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Side Dishes: Vermont wines take high honors

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Vermont wines are getting ever more delicious, and they’re collecting gold to show it.

On August 18, two local wines garnered top honors at the International Cold Climate Wine Competition in Minnesota: Shelburne Vineyard took home “best in show” red wine for its 2010 Marquette, and New Haven’s Lincoln Peak Vineyard won “best in show” white for its 2010 La Crescent Late Harvest.

Both wines were competing with about 250 others made from cold-climate grapes, or new grape varietals that can withstand the extreme temperatures of northern climates. Most of these grapes were pioneered at the University of Minnesota, and the state remains a mecca of sorts for cold-climate research and winemaking.

This year marked the third “best in show” for Lincoln Peak, which has risen to success with its Marquette and La Crescent wines. “It’s one of those rare grapes that appeals to the beginning wine drinker as well as the more sophisticated wine drinker,” says winemaker and owner Chris Granstrom about the floral La Crescent. He adds that the vineyard staff carefully prunes vines so that grape clusters get maximum sun exposure. “It’s something the customer never knows. It’s just in the quality of the wine.”

Shelburne Vineyard co-owner Ken Albert says last summer’s stellar weather made 2010 “the vintage of the decade.” Besides getting the one-up from Mother Nature, Albert aged the winning wine sur lie, a method often used on European whites to impart deeper flavors. “The whole challenge [for northern growers] is to develop a large mouthfeel. The way to increase mouthfeel is to leave the dead yeast cells in the bottom of the barrel,” says Albert, and to rock the barrels periodically to ensure their flavors mingle. (Most of the rocking was done by Ethan Joseph, the vineyard’s manager and assistant winemaker.)

Granstrom sounds happy for his fellow winemakers’ win. “It’s good news,” he says. “If people know what a wonderful wine [Marquette] can be, they’re going to search it out.”

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