In our earlier viniculture discussion, we mentioned that a number of New England wineries produced wines derived from fruit other than grapes. Nowhere is this more true than in Maine. So much so, in fact, that if you are a fan of fruit wine, then Maine should be your first stop in searching for the tastiest bottle!
Along with traditional winery offerings, Maine’s wineries have unique flavors to add to the palette, such as blueberry, raspberry, and apple wines. Perhaps the most famous because of this area’s world-renown production of blueberries, Maine’s blueberry wines have delighted tourists and natives alike. Yes, grapes are grown in Maine, despite a growing season 90 days shorter than Napa Valley. Numerous hardy varieties thrive in Maine, but it can take up to five years to get a yielding vine.
Some of Maine’s vintners make the so-called “fruit wines” with fruits other than grapes–mainly blueberries, apples, cranberries, raspberries, and pears. Some make wine from grapes or grape juice brought in from out of state. And quite a few, especially the newcomers, are growing their own grapes, something many people believed could not be done in Maine. Several are experimenting with growing and fermenting techniques and with new, especially hardy types of grapes designed to survive the state’s cold climate. Many of these varieties are hybrids created by university scientists and did not exist as recently as five years ago.
The results, the new vintners say, are promising. “We can grow wine grapes in Maine. It absolutely can be done!” says Steve Melchiskey, who owns Maine Coast Vineyards in Falmouth. “We may never rival France or California. But we can make really good regional wines—satisfying, aromatically complex wines—that will go nicely with local food.”
These wines have tastes that may surprise many wine drinkers. Most are quite different from the standard viniferous wine grapes (such as chardonnay, cabernet sauvignon, and pinot noir). The fruit wines and wines made from grapes grown in Maine have flavors that reflect the state’s unique terroir—its glacial soils and foggy coast—as well as the vintner’s individual style.
Maine’s winemakers are friendly and engaging, each with his or her own personality and style. Only a few have been making wine for most of their professional careers. Many began making wine as a hobby and soon discovered winemaking was more satisfying, and more romantic, than their prior jobs. Only about half of them still make wine part-time.
Maine’s vintners include a former architect who worked with the famed Paolo Soleri and Mrs. Frank Lloyd Wright; a boat builder; several farmers; a school custodian; a computer professional; a furniture maker; an environmental engineer; a former top-flight investment broker; a restaurateur; a military couple; a former postal worker; and a general contractor (who has been making wine ever since his wife gave him a winemaking kit for Christmas).
One quality the vintners have in common is a love for what they do and for sharing that passion with others.
It could be said that Maine fruit wines are an acquired taste. In general, they are young, light- to medium bodied, and tend to be semi-dry. They may never have great depth or complexity. Many are most successful as aperitif or dessert wines. But they are different, often interesting, and getting better all the time. If you haven’t yet tried a fruity Maine wine, you will likely find yourself pleasantly satisfied by their earthy, fruity aroma and their rich, subtle taste. For connoisseurs, aficionados, and everyday tasters, Maine’s wines are a surefire unique experience that you’ll want to take home with you.