The Barrel Rule
Or, Yes, Excellent Wines Are Being Made in New England
Being open-minded and willing to try wines that are different in some way is a great asset in developing a wine connoisseur’s palate. It’s easy to get into the rut of buying the same varietal or brand. When the opportunity presents itself, I do my best to taste everything — as long as there is a spit bucket close by. I even make it a point to stop in for a tasting when I pass by a local winery. My personal rule is that I don’t write about wines that I don’t like, and that’s why you rarely read about my experiences at New England wineries. This past August, when my wife and I were on vacation in Rockport, Maine, finding locally-made wine was not what we had in mind. Nevertheless, as we were aimlessly driving through the area, we passed a very small sign — nailed high on a telephone pole in Lincolnville, Maine — that read, “Cellardoor Winery 1 Mile.” We had to check it out.
The winery was well landscaped with plenty of parking. A big tent was set up in the field. This was a large facility, obviously focused on hosting weddings and other social events. Local tasting rooms with elegant venues are often cover for inferior winemaking. Being the wine snob that I am, I was already apprehensive.
The first question I asked was, “Do you have any barrels here for aging wine?” In legitimate wine regions, this is a stupid question. But here in New England, as one vintner explained to me, “Barrels are for real wineries.” I was assured that they had lots of barrels. We proceeded to partake in the $15 wine tasting. It was surprisingly outstanding. We sampled six of their best wines and walked away with a box of selections to take home and continue our research. We had just missed the 2 p.m. winery tour, so we would have to return the next day.
On our return visit, we met with the winemaker, Aaron Peet, and his wife, Christina, the assistant winemaker. Both attended the Institute for Enology and Viticulture in Walla Walla, Wash., but they made the decision to return home to Maine after Aaron met with Bettina Doulton, the owner of Cellardoor. Doulton had retired from a successful career with Fidelity Investments and decided to open a new chapter of her life — developing a 68-acre farm in Maine. The proper combination of capital and knowledge was leveraged into a state-of-the-art winemaking facility.
I glanced at the eight 2,200 gallon stainless steel fermenters and thought we had beamed to Sonoma. Each stands about 15 feet tall and holds 8 tons of grapes. These custom-made vessels are equipped to control the temperature during fermentation and boast innovative 45-degree angle bases for easy cleaning. The impressive in-house chemistry lab is set up for all types of testing that’s imperative for proper quality control. Plus, they have barrels — more than 300 of them! The oak used to make them is imported from places as near as Pennsylvania and Kentucky and as far away as France and Hungary.
Each barrel is used for three years before it becomes neutral and no longer imparts flavor. Cellardoor spends $100,000 each year on its barrels. Even winemaking friends who visit from “wine country” are envious, wishing their wineries were so well equipped.
The one disadvantage is the grapes. As you can imagine, trying to grow grapes in Maine is a real challenge. To face it, the people of Cellardoor Winery have planted 5 acres of vines that are able to withstand New England winters and will, if the weather cooperates, achieve the appropriate ripeness in the relatively short Maine growing season. Cellardoor produces about 600 cases of wine from its local harvest and 14,000 cases of wine from grapes grown in Washington and California, where the winery employs expert advisers to test the grapes and make sure they are harvested at the ideal time. Cellardoor has close relationships with vineyards on the West Coast that have reserved specific blocks of land for them and cultivated the vines to the winery’s specifications.
Once the grapes are hand-harvested, they are carefully packaged in refrigerated trucks and transported to Maine for processing.
Cellardoor wines are great, and not only by my standards. Its wines won 15 medals, including a gold, at this year’s Great American International Wine Competition in Rochester, N.Y. The winery also won multiple double golds at the San Francisco International Wine Competition.
Experience Cellardoor wines for yourself at The Point, the winery’s tasting and dining room in Portland, Maine, or purchase them online at MaineWine.com/Buy.
2013 Iron Gate – Bordeaux-style blend, $30
89% cabernet sauvignon, 11% merlot
99 points, awarded Best Bordeaux Blend, Double Gold, 2017 San Francisco International Wine Competition
2013 Cielos – Spanish-style blend, $30
61% grenache, 22% tempranillo,
17% cabernet sauvignon
96 points, Double Gold, 2016 San Francisco International Wine Competition
2013 Monti al Mare ( shown left ) –
Super Tuscan-style blend, $26
51% sangiovese, 37% cabernet sauvignon, 12% petite sirah
96 points, awarded Best Italian Varietal Blend, Double Gold, 2017 San Francisco International Wine Competition
2013 Petite Sirah, $27
78% petite sirah, 22% syrah
95 points, Double Gold, 2017 San Francisco International Wine Competition