A good book, good wine, good food...sounds like a great weekend and some great gift ideas, just in case you were planning ahead!
Vermont is home to not just great food, but also great food writers. . . and sometimes growing food, writing about food, and offering a unique dining experience all come together, like with Deirdre Heekin’s new book An Unlikely Vineyard.
Here’s my favorite Sunday morning activity: a fresh cup of coffee, breakfast, and meandering my way through stacks of cookbooks and food articles, following whatever catches my fancy, whether it’s the history of Port or the evolution of the French macaron. My patience for sitting still lasts maybe an hour before I need to hop up and do something.
Deirdre Heekin’s new book An Unlikely Vineyard has the feel of those Sunday mornings. Including the hopping up and doing something part.
In her fourth book, Heekin writes about creating her small farm and vineyard, La Garagista, within the hilly lands of Chateauguay No Town (a real Vermont place - it’s in the Barnard area, near Woodstock and was the site of an unsuccessful gold rush in the 1800’s). Heekin’s story is subtitled “The education of a farmer and her quest for terroir.” That’s a spot on description for a narrative with the eager forward momentum of a quest combined with side excursions into topics, like brewing plant teas or becoming a seed saver, that reflect the author’s appetite for learning new things.
So, what does she learn about terroir -- roughly translatable as the taste of place? Heekin writes:
. . . there is no other way to sum up the philosophy of the true farmer. . . it represents the six sides of the honeycomb: geology, variety, geography, climate, social culture and the human hand. Another winegrower I know says that what is poured into the glass is a liquid landscape painting of the 365 days of a certain year.
Capturing a portrait of the landscape through wine, food, and writing guides this story.
Here’s the best part about reading An Unlikely Vineyard: we don’t have to think theoretically about the terroir of the author’s farm. She’s in Vermont. The wine is for sale right here. We can taste it. In fact, Deirdre Heekin and her husband, Caleb Barber, have a restaurant in Woodstock Osteria Pane e Salute that demonstrates their approach to cuisine Thursday through Sunday. I asked Heekin, via e-mail, how I’d experience the terroir she describes if I visited her restaurant:
“All of the wines on our list focus on landscape and the work the grower does in the field. My criteria for the work in the cellar is that the grower do as little as possible, that he or she acts as a guide or companion to the wine rather than a manipulator. For me the real craft of winegrowing, or winemaking is tending to the plants during the season and recognizing what the wine wants to become at harvest.”
Here’s where that 365 day portrait starts to emerge.
About the wines produced by La Garagista, she adds: “Of course, I think the concept of terroir is very stark in our own wine too, and each of our three parcels are unique; the wines issuing from them are distinct even though they may share some of the same varietals. The only constant in the terroir equation in our wines is me and those varietals. Other elements change and have different aspects, and it is amazing to me how things like altitude, length of season, situation, microclimate all have such a big effect on the wine in the bottle.”
Her approach of natural winemaking encourages the wild yeasts and the grapes to reveal their character, and with it the character of the place. Terroir doesn’t appear only in wine, though. In fact, An Unlikely Vineyard opens with a dinner scene:
. . . a hot and hearty soup made from the garden’s vegetables: a mixture of lovage, zucchini, tomatoes and pearl white beans. The white beans, grown on the tall trellis in the walled garden, came from a bag of heritage Badalucco bought in a shop in the mountains of Liguria, a bag sold for soup, tied with a pretty jute ribbon, which we brought home in our suitcase and planted in the ground.
Heekin and her husband seek out ingredients that reflect a producer’s commitment to a place and working with its landscape. The restaurant menu sources ingredients from farms around Vermont, and of course their own farm, too, just like that soup that opens the book. Heekin explains in our conversation “For our own vegetables in particular, our recipes start with planting the seed in the ground and how those vegetables are shaped by our soil, microclimate, and us. I think Caleb is an excellent translator of these ingredients from our Vermont land; I think it is one of the things that makes his cooking special.”
She also notes how the landscape connection brings all of these flavors, the wine and the dinner, together: “I think that the northern varietals that we grow here in Vermont are uniquely suited to both the produce and livestock grown and raised on our soils, in our terroir. The flavors connect. As our Vermont food culture grows, both in the field and in the kitchen, so will our own particular wine culture. I think Vermont has great potential as a wine region.”
If you want to explore more of Vermont’s evolving wine culture, there are several options. You can read the book, of course, An Unlikely Vineyard published by Chelsea Green. And visit Osteria Pane e Salute which is part of the Vermont Fresh Network. Other locations serving Deirdre Heekin’s La Garagista wine include Dedalus, Hen of the Wood, Prohibition Pig, Cork, Sotto Enoteca, Shelburne Farms, Simon Pearce and the Woodstock Farmers’ Market. You can find information about Vermont wineries that are open to visitors in the “Wineries and Distilleries” section of DigInVT.
Permission for use of photos given to Chelsea Green Publishing.