fashion.

“Each winery is run so differently, but one thing is for sure: They are all run with grit,” says O’Brien.

Published on December 26, 2018
Topics: One in 50


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