Maine Roots

A blog about all things Maine


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Wine in Maine: Cellardoor Winery

My third and final installment in the Wine in Maine series is here!

When people think of wine in Maine (anyone who’s flipped open a Maine-based magazine, at least), it’s highly likely that Cellardoor is the first thing to come to mind. Glossy advertising will do that, especially without much noteworthy competition in the state.  Having now visited Cellardoor in person, it is easy to see the appeal of this winery – it combines a picturesque view with quality wine and an atmosphere that, at least on the surface, is representative of the great state of Maine with rustic touches, coastal elements, and a general sense of welcome.

Tasting Room Bar Area

Tasting Room Bar Area (restored, 200-year-old barn)

On the day of our visit, as we wound our way from Union to Lincolnville, I was filled with anticipation to see the business that has been clearly established as the preeminent Maine winery and wine destination, down to their very website URL, mainewine.com.  In many ways, I was not disappointed.  The visual experience both indoor and out at Cellardoor is stunning – a beautiful facility with a smart and attractive selection of merchandise, combined with a sweeping view.  I struggled with writing my review of this winery because I recognize how many of my readers, and consumers in general, may love the Cellardoor experience.  I simply didn’t – something was missing for me.

I struggled even more, having read the Cellardoor website and chatted with the staff, because it is clear to me that the business owner, Bettina Doulton, is deeply committed to sharing her love of Maine and has played a leadership role in advancing and promoting the Maine wine industry, founding the Maine Wine Guild and its statewide Maine Wine Trail.  Undeniably, these contributions are heartfelt, genuine, and critically important to the state’s wine tourism industry.  I admire her mission, what she has accomplished, and the business she’s built.

So what was missing for me?  It’s hard to put my finger on.  It is some intangible combination of the people, the wine, and the atmosphere that gives those businesses that capture it a very special quality and deeply resonates with their customers.  It feels natural and unrehearsed.  I love those special Maine businesses that feel deeply authentic even to the point of imperfection.  Cellardoor was stunning – so stunning and manicured it struck me as somehow more suited to Cape Cod or Martha’s Vineyard than Lincolnville, Maine.  I was reminded of how I felt during my college tour on the Furman University campus – rather like a bull in a china shop, as they say – certain I would break something in all of that pristine beauty.  So, candidly, it could be just me.  I am confident the vast majority of patrons enjoy every moment at Cellardoor and reminisce about their experience with family and friends. And while I am charmed by the meaningful history behind the Cellardoor logo, I simply found Cellardoor to be somewhat… remote.  It was beautiful.  The wine was good.  Our server was friendly and personable.  It just didn’t feel like the small businesses Maine is known and loved for, where the owners are omni-present, the employees are more ambassadors than mere workers, and the appearance and experience may not be flawless, but it is human and warm.

Having said that, I do want to share what I did enjoy.  First, I was really impressed by the merchandise Cellardoor chooses to stock – it is a classy and appealing mix of glasswork, art, pottery, books, and wine and kitchen gizmos. Where some wineries dip dangerously close to chintzy, cheesy gift items, Cellardoor has  a selection that would have me stopping by just to shop for something beautiful and unique.  Second, the wine was certainly well-crafted, and made from grapes grown across the country as well as Maine, which enables Cellardoor to offer varietals that more people are familiar with (such as Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay, and Syrah, among others).  This is a smart business move and, very likely, enables the owner and winemaker to craft wines they themselves already love.  I particularly enjoyed ‘Ned Said Red,’ a blend of Cabernet Franc and Merlot with a naming back story.

The facility includes a restored barn and farmhouse (the tasting room is located in the restored barn), as well as a state-of-the-art winery across the road.  It has been beautifully redone with high quality finishes, and in combination with the view, would be an incredible and romantic setting for a wedding or other type of event.

If I visit again, my advice to myself is to appreciate Cellardoor for what it is, grab a glass of wine and a seat on the porch, and soak in the beauty of Maine.

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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!