Maine winemakers have long been hobbled by the climate – the same climate that makes our lobsters sweet and our apples crisp. In the past few decades, Mainers have made plenty of sweet dessert wines, especially with blueberries, but not with Maine-grown wine grapes. Wine grapes of all varieties struggled to survive, so winemakers bought their grapes from away.
Science to the rescue. Researchers in other states with cold climates started developing cold-hardy grapes that could withstand the kind of long, harsh winters seen in the Upper Midwest, Northeast and parts of Canada. Maine vintners started planting them. And now those vineyards are – pardon the pun – bearing fruit.
Case in point: Savage Oakes’ Nor’easter, a port-like, fortified dessert wine made with Maine-grown grapes, specifically Frontenac grapes developed at the University of Minnesota. Well-balanced with strong chocolate notes, this wine is 19 percent alcohol. Try it with a flourless chocolate cake for Valentine’s Day, or with any dessert that features blueberries. After sampling the Savage Oakes’ Nor’easter early last week, I saved the rest of the bottle to enjoy during the next snowstorm, which – what luck – came along just a few days later.
Nor’easter won a gold medal last year at the International Cold Climate Wine Competition held in St. Paul.
Savage Oakes Vineyard & Winery, located on a 200-year-old farm in Union, is owned by Elmer and Holly Savage, who have been growing wine grapes since 2002. (They also raise beef cattle and pigs and grow wild blueberries.) Their wines are available online through VinoShipper for shipping out of state or at shops around Maine – see the list on their website. A bottle at Lois’ Natural Marketplace in Scarborough cost $20.99.