Friday, June 06, 2008

Epanding Maine Wineries Establish New Maine Winery Guild

Photo/david a. rodgers
Elmer and Holly Savage, owners of Savage Oakes Vineyard and Winery in Union, say attracting visitors to their farm is essential to bringing in revenue

Cluster on the vine
Wineries are hot spots for tourists. But for Maine’s emerging wine industry, success is a group effort.

Elmer and Holly Savage, owners of Savage Oakes Vineyard and Winery in Union, say attracting visitors to their farm is essential to bringing in revenue
A 50-foot Ferris wheel peeked over the roof of the main building at Cellardoor Vineyard on May 9, making an incongruous addition to the stately winery in its hilltop setting in Lincoln­ville. A crew of men spent a day assemb­­ling the wheel in the back parking lot after hauling it to Maine from Iowa.

In the early afternoon, Bettina Doulton, Cellardoor's co-owner, walked out to the back porch for a quick inspec­­tion of the wheel's progress. After an employee tending to a garden dryly told Doulton she had just noticed it, Doulton joked back, "It's easy to miss!"

The Ferris wheel was part of the winery's spring festival, held in mid-May to herald the arrival of warm weather and the winery's season opening. This year, more than 800 people came out for the party, perhaps due to the rare chance to take a carnival ride high above growing vines.

Doulton and John Tynan bought Cellardoor in early 2007 from a couple who had planted the vineyard 10 years prior. From the start, they have opened the vineyard up to the public. "For us, it's not about the sale of wine, it's about connecting with people, connecting people with each other," Tynan says, sitting recently in the cool, dim balcony of the post-and-beam tasting room where he could watch the season's first guests sip Queen Ann's Lace or Vino Divine, or any one of Cellardoor's 11 homemade wines.

Doulton adds, "We really love the opportunity to interact with guests around communication, around community. It's about conversation, food tasting, wine tasting." The two are corporate refugees, having left Fidelity Investments in Boston to jump into their winemaking dream after Doulton made a full recovery from breast cancer.

At Cellardoor and the other 11 licensed wineries in Maine, now is the season to open the doors, dust off the bottles and let the wine flow. During summer and fall, most Maine wineries sell between 50% and 95% of their bottles from their tasting rooms. Vintners say they can pull in as many as 50 to 200 visitors on a busy day, tapping into the deep reserves of tourists who flock every summer to Maine, and especially to the midcoast, where the wineries are concentrated.

For most of the Maine wineries — many of which are fairly young — attracting visitors is essential for survival. Elmer Savage, the co-owner of Savage Oaks Vineyard and Winery in Union, says two-thirds of the farm's visitors are tourists, and 95% of the farm's wine is sold on the premises to tourists and locals. Elmer and his wife, Holly, are now making 10,000 bottles — or 2,000 gallons — of wine a year, six years after planting their first vine. What they don't sell at the vineyard gets sold at local retail stores. Last year, Savage Oaks' wine sales hit $40,000 — double the previous year's revenue, and about two-thirds of the farm's total revenue. (Besides growing grapes, the Savages also raise cattle and pigs and sell pork, beef and blueberries on their 95-acre farm.) "At our size, we couldn't make it without having people come right to the farm," Elmer Savage says.

Local production
Maine's small wineries aren't likely to grab a large share of the global wine trade. For starters, oenophiles aren't yet embracing Frontenac or St. Pepin as the next great wine grapes. But the main reason is that Maine wineries just can't produce enough wine to fill more than a local demand. What's more, Maine wineries are hurt by state laws prohibiting shipments of alcohol via mail or the Internet, unlike 25 other states that allow interstate wine sales. This makes on-premise sales all the more vital for wineries that have not yet established a widespread presence in shops, grocery stores or restaurants. Plus, selling bottles from the winery itself means higher margins for vintners.

The key for these wineries, then, is to make the wine-tasting process an experiential one, and to lure tourists off the beach and into their tasting rooms. And once those tourists are in the winery, they typically leave with a bottle or two — or better yet, a case — of the wine.

Bob Bartlett, co-owner of Bartlett Maine Estate Winery in Gouldsboro, says wine tasting is becoming more and more an essential rite for tourists when visiting a new area, like having to eat a lobster in Maine or fish-and-chips in England. "Tourism is extremely important in this business," he says. "Historically in Maine, most of the business is tourism, and that applies to wineries."

Read the rest at:

A list of Maine Winery Guild members
1. Bar Harbor Cellars
Route 3, Bar Harbor 04609
Doug Mafucci and Barbara Patten

2. Bartlett Maine Estate Winery
RR1 Box 598, Gouldsboro 04607
Bob and Kathe Bartlett

3. Blacksmiths Winery
967 Quaker Ridge Rd., South Casco 04077
Steve Linne

4. Cellardoor Vineyard
367 Youngtown Rd., Lincolnville 04849
Bettina Doulton and John Tynan

5. Royal River Winery
56 Ryder Rd., Yarmouth 04096
Erik Carson and Irene Marchenay

6. Savage Oakes Vineyard & Winery
174 Barrett Hill Rd., Union 04862
Elmer and Holly Savage

7. Shalom Orchard Organic Farm, Winery and B&B
158 Eastbrook Rd., Franklin 04634
James and Charlotte Baranski

8. Sow's Ear Winery
303 Coastal Rd., Brooksville 04617
Tom Hoey

9. Sweetgrass Farm Winery & Distillery
347 Carroll Rd., Union 04862
Keith and Constance Bodine

10. Tanguay & Son Winery
24 Scribner Blvd., Lewiston 04240
Gerald Tanguay

11. Vintner's Cellar Winery
1037 Forest Ave., Portland 04103
Heidi Shangraw

12. Winterport Winery
279 Main St., Winterport 04496
Michael and Joan Anderson

Source: Maine Winery Guild