Home News and Features Local Vintner Makes Prize-winning Wine Freezing Weather Forces Early Grape Harvest

Local Vintner Makes Prize-winning Wine
Freezing Weather Forces Early Grape Harvest

Susan Comen of Worcester clips a cluster of grapes she is readying to be crushed and fermented. Photo by Carla Occaso.
Thanks to a cold snap, Montpelier Vineyards harvested their grape crop Oct. 2 — a week earlier than planned.

Owner Douglas Becker paced the perimeter of the vineyard grounds he operates with his son, Andrew, shortly after beginning to harvest. It was a bright, sunny day: perfect for grape harvesting. Later that afternoon, he planned to crush the grapes and prepare for fermentation. 

Becker gave The Bridge a sample grape plucked from the vine as he introduced the small group of people harvesting grapes with him and his son. Those people included Todd Comen, Susan Comen, and Susan Evans. The one plump dark purple grape was sweet and delicious — nothing like the sour/bitter grapes that grow wild on the side of the road in East Montpelier. The Comens, a couple from Worcester, were helping to harvest grapes as a means of training themselves to cultivate their own vineyard.

Andrew (left) and Douglas Becker, a father-and-son team, work together making mead and wine at Montpelier Vineyards in Montpelier. Photo by Carla Occaso.
Last year’s grape crop yielded a prizewinning wine: the 2021 “Petite Pearl” single varietal red, which won “best wine” at the Big E this year (the fifth largest fair in the nation, according to thebige.com). Notes about the prize-winning wine on montpeliervineyards.com state that 2021 was a perfect year to grow grapes because it was a warm, dry spring and a hot summer. Fermentation last year took place in stainless steel for two weeks “followed by four months in virgin 112-liter Hungarian oak barrels,” according to the website. It had secondary fermentation and aging in “glass demijohns” before bottling. All this work and attention has made for a time consuming, yet luscious enterprise.

 “Our red wine is absolutely delicious,” Becker said.

Although the organic vineyard has been closed to the public this summer because of family matters, Becker established it in 1997, when he moved his family to Vermont. And he has bigger plans for next summer involving a big outdoor pizza oven and a tasting area. Becker said he has retired as a culinary arts instructor at the Green Mountain Technology and Career Center in Hyde Park — his training is in culinary arts. His son, Andrew, makes mead, and will continue to do so next year. 

“Andrew just bought 40 acres in Washington, Vermont, and we planted grapes there this year,” Becker said. They also planted 2,000 raspberry plants. “Raspberry mead with honey is amazing. He is the mead maker and I am the winemaker,” he added.

The wines and meads are made in small batches, but several stores in the area sell it, including Yankee Spirits in Montpelier, Plainfield Hardware, Stowe Public House, The Wine Vault (Waterbury), Craft Beer Cellar (Waterbury), Willey’s Store (Greensboro), Beverage Warehouse (Winooski), and Wine and Cheese Traders in Williston.

Calling around to a few of the merchants who carry Montpelier Vineyard’s wine, The Bridge learned it has a good reputation. Rob Hurst, COO of Willey’s Store in Greensboro said wine tasting events featuring Montpelier Vineyards wine usually attract a big crowd. The wine is a “very energetically selling wine for locals and visitors,” Hurst said. He noted that fall foliage season attracts customers who snap up wine and cheese. “I want to start doing more local wines,” he said.

Over at Plainfield Hardware, a staffer who did not want to be named said they have been selling it for about a year and get good feedback from customers. Some of the other wine purveyors were not immediately available for comment — it being a peak fall foliage weekend.

So local wine lovers can look forward to next summer, where, hopefully, Becker’s plans will come together and customers can sit under the sun and sip locally made wine and mead on the hill overlooking the North Branch valley while munching homemade pizza fresh from the oven.

North Branch Vineyard Is Open

We were thrilled to hear that North Branch Vineyard on Trillium Hill in Montpelier is alive and well and open to the public. In our last issue of The Bridge (Oct. 5–18), we reported that an internet search indicated they were “temporarily closed.” We have since learned that not only is North Branch Vineyard  open again, but they’ve been harvesting grapes in the past couple of weeks, attending the Stowe Foliage Arts Festival, and working on a website overhaul. Updated info about the Vineyard can be found at facebook.com/nbvineyards/about or call 802-318-1520.

Stay tuned for a full profile on North Branch Vineyard in our ongoing series about local wines, beers, and spirits.