Early last month, my son Liam and I visited The Boyden Valley Winery in Cambridge Vermont. Having grown up in Northern Vermont, the weekend we spent there was truly like going home for me. Boyden Valley is nestled in the northwestern part of the state, between the Green and the Adirondack Mountains. A recent snowstorm had dusted the surrounding hills and mountains with white and the air was crisp but not unduly chilly that fall weekend.
We arrived early for our wine tasting and tour and in anticipation; we’d packed a simple picnic, which we enjoyed in the sunken garden next to the carriage barn at the winery. The sun was kind and graced us with her presence. Liam and I walked a bit along the outer edge of a nearby field of rows of grapevines. We were positively impressed by the neatness and obvious health of the fields, even in November.
The Boyden Valley Winery is the first winery (licensed) in the state of Vermont, having been a family dairy farm previous to its reincarnation in the early 1990’s. Currently it is a 5-generation family operation with various members working to grow the many grapes and other fruits involved in the process, as well as harvesting the sugar bush for the syrup used in some of the products and one family member, an artist, creating the labels for all the wines.
We entered the large carriage barn at the front entrance, in time for the 1 pm wine tasting and found ourselves to be the only ones in that ‘group’, the previous larger group proceeding through a door at the far end of the barn, onto the next phase of the tour. Our concerns that we would not be enough in number to justify a full tour were soon allayed as we were treated to our own tour and tasting.
At the beginning of our tour, we were handed a double-sided sheet of paper, listing all the wines and related products produced by Boynton Valley. Each item was described in detail. “A long time tradition in Vermont, the making of rhubarb wine has been passed down from generation to generation. Our Vermont rhubarb wine is semi-dry and medium in body, full of rhubarb flavor and aroma, with a refreshing finish…”
We were handed pencils, encouraged to ask any question and circle up to 7 options, which we would like to sample. We ‘bellied up’ to the well-worn barn board bar and took our time considering each wine selection. Liam and I typically have nearly opposite preferences in wines so it wasn’t unusual that we chose entirely different varieties to try. It worked out well though, as we ended up tasting many of each others’ samples as well as our own, sharing our little glasses to maximize our experience.
Liam tends to enjoy robust reds with hearty notes and I usually lean toward much lighter, fruitier varieties. In fact, the reason I chose this winery to visit, besides proximity to our weekend location, was the fact that they make several varieties of fruit wines, made entirely from the fruit designated, as opposed to simply fruit-infused grape wines. They also produce a pair of cream liqueurs that sounded heavenly, made with maple syrup and apple brandy.
Neither of us was disappointed. Liam found some nice reds and (I think) surprised himself by enjoying some of the fruit wines I was sampling. We both loved the cream liqueur! There was an amber dessert wine, Gold Leaf, which I simply had to take home to savor, and I picked up a bottle of cranberry wine to serve on Christmas Eve as well.
The fruit wines were flavorful and each one was strongly reminiscent of the fruit it was made from, a refreshing discovery. Those made with maple syrup had distinctive maple undertones and each one I sampled, beyond the initial bouquet, opened up further when it met my tongue, exposing layer upon layer of flavor.
Old Mill Converted to a Home, Near the Winery
When we finished at the tasting area, another employee took us on a tour of the building, a converted carriage barn. We viewed the areas where the wine was bottled, then labeled and prepared for shipping. From there, we continued into a lower level of the immense barn where the large stainless steel, once milk tanks now converted to wine settling tanks, were lined up neatly on one wall. On another wall, oak barrels were stacked and labeled. I was impressed by the overall cleanliness and order of the operation.Oak Barrels for Aging Wine
We watched a short video of some of the steps involved, such as the harvest of grapes in 20 degree weather to make the famous Vermont Ice Wines, a very exacting and weather dependant process.
I asked and was assured that the parts of the grapes leftover when the pressing was done, the skins and seeds, were all returned to the land as fertilizer and nothing was wasted. It was explained that most of the fruits; blueberries, raspberries, rhubarb, apples, grapes etc. were grown right here on the farm, and locally, including 3 cranberry bogs. I was very impressed.
After the tour, we visited the showroom upstairs where we chose our purchases and ogled all the tempting items for sale.
When we checked out, the cashier added an engraved wine goblet to each of our bags. I told her we hadn’t purchased glasses and she said they were included in our $6 wine tour and tasting package. Well, if I hadn’t already felt like we’d received exceptional value for our money, that would have done it!
What a great, relaxing and educational experience we had at Boynton Valley Winery. This is an industry that I am proud to support. It is incredibly heartwarming to see a family maintain a mufti-generational working farm by converting its purpose to another viable business that gives back in so many ways.