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July 24, 2009

How To Become a Locabib

Growing grapes in Maine is not an easy task. Some would say it’s impossible because of the short growing season and myriad pests and weather issues. But while the hills may not be alive with Pinot noir, there are plenty of Concord grapes, which are one of the few fruits native to the U.S. They grew wild all over my father's property in Turner, along the banks of the Androscoggin River. Growing up, I would crawl around in their thick, craggy darkness and emerge purple-stained; the grapes are slip-skin and separate easily from the flesh, leaving behind sticky trails of juice. My step-brothers and I would pick them and then try to make grape juice. It always turned out strong enough to peel paint even after we added sugar. Lots of it.

Twenty years later, I have become a full-on wine freak. For me, it’s evangelism, fetish, and passion combined. I belong to two vineyard cellar clubs and have glasses, decanters, openers and, of course, bottles all over my place. I’m reading a 960-page book called “1001 Wines You Must Taste Before You Die” — because I must. I was elated to taste some of the wines being produced at Maine’s 18 vineyards (and counting) when I was home in March researching an article on micro-distilleries. While the majority were fruit-based, much of the fruit was native (a huge plus in winemaking circles) and every spot had a star … and some plonk. I came away amazed at what Maine winemakers have been able to do with blueberries, in particular. I have an unmarked bottle in my wine fridge that I bet some of the best-trained palates would struggle to distinguish from a Mendoza Malbec. In fact, I saw one try and fail, much to the winemaker's understated glee. 

Now it's mid-summer and prime time for winery visits from Casco to Union and Winterport. Many locations offer free tastings and feature space for you to bring a nosh and enjoy beautiful scenery with your buzz.  Just remember that any multi-stop trip will require the Maine Atlas and Gazetteer, a sense of adventure and an understanding designated driver. Just be sure to tip her in bottles.

Jessica Strelitz is a contributing writer to Maine Food & Lifestyle magazine.

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