Here at DigInVT.com, we love Vermont wine and we're very excited to welcome Ellison Estate Vineyard to Open Farm Week! They'll be hosting guided vineyard tours and discussing how regenerative agriculture principles and organic and biodynamic practices inspire their work.
They'll be releasing their first wines - dry white, rosé, red, and sparkling - made from cold-climate grapes this month! So head to the vineyard and check it out. But first, hear from Farmer/Winemaker Kendra about how she got into farming and what's in store for Ellison Estate.
Please share a little bit about the history of your farm and where it’s located.
Our farm is located on the East Shore of Grand Isle (69 East Shore North). It's a 50 acre property on a sloping hill down to the lakefront with 10 acres under vine planted between 2005 and 2011. The vineyard was initially started in 2000 by Bob and Linda Livingstone (East Shore Vineyard). It is one of the oldest single site plantings of vines in the state. The property was left wild for about a year before we took over management in 2018 and Ellison Estate Vineyard was founded. We are in the process of converting to organic production and incorporating biodynamic principles. We plan to ultimately seek certification.
How did you get involved with farming and what’s the most important thing you’ve learned along the way?
It's a bit of a crazy story, but I grew up in Vermont and my mother was raised on a dairy farm in the Lake Champlain Islands (Alburg). By the time I came around, the farm had been transformed into a golf course, but I spent a lot of time on that land. That history, a love of gardening which flourished when I moved back to Vermont in 2011, my exposure to agriculture as a veterinarian, and my love of wine and food somehow landed us here. A veterinary oncologist by trade, I took a viticulture course at UVM in 2017 to learn more about wine grape production. Learning about wine had been a geeky hobby of mine since I took a wine course in my undergraduate years at Cornell in 2003. Pregnant with my third kid at the time, I thought I might plant 5 grapevines in my backyard, but somehow I learned about our abandoned vineyard and fell in love with the site. While I love my job as a small animal veterinarian, I think there was a part of me that knew I needed to find a way to get outside more and exercise a more creative side of my personality. We found a way to secure a farm loan and jumped right in with the goal of building a family business and finding better life balance.
The second part is hard, because I've learned oh so much in the last 2.5 years! However, I think one of the most important things I have learned has been to be patient and more comfortable not always knowing the answer to a problem, to trust my instinct, problem solving skills, and creative abilities. This goes for farming and winemaking!
What is one of the most rewarding things about being a farmer here in Vermont?
This is only our third season as farmers, but I am humbled by the community of farmers in the state and their willingness to help others. I'm grateful to be part of that community, and cannot wait to pay forward all the help people have given us. I also think having the opportunity to work in the elements in all four seasons is one of the most rewarding parts of my job. It makes you slow down and really appreciate the beautiful state we live in and all nature has to offer. However, watching my children grow up on a farm and have the same appreciation of nature ingrained in them is probably the ultimate reward.
What is one of the most challenging things about being a farmer here in Vermont?
Working outside in all four seasons is also one of the most challenging things! We prune our grape vines when they are dormant in the dead of winter. It's probably the most important farming task of the year other than harvest, but long days of pruning in single digits can be very trying despite the winter beauty, and I love winter!
What is your favorite product you grow or raise?
Well we are just about to release our first wines, but I'm most excited about our Regeneration line of Pétillant Naturel wines! We are releasing five very small batch production wines under this line. Pétillant Naturel is the ancestral method of making sparkling wine where the wine is bottled at a precise point before the fermentation is finished so the fermentation finishes in the bottle. The high acidity of the cold-climate grapes we grow in Vermont make for some fantastic Pétillant Naturels. I'm also super excited about how our red wines are tasting this year, specifically a red blend we made where we co-fermented our three red grape varieties (Marquette, Frontenac Noir, & St. Croix). It’s not quite ready for release yet, but stay tuned!
Which Vermont farmers are you most inspired by?
I'm inspired by Deirde Heekin and Caleb Barber of La Garagista, as well as Ken Albert, Ethan Joseph, and the team at Shelburne Vineyard who have all been mentors to me; also, Chris Granstrom of Lincoln Peak Vineyard, who along with the previously mentioned, has laid the foundation of Vermont viticulture. I'm also really inspired by Corie Pierce, Chris Dorman, and the team at Bread and Butter Farm, and what they have created.
What are your plans for Open Farm Week?
Visit Ellison Estate Vineyard for a guided tour of their 10 acre vineyard and 50 acre property! Guests will learn about Vermont wine as a growing industry and the cold-climate grapes that thrive in Vermont, and get to hang with the sheep at the end of the tour! Participants are welcome to meander in the vines and paths on the property and may also bring a picnic and enjoy the breathtaking views of Lake Champlain and mountains. Ellison Estate Vineyard is very family friendly - there will even be an art table for the kids - and the winegrowers are happy to talk about farming, grapes, winemaking, and wine. Ellison Estate is excited to welcome their community to their farm!
Though this event is FREE, registration is required. Click here to register on Eventbrite! Once you click "register," days and time slots available will be listed and you can choose which one works for you!
Do you have a favorite recipe to share using products from your farm?
I don't have a product recipe, but I can talk about wine pairings! We are releasing three dry Lambrusco-style sparkling red wines in our Regeneration series. These wines are not only super fun and refreshing to drink alone as the hot days of summer carry on, but I think pair beautifully with spicy Thai or Vietnamese food. They also will be perfect as we head into fall with rich gamey meats like lamb and venison and Thanksgiving dinner (Regeneration 3, Regeneration 4, and Regeneration 5).