Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Ride of the Valkyries: Ray Knudsen, Vermont Winemaker Part 2

The pirate Ray leaps towards a single barrel, “This may put us on the map!” He plunges his thief into the barrel. It’s Marquette (hybrids are named after towns in Minnesota) planted about three years ago. Wild cherries jumping out of the glass, spice and pepper with soft tannins. We think a softer version of a northern Rhone. There is only one barrel made.

“Wanna see the vineyards? Want this barrel? Wait. Dump. Wash. Here! Try this. It’s the base for my forthcoming sparkling." We get a fine Muscat aftertaste, yet of the clean finish in Champagne. Stay with this one Ray.

We follow Ray bouncing atop his ATV towards the vineyards. We’ve lived on the top of more than one mountain for near 20 years, yet Ray makes us feel suburban. At about 600 feet there is a sweep of land with 50 plus rows of grapes and a well-trodden road cut down the middle. The canopies, so familiar elsewhere, are different here--propped up along wires on posts that Ray has sunk himself over the years. They droop a bit, almost a cower compared to the vinfera vines that stand at attention and say, “I am the proud bearer of the fruit of centuries.”

“What’s going on Ray?”

“The hybrids grow down, vinifera grow up.” That simple.

“What happened to those few rows?” we ask, pointing down hill.

“Scrawny, huh? Minnesota thinks they may be too ugly or shabby or whatever. No official name yet. But it could be the future of red wine in Vermont.”

Okay one last thing. We storm back down to the winery, replete with a pile of rocks nearly blocking the door and raspberries ripe for harvest just an arms length away.

“Don’t think I need to have a tasting room for everyone, what do you think?’

We agree. “You don’t need tire kickers.”

You Know Thaaat! Ray pops a small bottle of a chilled wine that looks like sherry, smells a bit like Marsala and tastes like almonds soaking in apricots and apples.

“I had these extra grapes and didn’t know what to do with them so instead of throwing them out I called my friend, Chris Granstrom, who is also a winemaker in Vermont. We decided to haul them upstate and for no good reason to rent some locker space and freeze all of them whole and deal with them later. Want do you think?”

“Ice wine?” we asked

“Ice wine … sort of. A wine taster from Spain came by after we bottled it told and said we were sitting on a treasure.”

“It would go great with the dessert course on our wine tasting menu at Hemingway’s.”


We took the last little sip of our “non-spitter” and invited Ray to do a Vermont winemakers dinner in October with a few of his fellow winemakers.

“Of course,” he replied.

We got into the car and drove down the hill towards Fair Haven and then across to Rutland thinking, "We're going to have fun at our end of October dinner!"