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The Boston Globe

Food & dining

Sips

Hyper-local wines in the eyes of the beholder

ROWLEY — You might think that wine made within an hour’s drive of Boston is about as local as you can get. But if grapes are grown somewhere other than Massachusetts — in California, for example — does that make the wine less local? On a sunny blue-sky Saturday, we head to the North Shore to find out.

It may be news to you that Massachusetts’s north coast is home to a growing community of wineries and beer breweries. Four of those producers hope to change that by branding themselves the North Shore Crush & Brew Trail, anchored by Rowley’s Mill River Winery in the south and Jewell Towne Vineyards just over the New Hampshire border in South Hampton in the north. These winemakers have a lot to say about what’s local.

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Rick Rousseau, who owns and makes wine at Mill River Winery with partner Donna Martin, affirms that most of their bottles are vinified from California-grown grapes. But it comes down to craft. “Our wine is local because it’s made locally,” he says. Brewers, he adds, don’t grow their own hops, but their brews are embraced as native.

Next year Mill River Winery will release quaffs made from cold-hardy varietals like Frontenac and Cayuga, planted on the property in 2012, says operations director Steve Tudal. He thinks the acumen of the winemaker is more important than the provenance of the fruit. “We start making decisions as soon as the grapes arrive,” he says. “If we’re talking about a red wine, do we cold soak? What yeasts will we use? What temperature will we ferment at? One step different, and you’ll get different wine.”

The notion that local wines are only crafted from New England-grown grapes might be reinforced by the fact that producers on the more established Coastal Wine Trail of Southeastern New England are considered farm-wineries. Nine of the 10 on that trail grow their own grapes.

Many enthusiasts regard “estate-grown” as more desirable, but judging by the fresh, sound wines we tasted at Mill River, it doesn’t appear that these grapes lost anything on their journey from the Golden State.

At the farm-winery Jewell Towne Vineyards, owner Peter Oldak is enthusiastic about the dozens of French hybrids that grow on his property. These vines combine the ability to withstand New England winters, resist disease, and thrive in a short growing season. When the winemaker meets visitors who are unfamiliar with grape varietals he’s growing, such as Marechal Foch and Leon Millot, he talks about terroir. The grapes were developed in France in the late 19th century, but are more popular today in places like the eastern US. “One of the joys of travel is the opportunity to taste local grapes, those unique to that area,” says the winemaker.

Being part of a growing community has its rewards. Recently, the Mill River team needed extra bottles, which Jewell Towne supplied. When it comes to neighbor helping neighbor, you can’t get more local than that.

Mill River Winery, 498 Newburyport Turnpike (Route 1), Rowley, 978-432-1280, www.millriverwines.com; Jewell Towne Vineyards, 183 Whitehall Road, South Hampton, N.H.,
603-394-0600, www.jewelltowne
vineyards.com.

Ellen Bhang can be reached at bytheglass@globe.com.
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