Cellardoor Vineyard: ‘This is a way to unwind’

Posted June 09, 2009, at 11:29 p.m.

The symbol displayed prominently throughout the property and incorporated into the logo of Cellardoor Vineyard in Lincolnville features two outward-facing half-circles split by a vertical line, and connected by a horizontal one. According to historical lore, hobos would carve this symbol into abandoned spaces during the 1930s to indicate that the space was safe and welcoming.

When she spotted that symbol carved into an old barn door on the vineyard property, Cellardoor owner and operator Bettina Doulton did a little research and discovered its history. The sentiment behind the secret code was just the kind of thing she wanted to impress upon her guests.

“We want folks to feel welcome as soon as they walk in here. This is a place to get away from stress, from work, from the daily grind,” said Doulton, who has run Cellardoor since 2007. “This is a way to unwind. It’s a place to feel welcome. That’s what we pride ourselves on.”

The vineyard is located on 68 acres of rolling fields off Youngtown Road in Lincolnville, with a stunning view of the Camden Hills and a recently renovated 17th century post-and-beam barn, which houses the winery and a gift shop.

“Not a lot of people realized that there was such a view here, before we put in the windows overlooking the hills,” said Doulton. “But it’s a little hidden gem in midcoast Maine. It looks like California, or Italy, and it’s five miles from Camden.”

It was that beautiful plot of land, as well as a shared love of wine culture, that inspired John and Stephanie Clapp in 1996 to purchase it from the Young family, who had owned it since the early 1900s. The Clapps started Cellardoor that same year, planting the vineyards and converting the barn into a gift and wine shop. For 10 more years they made a handful of wines, including such varieties as Perfect Stranger, a juicy, tangy wine made from white Cayuga grapes, and Queen Anne’s Lace, a sweet, fruity blend of Riesling and vidal blanc.

In late 2006, Doulton visited the property while on vacation in Maine. A longtime money manager at Fidelity Mutual in Boston, Doulton quietly was looking for a way out of the corporate rat race. Upon her visit to the vineyard, she knew she had found what she was looking for.

“As soon as I walked into the place, I felt at home. Sometimes you get lucky and you know,” said Doulton. “As it turned out, the Clapps were interested in selling it. It was the right place and the right time.”

Doulton quit her job, moved to Maine and jumped on board, first renovating the barn, including the addition of a large, comfortable back deck so guests can take in the scenery. She then purchased and renovated the 19th century mustard-colored Victorian-style house on Route 1 in Rockport that now serves as the Villa, Cellardoor’s more centrally located retail location and tasting room.

There was a kind of boom in the Maine wine scene in the 1990s, when wineries such as Winterport Winery and Sow’s Ear Winery in Gouldsboro opened — before that time, there wasn’t really a Maine wine industry at all. Now, more than 15 vineyards and wineries exist in Maine, from Sweetgrass Winery and Distillery in Union, to the newest member of the Maine wine scene, Oyster River Winegrowers in Warren, run by Brian Smith, a winemaker at Cellardoor.

While it’s not exactly an East Coast Napa Valley, the Maine wine scene is small but growing. Most wines made in Maine tend to be either fruit wines or wines made from more hardy grapes, such as the Concord grape. Cellardoor makes Sweetheart, a Concord grape wine that tastes just like grape jelly, as well as an ice wine called N’Ice and a dessert wine, Amorosa. Maine is too cold to grow the better-known grapes, such as Merlot or Sauvignon Blanc, but some hybrids have been bred to grow in a colder climate.

“The midcoast is one of the warmer growing areas in Maine, certainly. The close proximity to the ocean helps, I think,” said Aaron Peet, a winemaker at Cellardoor. “But it’s still very cold. There still aren’t enough people actually growing vines to know just what can grow here.”

Doulton has introduced a number of new wines and hired a much larger staff since she took over, including full-time winemakers Smith and Peet, and Peet’s wife, C.C., manager of the vineyard and an expert in wine pairings. As Doulton readily admits, she always loved wine, but her knowledge of it at the time she bought the vineyard was moderate at best — though it’s much, much better now.

“One nice thing I learned from Fidelity was that you can learn from other folks what you yourself don’t know,” she said. “Everyone here has taught me so much. Everyone here contributes something special. It’s a team effort.”

Cellardoor now makes 14 varieties of wine — including their newest blend, Prince Valiant, a bold, intense blend of Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Petite Syrah and Viognier grapes. As winemaker Peet explains, the sometimes-exotic grapes that go into Cellardoor wines are what makes their products special.

“You don’t get to try wines made from grapes like La Crescent or Traminette very often,” said Peet, who received a bachelor’s degree in English at the University of Maine, and later got a post-graduate degree in viticulture at Fresno State University in California. “I was able to make a lot of contacts in the California wine industry, so we can bring in some really special grapes.”

Around 16,000 pounds of blueberries go into making Cellardoor’s Blue Lobster Blue, which, unlike many other fruit wines, is surprisingly dry, while still tasting intensely of blueberries. Forty tons of grapes will go into making this fall’s crop of wines — few of which will be harvested from Cellardoor’s own vineyard, as Doulton and company are replanting many of the vines.

“You can’t make a vineyard turn around any faster than Mother Nature wants it to,” said Doulton. “Fortunately, we have Brian and Aaron to find the best grapes from all over the country.”

Winemaking season begins in earnest in October. Right now, it’s wine-drinking season — and the scores of visitors to both the vineyards in Lincolnville and the villa in Rockport get a free wine tasting with their visit. Each Sunday at the vineyard, Cellardoor features a Maine creamery, bakery or chef, pairing select culinary delights with their wines. And there’s also the winemaking classes, scheduled several times a summer, the popularity of which has surprised Doulton.

“The winemaking classes have really taken off,” said Doulton. “I don’t think people realize that winemaking isn’t quite as hard as they’d think it is. It’s an art, and it’s also a really unique skill people can learn.”

Cellardoor also reaches out to the community, especially in its commitment to Maine arts, as seen in its annual sponsorship of an event designed to raise funds for an area arts organization [See accompanying sidebar].

“It’s Maine wine, by Maine people,” said Doulton. “It’s really all about bringing people together, to enjoy themselves and forget the troubles and stresses of their lives. That’s what all this is about, for me.”

Cellardoor Vineyard is located on Youngtown Road in Lincolnville; the Villa is located at the intersection of Routes 1 and 90 in Rockport. For more information, visit www.mainewine.com.

On Thursday, June 18, Cellardoor will sponsor Pop the Cork 2, its second fundraiser for an area arts organization. This year, Cellardoor will raise money for the Center for Maine Contemporary Art in Rockport by hosting music, art, food and wine at multiple venues throughout downtown Rockport. A parade, music by zydeco band Slippery Sneakers and swing trio Three Button Deluxe and an assortment of Maine foods and arts will highlight the evening.

The event, set for 5:30-9:30 p.m., also will showcase CMCA’s latest exhibits, “Comic-al,” an exhibit of comic book art, and “You Are Here: Linden Frederick, Studies and Paintings,” featuring the work of the Maine artist. Cellardoor will introduce its first limited edition Artist’s Series wine, featuring Frederick’s painting “Halloween, 1994” on the label.

Tickets to the event are $75, and are available by calling 236-2654 or e-mailing tickets@cellardoorvineyard.com.

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