How Vermont Became New England's Natural Wine Destination

Ever tried a glass of la crescent? What about marquette? In Vermont, lesser-known varietals are the wines of the future.

People picknicking in the vines at Shelburne Vineyard
Picnickers among the Marquette vines at Shelburne Vineyard, just outside Burlington. Photo: Courtesy of Stella14

"'How's the frontenac noir this year?' asked no one, ever," jokes Kendra Knapik, the owner-grower-winemaker at Vermont's Ellison Estate Vineyard. But she certainly knows the answer — Knapik and her husband, Rob, grow this little-known hybrid on their 50-acre plot, which they purchased four years ago on an island near Burlington.

As climate change redraws the wine-making map, many believe the industry's future will be in cooler regions like this, where a "use what you have" ethos is producing exquisite results. The Knapiks are part of a new crop of Vermont vintners who have taken over vineyard sites planted with previously underappreciated American grapes: hardy, disease-resistant, and an obvious fit for low-intervention agriculture and natural wine making.

Ready for a wine tour? Read on for the producers to know.

Ellison Estate Vineyard

A row of wine bottles from producer Ellison Estate
A selection of natural wines from Ellison Estate Vineyard. Courtesy of Ellison Estate Vineyard

Two visionaries with backgrounds in medicine and science, Kendra and Rob Knapik bought this previously abandoned vineyard on Grand Isle, in Lake Champlain, which was planted mostly with St. Croix (a dark-red-fleshed hybrid that makes wine with notes of black currant and forest floor). Visit in summer to try bottles of surprising richness and depth in the tasting room of the bucolic estate, where the grass is mowed by a flock of sheep — or look for winter pop-up events in Stowe, the couple's winter home and production headquarters.

Shelburne Vineyard + Iapetus

Marquette grapes on the vine at Shelburne Vineyard
Marquette grapes on the vine at Shelburne Vineyard. Courtesy of Shelburne Vineyard

Just south of Burlington, Ken Albert's prestigious and long-standing Shelburne Vineyard has been making wine from hybrid grapes such as marquette (notes of black cherry and baking spice) and Louise Swenson (flowers and honey) for years. Current grower-winemaker Ethan Joseph represents the next generation; he recently launched Iapetus, his own line of experimental wines in hazy hues. Both are on pour at Shelburne's sleek, Craftsman-style tasting room.

La Garagista

Two photos from Garagista wines, including a wine bottle, and two sheep in the vineyard
From left: A bottle of La Garagista white; sheep grazing between the grapes at La Garagista’s Champlain Valley vineyard. Deirdre Heekin/Courtesy of La Garagista Farm & Winery

The pioneer of natural wine making in Vermont, Deirdre Heekin launched her groundbreaking winery-farm in Bethel in 2010, providing guidance — or at least inspiration — for many who came after. Heekin sells layered, story-driven wines, made from varieties like the white grape la crescent (bright, acidic, oranges, and apricots), through the La Garagista website. She also hosts occasional pop-ups and offers curbside pickup.


Stella14 vineyards in Vermont
The Stella14 vineyards in Cambridge, Vermont. Courtesy of Stella14

Vermont native David Keck traveled the world as an opera singer before he became a master sommelier, co-founded a successful hospitality group in Houston, and finally returned home to make wine. Keck leases vineyards from the first-generation vintners at Cambridge's Boyden Valley Winery and released the first wines from his label Stella14 in late 2021, made from marquette (red fruit, violets, roses) and frontenac noir (herbaceous, dark fruit). A tasting room is set to open later this year.

More Places to Taste

Wines for sale at a shop in Vermont
Dedalus, a bottle shop with a focus on natural wines, has three locations in Vermont. Courtesy of Dedalus Wine

Vermont's local producers are supported by a burgeoning market for sustainable, high-quality wine. Three locations of Dedalus offer a combination bottle shop and cheese-wine-charcuterie counter. Or, try the multipurpose Cork Restaurant & Natural Wine Shop, in Stowe; design-conscious Wilder Wines, in Burlington; and Salt & Bubbles Wine Bar and Market, in Essex. Visitors staying at Burlington's Hotel Vermont will find local wines at the hotel's bar and restaurant, including a house pour made in collaboration with Iapetus.

A version of this story first appeared in the April 2022 issue of Travel + Leisure under the headline Grape Awakening.

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