From Grape to Glass: Award-winning Snow Farm Vineyard and Winery still going strongJun 16, 2021 12:27PM ● By Virginia Dean
Nearly 30 years ago, northern Vermont residents Harrison and Molly Lebowitz became alarmed at what they were witnessing with the surrounding farmlands being sold for residential and commercial development. They were concerned about the loss of what makes Vermont unique. Not long after, the state’s first commercial grape vineyard and winery came into existence in 1996, with the first grapes being planted in 1997 and a tasting room opening its doors at Snow Farm Vineyard and Winery.
Preserving Vermont Heritage
“Snow Farm Vineyard and Winery began as a dream and passion to keep retired dairy farmland as agricultural land in the Champlain Islands,” says Snow Farm’s co-owner and winemaker Patrick Barrelet, who assisted Harrison and Molly with the research and hiring of investors interested in starting the vineyard and winery. “They were thinking of ways to keep the farmlands for farmers and, around a glass of wine, they agreed to start a winery. There was already a starting wine industry in Quebec, and that’s when we met.”
Alternative to Unchecked Development
Now, the mission of the current co-owners, Dave and Julie Lane, along with Barrelet, is to provide a model to farmers of how to put former agricultural land to new uses as a way to keep Vermont lands working and prevent unchecked residential and commercial development.
“Having a vineyard and winery makes cultivating smaller parcels of land more profitable,” says Barrelet. “Growing grapes is one thing, but transforming juice into wine adds more value to the final product.”
Situated on an island in the middle of Lake Champlain, Snow Farm’s growing season is identical to that of Burgundy, France. The cooler climate allows vinifera grapes such as Seyval Blanc, Vidal Blanc, Riesling, Léon Millot, and Baco Noir to thrive.
“When we first started, we were experimenting with different types of vines,” says Barrelet. “We did that because we didn’t know for sure what would grow well and what would do poorly. After over 20 years of growing grapes now, we still have all the original varieties except for Pinot Noir, which proved to be more difficult to grow for us.”
The company works with vinifera, French hybrids, and American hybrid varieties. When Snow Farm first sought vines to plant, there was a shortage of vines. They had to order from several different nurseries, including those in California, Missouri, New York, and even Canada.
Unique Vermont Wines
Thanks to Vermont’s cold winter temperatures, Snow Farm produces unique late harvest and dessert wines along with its table wines. It’s true Vidal Blanc Ice Wine is a product that cannot be made in many other places in the world and is produced by picking the grapes by hand in mid-December when the grapes are at their best sugar content.
Each year, the vines are pruned back to increase grape production. During these spring days, owners spend their time in the vines singing, chatting, and catching up on winter happenings. During the summer, the vines need constant attention with typing, clipping, training, and hedging to ensure the grapes have good sun exposure and can reach their full potential.
“I think we’re known for our diversity in our wine collection,” says Barrelet. “We do dry and off-dry whites, dry red, and rosé. We do a sweeter red wine, sparkling and sweeter dessert wines, and we usually have at least a dozen different wines on our tasting sheet. People wonder why we make so many wines, and the answer is all the different wines we sell have a following. If we run out of one, customers ask when we’re making it again.”
The future of Snow Farm is to continue making high-quality wines with its estate grapes, but they also hope to use their grapes to develop spirits, Barrelet notes. “We would love to take our grape leftovers and transform them into grappa and even make a fragrant, grape-based pomace brandy,” he says.
The artist and innovation behind the wines, award-winning winemaker Barrelet studied winemaking in Burgundy, France, and has been making wine since 1990. Julie brings her drive as an educator to Snow Farm, and Dave has worked the land for several decades, having grown up on his family farm.