Farmington couple starts winery

Posted Oct. 22, 2012, at 9:26 a.m.
John Cormier holds a bottle of Sandy River Red, a wine produced in Farmington's new winery, Fiddlehead Winery.
Ann Bryant | Sun Journal
John Cormier holds a bottle of Sandy River Red, a wine produced in Farmington's new winery, Fiddlehead Winery.

FARMINGTON, Maine — A new local wine, Sandy River Red, produced in Franklin County’s first winery, becomes available this week.

After 15 years of tweaking recipes, John and Patty Cormier, owners of Kennebec Home Brew Supplies, are ready to open their own wine production, Fiddlehead Winery, at 235 Farmington Falls Road.

Cormier has been immersed in home wine and beer making over the years, selling supplies and teaching classes, first in a Farmingdale shop and for the past five years in Farmington.

Now he said he has figured out the right combination of time and care to produce their own wine products on the scale of 1,000-bottle batches.

Test samplers of Sandy River Red already agree, he said.

There are no vineyards or large storehouses full of wine barrels yet. With a small storage unit beside the present store, part of the couple’s home has been turned into a production area with a commercial kitchen.

They import the fruit juice and skins from around the world, including Italy and Napa Valley, Calif., ones already crushed or processed in Canada. Then Cormier starts cooking the wine, adding other ingredients, including oak chips and oak dust. The nine-week process includes time in an oak barrel from Hungary. It adds flavor, he said.

“It’s all hands-on just like the small wineries of Europe,” he said.

Unlike the larger wine companies that filter or process their wine in order to produce quantities in shorter periods, Cormier is content to start small.

The processing thins, clarifies and reduces the alcohol level. It can bring a 14 percent alcohol wine down to 6 percent. Sandy River Red is 17 percent alcohol from the grapes, he said. He wants to produce a quality custom wine for people in this county, the product of years of practice.

The alcohol, oak, sweetness, dryness and acid levels all have to come together and balance, he said.

“It’s time and care that it needs. There’s no guesswork to it,” he added.

Cormier intends to also make a variety of fruit wines like blueberry, strawberry and raspberry, although he hasn’t tried using local fruit.

He does plan to try grapes grown on the River Road in Phillips by Paul Caruso next year.

Although wineries are cropping up around the state, some growing their own grapes, Cormier questions whether the climate, good for potatoes and corn, is right for growing grapes and fruit with natural sugar-contents high enough to produce the wine he wants.

He and Caruso have agreed to give it a try, perhaps developing a light sparkling wine. He’s not ready to plant vineyards along the Sandy River, which meanders in back of his home business, he said.

Although called Fiddlehead Winery, he also questions the probability of producing wine from the local spring delicacy. The name was suggested by the local extension office.

After a lengthy federal and state licensing process, the new wine is ready to sell. It’s a business that’s highly regulated. The process would discourage most people from trying, he said of his wife’s patience with the paperwork.

Patty is currently working to acquire distillation licensing to make hard liquors. It’s a more lengthy process. Once done, it will be the first distillery in the county, too, he said.

Eventually he hopes to get out of the home brew supply business and concentrate on production and expansion of that.

Production will begin in earnest as he prepares for orders from local ski resorts starting in November, he said.

Making only 1,000 bottles at a time looks overwhelming, but he plans to take it in stride and work away at it.

“I always say, ‘How do you eat an elephant? A little bit at a time.’”

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