Making Vermont a Leader in Cold-Climate Varietals
Shelburne Vineyard, the third vineyard to open in Vermont, is recognized as a pioneer in cold-climate winemaking. The ambience inside invites you to relax, and even on inclement days, it offers a cozy place to sample award-winning wines while enjoying expansive views of nature, grape vines in particular.
The history of this thriving vineyard began 35 years ago when Shelburne residents Ken and Gail Albert began growing grapes in their backyard. Ken, a retired IBM engineer, and Gail, a higher education administrator and educator, brought a lifelong passion to fruition. Shelburne Vineyards, founded in 1998 by the Alberts and later joined with two partners Scott Prom and Sam Coppola, began on three acres of leased land and produced its first wine in 2001. The Alberts built the winery that now stands just off busy Route 7, directly across from the well-known Fiddlehead Brewery, in 2008. The location, just south of the village of Shelburne, is a perfect spot for beer lovers and wine connoisseurs alike. The biggest decision—one new for Vermonters—is which to sample first: beer or wine?
As we stood at the long bar, which Kayla explained was constructed from a large piece of reclaimed wood from nearby Shelburne Farms forest, we were struck by the overall environmental ethic. Natural materials, expansive windows and earthy touches offered a sense of serenity. The setting’s beauty remains a pleasure even when the bar is jammed with tasters enlivening the room with convivial conversation. The winery also hosts poetry readings, yoga amidst the vines, live music and wedding events.
With vision, hard work and determination, the community-minded Alberts have used their talents well to create a winery that has clearly become a destination for locals as well as tourists. Ken and Gail have been fortunate to attract a young staff of enthusiastic hardworking people who, like winemaker Ethan Joseph and tasting room manager Rhiannon Johnson, keep the wine flowing. Our server, Kayla, was just one of a team of wine servers whose knowledge of wine, enthusiasm and stories add to the experience. It’s clear they enjoy being part of the Shelburne Vineyard crew.
Climate plays a big role in the grape-growing business and demands close attention. Climate change impacts grapes just like other fruits and vegetables. As Ken loves to say, “Running a vineyard is farming year round.”
Ken and Gail Albert are putting Vermont on the map for their award-winning cold-climate grapes. Their expanding list of northern varietals like Marquette, La Crescent and Louise Swenson continue to bring home medals at national and international competitions. Their newest release, Petite Pearl, just in time for the holiday season, is a new cold-hardy hybrid grape. Shelburne Vineyard may be the first winery in Vermont to bring this varietal to market. With over 30 vineyards in Vermont now, Shelburne Vineyard’s innovation proves that not only is our state leading the way in home-grown spirits, craft beer and heirloom cider, it’s also a winner with wine.
Laurie Caswell Burke is a beer lover. But her collaboration with Bronwyn Jones Dunne on a book project has brought her to the darker side of liquid Vermont. Both writers have become lovers of Vermont vintages.