Maine Roots

A blog about all things Maine


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Wine in Maine: Savage Oakes Vineyard and Winery

I’ve struggled to write this blog post with each attempt – multiple attempts made over multiple months – and I don’t know why.  Here, today, I’m forging ahead and doing my best to introduce you all to Savage Oakes Vineyard & Winery, a truly unique winery experience that can be found in Union, Maine.

Perhaps my struggle to find the right words is borne of the very nature of Savage Oakes.  At its core, this is a family farm that represents the proud history of local farming and continues to raise pork, beef, and chicken today.  But beyond the core, necessity has driven Savage Oakes’ owners to find additional revenue opportunities, a situation many local farmers can relate to.  Savage Oakes Vineyard & Winery is the ingenuity borne from necessity – a new business line at the family-owned operation that is still known as Barrett Hill Farm.

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Both businesses are owned and operated by Elmer and Holly Savage and their two sons, and while I haven’t had the opportunity to try any of their meat products, I have enjoyed two tasting room visits to sample a variety of their wines.  My first visit was on a chilly, early winter day complete with a dusting of snow, as my mom and I dashed in during a day trip that also included a stop at the nearby Morse’s Sauerkraut.

I found myself charmed by the farming roots of the business and by the sheer authenticity of the experience.  This is the type of winery you ought to find in Maine – and not in Napa.  The tasting room (although a new one is now under construction) was warm, with polished plank walls, and decorated with pieces of the farm’s history, such as an old yoke once used for oxen working the land.

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The wines were refreshingly authentic, too.  While the varietals may be unknown to many, I was familiar with the cold-hardy grapes they’d chosen to grow, many of which have been developed by the University of Minnesota.  These wine grapes are meant to grow in cold climates, like Maine, while still producing flavorful, appealing wines (so don’t mind the wine snobs who turn up their noses). Many of their wines have clever names, also tied to the farm’s rich heritage, such as General Knox (a white wine from LaCrosse grapes) and Come Spring (a light-bodied red wine that is a blend of estate grown Leon Millot, Marechal Foch, and St. Croix grapes).

I enjoyed both the Barn Red and Come Spring during our winter visit, and when we returned just last month with my husband (who I knew would appreciate the dual agricultural and viticultural focus), I was pleasantly surprised by how much enjoyed their white wines.  First Kiss, which is now sold out, was very good, as was Georges River.

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These wines are different – you need to allow your palate time to adjust, as they won’t (and shouldn’t) taste like the French varietals we are all so familiar with.  Once you learn to appreciate them, you may even find you prefer these wines and the way they complement various dishes.

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But all differences aside, Savage Oakes has done an excellent job of blending Maine tradition with new business opportunity, and they’ve created an atmosphere that is both welcoming for locals and unique for tourists.  I certainly recommend a visit and a tasting, and if you have the time, check out the final event in their Summer Concert series.  Cheers!

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Wine Coast to Coast

Wine has been on my mind.  My husband and I often talk about our dream of owning a vineyard and making wine (I’m more interested in the farming, back-to-the-earth, nature-centric aspects; he’s truly passionate about the chemistry behind great wine and how to craft it), and we talk nearly as often about where to make this dream a reality.  But that’s a post for another day.  It is easy to be swept away in the romanticism of wine and wine making.  It’s a drink that makes you dream (or daydream).

Just one short week ago, I returned from my very first visit to the Napa and Sonoma Valleys – a trip that was stunning from the scenery to the wine and beyond.  It was also a striking contrast to many of the charming vineyards and wineries I’ve visited in North Carolina, Virginia, and, yes, Maine.

It reminded me that I owe you all posts on three Maine vineyards and wineries in particular: Savage Oakes Vineyard & Winery, Sweetgrass Winery & Distillery, and Cellardoor Winery.  Consider this the first post in a series, as I share a little bit about my experience with wine on the other coast before bringing you back to the Down East and sharing my experiences enjoying the authentic, family farm setting of Savage Oakes; the more polished-yet-rustic, hip vibe of Sweetgrass; and the upscale, glamour-meets-country appeal of Cellardoor.

The view at Sweetgrass

The view at Sweetgrass

In celebration of a dear friend’s 30th birthday, I traveled to northern California for a girls’ weekend in wine country.  I was picked up from the airport by the other ladies and immediately whisked off to Napa, where we began our fun with Oxbow Public Market – a fascinating and appealing conglomeration of food vendors and shops, and where I enjoyed a positively delicious salmon ceviche.  From there, we proceeded along the Silverado Trail as it winds through many of the most widely recognized names in American wine.  I’ll tell you, it was a special thrill to see, in person, the places where many wines we love were grown, crafted, and aged.

Wisely, we shared a number of tastings throughout the weekend, otherwise I hesitate to imagine how tipsy we may have become.  Our first stop was Miner Family Winery, where we enjoyed a truly excellent Viogner and an unusual Chardonnay fermented only with the wild yeast on the grapes (which I liked – very different) before transitioning into dryer reds.  Perhaps the most memorable part of that visit, though, was the consultant who handled our tasting.  A native of Sonoma whose father is a grower,  his knowledge (and willingness to take our picture) made the tasting enjoyable and engaging.

At Miner!

At Miner!

From there, we made our way to Charles Krug, which houses its tasting room in a stunning 1872 building, an atmosphere that contributes effectively to the tasting experience.  Taking in the high ceilings, the rustic charm, the old, deep window wells, all while sipping their Family Reserve Generations – a blend of 83% Cabernet Sauvignon, 7% Malbec, 5% Merlot and 5% Petit Verdot. It is an experience in and of itself, and precisely as they describe on their website, with spice and lovely fruit flavors of blackberry and red currant.  That entire afternoon was a blurred combination of exhaustion (i.e. jet lag), wine, and laughter, which all culminated in a giddy patio dinner at Francis Coppola, complete with stunning views of vineyards and mountains.

The following day, a car service took us around Sonoma Valley, where we made it to five – five! – wineries, including Ledson, Landmark, Kunde, Imagery, and Chateau St. Jean. In my opinion, Kunde stood head and shoulders above the rest for a number of reasons.  From the wine, to the cave tour (where they age their wines – and have an event space!), to the consultant who handled our tasting, the entire experience was exceptional.  I also knew Nick would like the fact that they grow all of their own grapes, which seemed rare, at least among the wineries we visited.  What surprised me was how much I appreciated that fact, too.  Sitting in our home in Georgia, I didn’t feel particularly concerned with whether the wine I was consuming was made from grapes grown by the winemaker, but when I was there – among the vines – it became much more significant.  So I ordered four bottles (naturally).

It was a truly incredible weekend.  By the time I journeyed home on Sunday, I felt I’d seen (and consumed) more than I imagined possible in two days.  Napa was glorious, and Sonoma quieter, but no less impressive.  I’m looking forward to thinking about how very, very different these experiences were from Maine wineries and sharing my perspective with you.  Differences aside, this was a trip not to be missed!