Todd Trzaskos Takes on Vermont

Pioneering a new wine trail


While I can fantasize for hours about the travel itineraries of places I have only read about, tasted of in 750ml time-space capsules, and SO wish to visit, or re-live the few great trips that have taken me into fabulous cellars, I would be remiss not to simply focus on the place where I live, where I have grown up, my terroir.

Burlington is our starting point, whether arriving by car, rail, or air... it is our little far north metropolis... quaint beauty with a trimming of cosmopolitan resources within a county boundary that is inhabited by half our state population. Take in a lunch on the Marketplace and prepare yourself for a tour of the northern Champlain basin, and then a trip over the ridge of the Green Mountains, to the Connecticut Valley watershed, and back north again, running parallel to the Vermont's geological spine, until you once again spill like the Winooski River and the Otter Creek, into the wide valley of the ancient inland sea, and the deep waters of the lake.

Photo courtesy Hid-In-Pines Vineyard

While I currently live in Vermont and have been here for twenty years now, I am a native New Yorker, of the upstate variety. More familiar with streams and rock outcroppings than the Tri-State reality, for a long while my notion of "the City" was Montreal, since I had far more youthful exposure to that situation, than to the Big Apple in the south. A family trip to Niagara Falls back in '76 took our station wagon through the Finger Lakes where mom and dad, who were not big wine drinkers, stopped to check out the local juice. Even as a youngster I wondered why we did not have a similar landscape and production in the Champlain Valley. European ancestry, third-generation citizenship, and the serving the Catholic Eucharist had prepared me for the importance of wine, but the process of its manifestation was absent.

Now, I understand the subtleties of heating degree days, winter kill temperatures, and hybridization that have evolved and transpired since those youthful dreams, and I am grateful to see that something new and good has started to grow and ferment in a place has nourished me for all my life.

OK enough reminiscing, we have to hit the road... There are a number of places to refresh and imbibe in Burlington, so I'm not going to tell you where to make your pit stop. Give me a ring if you are really in a pinch, but I'm guessing you'll be fine. Lunch is over, and we have to get going. We need to get across the lake. We've been looking at the Adirondacks since we got to Burlington. This is no mountain range, or ridge like the Greens or the Whites. That Daks are a great dome of some of the oldest rock on the planet. Four billion year and counting. Old stone still rebounding from the weight of the miles thick ice sheets that once covered everything and every place that I knew in my youth.

We could make a stop on Isle La Motte, on the Vermont side, to see the oldest exposed fossilized coral bed in the world, or check out one of the vineyards or wineries that make their way on this northern flank of New England, but today we'll keep going and enjoy the process of travel. We are headed to Morrisonville, NY to Richard Lamoy's Hid-In-Pines Vineyard, and we have a significant body of water to cross in order to get there. We have a choice, we can either drive the whole way, and take the Rouses point Bridge at the far north of the lake where the spray from big breakers in a south wind, can water the grass in Canada. Or, we can take the "short" 15-minute ferry between the Grand Island and Cumberland Head outside Plattsburgh, NY. The most leisurely choice is the "long" ferry, which is the one hour crossing from Burlington, VT, to Port Kent, NY, and offer the most spectacular views of the Lake, and the mountains that scribe its valley.

The vineyard is in fact hidden behind a tall stand of white pine, and is bordered by the same. This is an established vineyard that has only recently made the move from Amateur to Pro. Richard Lamoy has been growing fruit for a long time, and has built a pile of amateur winemaking medals to decorate the new tasting room that offers a variety of cold-hardy hybrid wines, as well as some of the labrusca classic to the area. Richard is serious about what he does, has written SARE grants to further research on hybrid training and maintenance, has been the go-to guy for Cornell's Baker farm Vineyard in Willsboro, NY (which is how I know him... my family lives in the town and I have been volunteering for a few years). The situation is rustic bootstrapping, and all of his wines are evenly priced at about $12. He makes very nice wine from dry to sweet, and I can only imagine what will happen once he needs to start price differentiation...because some of the wines really stand out. The University of Minnesota hybrids, a couple of Cornell clones, and even some of the original French-American hybrids do well here in the sandy soils that were once the beach of an inland sea. 

Let's head down the lake shore road, making our way from the broad northern plain, to the place where those mountains were looking at earlier, make a precipitous drop into the cold depths. We're headed down to Essex, NY to get a room at the Essex Inn. This littletown has an extremely high concentration of colonial era buildings, and is a tiny treat to explore. Once checked in, we'll head a few miles back up NY State RT 22 to Willsboro, to have dinner at the Turtle Island Cafe. Dave is a CIA graduate, an inveterate skier, and makes the best damn soups I have ever had in my life. In fact, if he has a soup on the menu, that from childhood I have not liked, I can trust him to set me straight with cup or bowl immersion therapy. Why this little Adirondack town deserves the likes of such culinary genius, I do not know, but who am I to question the wisdom of fate... I just continue to make reservations. Dave is hooked in with a great fish person and always has fresh. He uses locally sourced produce to whatever extent he can, and he elevates what might otherwise be considered a "backwater" town, into a place where luminaries, governors, and giants of capital come to supp in a place that is near to their summer homes, as well as their hearts.

Day breaks on the lake and the sun rises over the green mountains... from where you sit you cannot imagine something more sublime. The lake is calm, you got up early despite the extra bottle from the deep wine cellar at the at the Turtle, and the pre-historic sound of the loons makes your neck hairs tingle. We spend a bit more time checking out the antiques and architecture in the village, and the hop on the ferry to go back across the lake. This time from Essex, NY to Charlotte, VT.  We see the Green Mountains, Camels Hump and Mansfield distinct from the rest, and as those peaks drop over the horizon with our approach, the Daks rise up again in our wake. We hit the VT shore and head south... just before Middlebury, we stop in on Lincoln Peak Vineyards. The Granstrom's have been growing fruit for a long time too, and made the switch from berries to grapes several years ago. 

First working as a vine nursery, and now making very nice wine. The  wine is made in the vineyard they say, and in this case I need to agree. New to winemaking, the quality of the fruit shines through, and we can only believe that the wines will continue to evolve with experience. 

Lunch in Middlebury is our next stop, before we hop over Middlebury gap, to get into the Ottauquechee Valley, a tributary of the Connecticut and the drainage waters from Killington.  We are headed to the quintessential old Vermont town of Woodstock, sporting a number of Paul Revere bells, the country's smallest national park, your dinner destination. Pane e Salute began as a little bakery with the first "real" coffee and espresso that central Vermont knew. Cornetti, cookies, and fresh breads were just the start. Slowly and surely Caleb Barber and Dierdre have built from humble and honest beginnings, to serving lunches and brunches, and now an osteria that seats about twenty, serves four nights a week, rustic and delectable Italian cuisine, with a gem of a wine list that is both affordable and exciting. Caleb does wicked risotto, they grow a lot of their own produce, and it is the kind of place where visiting winemakers feel completely at home, and even help in the kitchen. Food & Wine magazine gave them a top fifty rating, and I'm just glad we can get a table.

Now, if we are good guests, and show appreciation for our hosts, we can complete our required stops, by making an appointment with Caleb and Dierdre, to visit tomorrow the home base, vineyard, orchard, garden abode from which they derive all of their power. Several hundred vines have been planted, cider has been pressed, and the little cantina in the garage, hence the moniker "La Garagista", will produce it's fist official wines this year. Old world sensibility, organic practice, and a genuine relationship with the land inform this project, and it is amazing to see such a thing at its outset.

So many places in the world have established vines through millennia, and a culture of wine has developed alongside the vine rows.  ere we have the culture of appreciation, and only now are having the opportunity to produce something in proportion to that which we consume. Waxing abstract again, it's time to get on the road once again, riding I-89 up past the capital and back to the Queen City, where our itinerary ends. Until we do it again.

Todd Trzaskos
Vermont Wine Media

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