2016. It was time to plant a vineyard.
This piece of land in this Vermont valley; this east/southeast facing hillside in Barnard with a view of sloping fields, an old stone wall, a fine row of maples. There is a loquacious brook, a few apple trees, a spring-fed pond. Would it be ridiculous to think that the land you own cares about its people, or that it longs to be a part of a whole? I purchased this land in 1998, but could not live here. Each time we came back, the family felt a surge, a rise in our throats, excitement to see what might have changed since the last visit. Increasingly, I felt remorse. It was farmland once, small, sustainable, cows and maples and a garden. Evidence of herbs. Mint everywhere. All around this beautiful valley, young families were growing and making and learning: cider, vegetables, syrup, milk, eggs, ice cream. We no longer need a grocery store. A mile in every direction is everything we would ever want to eat (except for olive oil, chocolate, and lemons).
What could we contribute?
All across Vermont, vineyards were being planted. A few people were finding great success with cold-hardy alpine varieties—Marquette, Frontenac, La Crescent, Brianna, and others. Each year, the wines they were making grew more complex, vivid, delicious. And familiar.
Something else was happening. The desire to drink wines with no chemicals, wines allowed to grow and express the soil and climate they came from, without the addition of artificial yeasts, flavors, or preservatives.
We started reading about biodynamics—the work of Rudolf Steiner. And we found that it resonated with our desire to become a part of this corner of Vermont, and to contribute something worthy.
Our goal is to keep learning, to stay true to the principles of biodynamics, to help build a wine region in Vermont that honors the soil and celebrates the organic future of this growing wine region for coming generations. We are in it for the long haul. We have one acre planted with five varieties close to the house and five acres planted in our neighbors’ shockingly magical field across the road. You walk up the edge of a field that is like the setting for a Jane Austen scene, you poke through the woods at the top of the hill, and it stretches out before you—protected by maples with a view of the surrounding hills. Dogs bark and owls call in the distance. You are not in this tumultuous century, and yet you are.
It’s not hard to fall in love with the vines. These plants are hardy and beautiful, with light-trapping leaves. They are powerful, elegant.
As of this writing, a light snow is falling and the landscape is a white-grey. A field blend, made from our first harvest last September, is a gorgeous, surprising orange blush—tawny in the firelight; the color of all seasons—youthful, brilliant, wise, and thrilling.
Our vineyards are located in the foothills of the Green Mountains in Barnard, Vermont, situated at 1700 feet, atop the Broad Brook watershed. It is a place of amazing beauty and diversity—fields, farms, and gardens. Our neighbors are farmers who grow apples, vegetables, cows, pigs, chickens, grapes, pears, ducks, turkeys and hay.
There are 650 vines in our Little Hillside vineyard, cold- hardy red and white alpine varieties, bred to survive down to 35 degrees below zero. At Big Hillside (see below), we have planted 1200 vines and will plant another 1200 this coming June, 2019.
We farm organically, some of us biodynamically, which means we have ultimate love and respect for the soil, and sometimes we look to the night skies when we think about what and when to plant. We don’t use any pesticides. We use herbal preparations to nourish the soil, the plants; to create balance and harmony; to deter pests, and to prevent disease. We will make living wines, using simple, old-world methods; wines that do not contain additives, enzymes, coloring, or flavoring. Raw wine, real wines, natural wine—there are many names. We are committed to native yeast fermentation, and a lot of skin contact. As much as possible, we will avoid using machines in the vineyards. Our neighbor, Jeff, will use his sickle bar mower pulled by a pair of draft ponies to mow between the rows. We’ll use scythes to mow lightly between plants.
With the help of family (Sam, Ellie, Mia, MacGregor, Alis, Peter, Jesse, and Willow), and friends (Connor, Connor, Ellie M., Amelia, Kayden, Emily, and Laura) we harvested 500 pounds of grapes in September, 2018, many more than we expected in the second year! We traded some to use the Fable Farm press; and we sold some to Krista Scruggs of Zafa wines. In November, we drank the first glass of the raw field blend and it was delicious—light, with a hint of citrus. The wine grows darker by the week as we enter deep winter. The fruit fades into something older and wiser.
We hope that our wines will express all the wildness and beauty of this valley.
Big Hillside is the first biodynamically grown cooperative vineyard in Vermont (maybe New England!) We leased this magical, five-acre field across the road from Bill and Judy Martin of Dearbrook Farm in 2017 and planted a clover and buckwheat cover crop in the fall of 2017.
In May, Fred Schlebach, our local trelliser (he without whom we could not survive), mapped and trellised one half of the field.
In June, 2018, with the help of friends, interns, and local vignerons, we planted 1200 new vines. This coming June, 2019, we will plant another 1200.
These varieties were chosen by three local winemakers who will buy the grapes. Deirdre Heekin of LaGaragista Vineyards; Krista Scruggs of Zafa Wines, and Jonny and Christopher Piana of the Fable Fermentory.