You can learn a lot about winemakers from what they make. A producer
in the Bay State and another in Maine are making fizzy pours that reflect distinct approaches to crafting wines.
Brian Smith, 36, owns Oyster River Winegrowers, located on his farm in Warren, Maine. “I make wines as they would in pre-industrial times,” he says, which means eschewing modern additives and even refrigeration in the process. “I spend less time in the chem lab and more time on the farm.”
Smith studied enology and viticulture at California State University, Fresno and purchased the 57-acre farm in 2007 (his wife is a Maine native). He grows only 2 acres of cold-hardy French-American hybrid grapes. From these vines and grapes he purchases, the winegrower makes a line of still and sparkling wines, and also cultivates 20 varieties of heirloom apples for cider. In this back-to-the-land life, he plows his fields with Belgian draft horses and does not own a tractor. “If I could make wine without electricity, I would,” he says.
His low-tech approach shows up in a bottle called “Morphos,” a petillant naturel, a lightly sparkling white wine made from seyval blanc and Cayuga grapes (he sources the juice from a vineyard in the Finger Lakes region of New York). The “pet nat” is bottled under a crown cap before fermentation ends so bubbles continue to form as yeast eats the remaining sugar. It’s a slightly hazy, yeasty pour that is refreshingly tart and low in alcohol (10 percent alcohol by volume).
Westport Rivers, in the southeastern corner of Massachusetts, has been producing bottles for more than 25 years. If you ask Bill Russell, 49, what he prefers to be called — winemaker or winegrower — he laughs. “When [my older brother] Rob is in the room, he’s vineyard manager and I’m winemaker,” he says. His family has worked with the state and regional land trusts to permanently preserve their acreage plus surrounding land — 400 acres in all — as working farmland and forest.
Being attuned to the land allows them to cultivate 80 acres of vinifera (the wine grape family that includes familiar varietals like riesling and pinot noir) on a scale that no other Massachusetts grape grower can match. A peachy, slightly sweet white called “Farmer’s Fizz,” made from chardonnay, comes in a tall brown beer bottle. Effervescence is captured from the primary fermentation, with more CO2 bubbled in to complete its perky profile.
Russell says the prosecco-like libation (just under 11 percent alcohol) is the result of “blue sky dreaming” that he and his brother often do to come up with new wines.
When you love the land you farm — wherever it is — good ideas keep bubbling up.
“Morphos” Petillant Naturel 2014 from Oyster River Winegrowers, around $15, available at Wine & Cheese Cask, Somerville, 617-623-8656, and Streetcar Wine & Beer, Jamaica Plain, 617-522-6416. “Farmer’s Fizz” from Westport Rivers (around $14), available at City Feed and Supply, Jamaica Plain, 617-524-1700, and the Davis Square farmers’ market on Wednesdays.