Super grape plants for the our cold climate make award-winning red and white wines in the Champlain Valley of New York and Vermont. These grapes, crossed between American and French species, include Marquette, Frontenac, St. Croix, LaCrescent, St. Pepin and LaCrosse, and others. Pictured: Shelburne Vineyard's award-winning wines.
You may not know it yet, but the Lake Champlain Valley region of New York and Vermont is North America’s newest, fastest growing artisan grape-growing and wine-making region.
While the wide, hilly terrain of the Lake Champlain basin isn’t much like California’s better known and milder Sonoma Valley wine country, it does more closely resemble New York’s famous Finger Lakes wine region located over 300 miles to the west—but with unique differences which set it apart.
The Champlain Valley may be colder than the Finger Lakes, but it’s decidely international in character. The big valley straddles two U.S. states and the French-speaking Canadian province of Quebec (with its own wine-grape heritage dating to the 17th century).
The Champlain Valley certainly has the right stuff: a beautiful, historic, long lake and mountain scenery near both shores, and in addition, a young “collective” of award-winning wine producers. The valley is an emerging destination for wine tourism of possibly major proportions.
So, how did such a cold place, with an all too short agricultural growing season, luck out with such excellent grapes and wines?
Well, you can thank Wisconsin farmer Elmer Swenson and the University of Minnesota for the Champlain Valley’s grape-wine boomlet.
Back in the 1960s, Swenson developed several hybrid varieties of rugged American-French grapes which shrug off cold temperatures. Later, he was hired by the University of Minnesota to develop more of the new grapes with the institution’s imprimatur—and the rest is wine-making history.
Although Swenson died in 2004 and never set foot in the Champlain Valley, he’s being hailed as the local wine-grape equivalent of Johnny Appleseed. For wherever Swenson grapes are planted in the North Country’s cold places, delicious grapes ripen and lots of very tasty wines are bottled and consumed.
Here are a few examples of Swenson’s grape varieties—to name the best known—which make super wines for our cold climate: Marquette, Frontenac, St. Croix, LaCrescent, St. Pepin and LaCrosse.
And as if by magic, Champlain Valley wine pioneers like Ken and Gail Albert of Shelburne Vineyard in Vermont and Dan and Nancy Vesco of Vesco Ridge Vineyards in West Chazy, N.Y., seemed to emerge with the same idea at the same time during the 1990s and early 2000s—plant Swenson’s new wine-grape varieties where Lake Champlain’s mini “maritime” effects are best. “In vino veritas; cold weather be damned,” these pioneers of the grape must have said in unison.
Both the Vermont Grape Wine Council and the New York Wine & Grape Foundation are closely involved with helping grow their respective wine-regions.
Since Vermont doesn’t have a big Finger Lakes or Long Island equivalent to occupy its attentions like New York State, the Green Mountain State seems more visibly engaged in growing its side of the Champlain Valley wine region. No matter, there’s still room for competition here; America’s love of wine is ripening as it reaches out for new and interesting artisan wines appearing in unusual regions like northern New York and Vermont.
Now comes the fun—
We’ve sampled and visited many of the best wine-grape growers and wine producers in our region. We created this handy guide to the best grape and wine producers our region has to offer. All producers are small and family owned, which adds to the loving care each bottle of red and white—and ice—receives. Also, all vineyards have websites, so you can search for more information about each one online.
If we missed a vineyard or winery this time around, please forgive us. Let us know, as we’re likely to return to this delicious subject in a future story.
Amazing Grace Vineyard and Winery
Amazing Grace Vineyard and Winery started in 2008 and is family owned. The operation specializes in cold-hardy northern varietal grape wines (and other fruit wines).
According to owners Gilles and Mary Fortin, “Our mission is simple—make great tasting wines and sell them at an affordable price, treat all of our customers as friends and family, and try our best to help and support our community. It is this mission that has made us an extremely successful small farm winery.”
839 N.Y. Route 9
Chazy, N.Y. 12921
Tasting: For tasting details and directions, call 518-215-4044 or e-mail: email@example.com.
East Shore Vineyard
Grand Isle, Vt.
Owners Bob and Linda Livingstone love the fact that Vermont's budding wine industry has taken off like a moon rocket in the past decade, all thanks to cold-climate grape hybrids that can withstand our cold winters.
“We carefully cultivate 11 acres of these Estate Grown varietals at our lakefront vineyard in Grand Isle,” the Livingstones said. ”We also have several vineyard partners throughout the state that help supplement our harvests. Since our final objective is to produce quality wine, it is important to remember: Healthy, balanced vines equal quality fruit equal quality wine.”
28 Church St.
Tasting: You can sample East Shore’s fine selection of wines at a bright and cheery tasting room at 28 Church St. in downtown Burlington. Call 802-859-9463 for details.
Elfs Farm Winery and Cider Mill
Elfs Farm is a small family farm winery. The Frey family produce locally grown cold-hardy grape and other wines. Opened in 2006, the first grape wines were produced in 2007.
“Besides our wines we have in our store Adirondack-theme gifts, such as shirts, sweats, and hats. We also carry home wine and beer making supplies,” according to the Freys.
Tasting: Elfs Farm is located at 7411 State Route 9 in Plattsburgh, N.Y. To visit, call 518-563-2750 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.
“We grow a variety of Cold Hardy Wine Grapes, developed for the colder harsh environments here in northern New York,” according to sole proprietor Richard Lamoy. “These varieties shrug off cold temperatures and snows so that we might bring you great tasting wines from our own estate-grown grapes. Some examples of the varieties are Marquette, Frontenac, St. Croix, LaCrescent, St. Pepin and LaCrosse.”
456 Soper St.
Tasting: Hid-In-Pines is located in the heart of the Lake Champlain Valley. For directions, tours and tasting, call 518-643-0006.
Lincoln Peak Vineyard
The Harris and Lyon “Food Lovers’ Guide to Vermont and New Hampshire” writes that Lincoln Peak Vineyard is “One of the two best wineries in Northern New England.” With an endorsement like that, need we say more?
According to pioneer cold-hardy grape growers and owners Chris and Sara Granstrom, “We have a hilltop of good Vermont land just outside Middlebury; short, hot summers and cool, sunny autumns; a dedicated farm crew to tend the vines; meticulous devotion to the best winemaking techniques—put it all together and what you get are some of the most refined and delicious Vermont wines from a new and emerging winegrowing region. At our Vermont winery, we make crisp refreshing whites; deep full-bodied reds, light and joyful rosés; and some sweet and fruity wines, too.”
142 River Rd. (just of U.S. Route 7)
New Haven, Vt.
Tasting: Lincoln Peak Vineyard’s tasting room is open all year, seven days a week. For more information, call 802-388-7368.
Neshobe River Vineyard & Winery
Robert and Rhonda entered the wine business because of their passion for wine, winemaking, and the winemaker lifestyle. The winery complements their desire to delight their guests at the Bed and Breakfast they also operate. Both of them have worked as wine consultants and Bob has been making wine for over five years. They both have taken winemaking classes and have spent over six years visiting wineries in the U.S. and Europe. They are both members of the American Wine Association, as well as the newly formed Vermont Grape Growers and Wine Council. Bob has worked as a wine consultant for COSTCO, Whole Foods and the Merchant of Vino.
79 Stone Mill Dam Rd.
North Star Vineyard
Mooers, N.Y. & Plattsburgh, N.Y.
Colin Read and Natalie Peck started a cold-hardy grape vineyard at their farm in Mooers in 2008. To date, the couple have 4,000 vines producing delicious wine varieties.
“We look forward to sharing our wines, other wines from local vineyards, and select varieties from various regions in New York State. Come by and taste some of the spirit of the North Country. We hope to meet you and serve you soon,” according to Read. “Our vineyard was chosen as Small Business of the Year by the North Country Chamber of Commerce along with five other local vineyards.
8 City Hall Place
Tasting: You can sample North Star wines at the Champlain Wine Co., located at 8 City Hall Place in downtown Plattsburgh N.Y. The vineyard is located north of the city in Mooers. For more details, call 518-564-0064.
Shelburne Vineyard deserves credit for being an early pioneer in the Champlain Valley grape-wine industry. Its wine hold the lion share of awards, too.
“From vine to glass, we strive to make the finest quality wine from northern varietal grapes grown right here on our vineyards and regionally sourced from other Northern growers,” according to Ken Albert. Ken grows the grapes and his wife Gail tends to the marketing side of the business. “With a lush Vermont landscape as our backdoor, our state of the art winery and tasting room sits nestled among the vines. We invite you to visit, try our award winning wines and experience a taste of place. As a pioneer in Vermont wine making, we are committed to sustainable agriculture and responsible vineyard practices and take pride in our stewardship of the land. Stroll our vineyards. Pack a picnic. Sip a glass of red, white or ice wine on the patio.”
6308 Shelburne Rd. (U.S. Route 7)
Tasting: Shelburne Vineyard’s tasting room is open all year, seven days a week. For more information, call 802 985-8222.
Snow Farm Snow Farm Winery & Vineyard
South Hero, Vt.
Snow Farm Winery and Vineyard holds the honor of being Vermont’s first grape vineyard and winery. The operation began in 1992 to preserve Vermont’s agricultural land providing an alternative for farmers.
Winemaker David Lane grew up on the family farm milking cows and throwing hay bales; he has worked the land for several decades. “Our location, on an island in the middle of Lake Champlain, permits us to grow cooler climate vinifera grapes,” according to Lane. “Pinot Noir and Riesling, as well as the more cold-hardy French hybrids, Vidal Blanc and Baco Noir. Thanks to Vermont’s cold winter temperatures, Snow Farm also produces an ice wine, a product that cannot be made in many other places in the world.”
190 West Shore Rd.
South Hero, Vt.
Tasting: Snow Farm offers great tasting ambience on a beautiful lake island setting. For more information, call 802-372-WINE or e-mail Lanes@snowfarm.com.
Vesco Ridge Vineyards
West Chazy, N.Y.
Owners Dan and Nancy Vesco have created a New World expression of classic North Country wine using traditional Old World methods with grapes from their grape vineyard and the surrounding Lake Champlain Basin.
“Patiently handmade with care, we produce 1,000 gallons of a variety of wines a year,” according to the Vescos. “With immense flavors and aromas, these wines are a tribute to the small North Country vineyards.”
167 Stratton Hill Rd.
West Chazy, N.Y.
Tasting: For hours and directions, call 518-846-8544 or e-mail email@example.com.
(Note: Special thanks to the vineyards and wineries of the Champlain Valley of New York and Vermont for providing background material for this story.)