Maine Roots

A blog about all things Maine


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Wine in Maine: Sweetgrass Farm Winery and Distillery

When I think about our visit to Sweetgrass Farm Winery & Distillery, the image that instantly pops into my mind is that first moment, as we pulled into the gravel driveway and had our first glimpse of a sweeping view of field, forest, and mountains.  The driveway itself is edged closely by both the road and the winery, as so many other old farms now are – pressed up against our modern roads.

The view at Sweetgrass

The view at Sweetgrass

The winery structure is charmingly, classically Maine.  A pretty, shingled building that has been updated to combine traditional elements with other, more modern influences like the wraparound deck and railing.  I found this combination of styles to be a theme throughout Sweetgrass – and it’s been executed so seamlessly that it enhances the experience without feeling too “perfect” or “untouchable.”  Inside and out, from the restored old truck and the gleaming copper Alembic still to the classic, white Adirondack chairs on the lawn, Sweetgrass hit all the right notes. “Sweet” indeed.

One of the most appealing aspects of Sweetgrass for me personally was how integral Maine traditions and products clearly are to the business.  I even feel the combination of the historic and the modern design elements and decor reflect this – generally speaking, Mainers hold on to a deep respect for the way things have been done for generations, while still moving forward themselves.  For example, in addition to operating as a winery and distillery, Sweetgrass is still a working farm.  They raise and sell Friesian and Friesian cross sheep for both meat and fleece; they have laying chickens and meat chickens; turkeys; pigs; and two cats.  They grow some of the fruit they use in their wines and liquors, and buy the vast majority of the remainder from other Maine resources, and they also grow grass (hay) for feed.  Sweetgrass sums up everything I felt about the experience there on their website, when asked about their philosophy: “to be a family run business preserving Union’s rich farming tradition, firmly rooted in the community, supporting local sustainable agriculture, local business, and donating 10% of profits to organizations which support families, children, and rural life.”

Philosophy and setting aside, the wines and liquors we had the opportunity to taste were exceptional on their own.  While my favorite, by a large margin, was their apple wine – delightful and crisp and pairs beautifully with lobster – I also enjoyed the sparkling cranberry apple (after all, what could be more holiday-appropriate than this flavorful, bubbly treat?) as well as the rhubarb smash.  Nick particularly enjoyed their renowned Back River Gin, which ended up being one of three bottles we purchased and brought home with us.  During our tasting, we had the opportunity to chat a bit with one of the owners about the business and what they’ve strived to accomplish.  I walked away understanding that vision, experience, and commitment have been critical to their success, which now includes an Old Port location and many accolades and awards, in addition to the Farm itself.

From beginning to end, this is a must-visit Maine winery. It was just our second of three winery stops during our cross-Maine trek from Crescent Lake to very nearly the Camden area, and it is the one I would most like to visit again.  Next time, though, I’d pack a picnic lunch, plan to stay a while, and indulge my wish to sit in one of those Adirondack chairs, soak in the view, and sip a Sweetgrass wine.

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That’s how I recommend you experience it!


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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!