Last year in California, I made it my mission to spend an entire day wine tasting in Paso Robles. And I’m no wine snob. In fact, I think my tasting notes on that trip were: “The Chard was fab, but the Grand Cuvee champagne with almond extract makes me want to hump a lamp post.” So, this summer, I decided to fulfill one of my bucket list requirements to spend an entire day wine tasting in Midcoast, Maine.
Clang, clang, clang goes the trolley! For $30, All Aboard Trolley takes you to some choice spots and does the driving. All I had to do was sit back and watch the scenery. Their “Nap-ah Valley” Wine Tour took us to three wineries, two of which I’d visited before. But, it’s a completely different experience going on your own versus going on a guided tour.
For example, before we arrived at Savage Oakes Vineyard and Winery in Union, I had a long stretch of time to look out the windows of the White Diamond Trolley and actually marvel at the rolling farmland and fields of buttercups. Somehow, you don’t notice this when you drive by it every day.
Elmer and Holly Savage run this family-owned 95-acre working farm. Elmer took us on a leisurely stroll through their foot trails, past their hogs and Belted Galloway cows (which to me look like Whoopie Pies more than Oreos), past blueberry fields and up to the vineyard itself, explaining how the entire process works from cultivation to harvest. I never knew how many years it takes for vines to actually produce enough usable fruit to make wine and then how much additional time it takes for one of their bottled wines to mature before being able to sell it. I can only speculate that Maine’s wine industry is a labor of love more than a money-making venture.
While we were sampling their ranges of reds and whites in their newly constructed tasting room, I noticed a freezer filled with cuts of meat from the herds they raise themselves. On special occasions, they’ll do sausage tastings, such as Chorizo, hot Italian and maple breakfast links, some of which pair really well with their reds. I have to say the nerd in me really enjoyed the Blueberry π (pi) dessert wine, not only for its clever title, but for its intense blueberry pie taste (with 17 percent alcohol), which would go well poured over some freshly churned vanilla ice cream.
I was totally stoked for our next stop, Sweetgrass Farm Winery and Distillery, also in Union. The modest-looking tasting barn held stainless steel wine vats and a potbellied copper alembic still, which Keith Bodine, owner, winemaker and distiller, uses to create their wines, ports and spirits. Each person could get up to six tastings in any random order. I’d heard so much about their award-winning Back River Gin (which I and others kept mistakenly referring to Back Water Gin and Cold River Gin) that when I finally got a chance to taste it, it was obvious what all the buzz was about. This clean, bright, shining gin made with only the slightest hint of blueberries tasted like plunging into an icy stream on a brutally hot day.
Cellardoor Winery in Lincolnville, run by owner Bettina Doulton, happened to be our last stop on the tour. I’d covered Cellardoor Winery events many times before and had already enjoyed tastings in their renovated 1790 barn. But, I’d never seen their recently constructed and state-of-the art wine-making facility at the top of the hill.
From their temperature-controlled rooms containing stainless steel vats and oak barrels, to the lab which tests the wine’s pH acidity and oxygen levels to the sloping concrete floors with built-in drainage, this facility clearly stood out for its dedication to serious wine production.
Cellardoor Winery’s rolling vineyards are spectacular, too. You can relax on the porch overlooking the vineyards or stroll down the hiking paths. Choose between a full flight of six tastings or a complimentary glass of wine in lieu of a tasting. My favorite was the Artist Series Grenache, a smooth and soft red made from Grenache grapes.
Now, for the best part. The trolley is fully licensed to allow alcoholic consumption on board complete with wine glasses hanging on a rack in the back. So, if you take this tour, you can open a bottle of your favorite wine or spirit and enjoy it on their final stop, at the top of Mount Battie overlooking the Penobscot Bay.
Bucket List moment #47. Check.
For more information on Maine’s “Nap-ah Valley” Wine Tour, go to meetthefleet.com/wine-tours
The Killer Convo
This blog is a is a killer roundup of all arts, entertainment, brewery & distillery, food trucks, happy hour happenings in the Midcoast Maine. Feel free to email me anything about Midcoast arts, entertainment & the creative economy.