Vermont Wine Pairs Nicely with English Humor: Lucky Bugger makes a bloody good wineJun 16, 2021 12:15PM ● By Kristie L. Smith Nikitin
According to the February 2019 issue of Wine Business Monthly, there were 10,000 wineries in the US. Lucky Bugger Vineyard & Winery debuted that September, at the looming onset of a pandemic, functioning somewhat off the grid, and persistent like the jaunty Brits who founded this country—luck has nothing to do with this bugger.
Owners Alastair (Al) and Heidi Gee, he from England and she from Connecticut, started planting vines in 2012, shortly after moving to Randolph, Vermont. They bought 10 acres and a farmhouse. At the time, it seemed like a nice way to settle down after retirement from the military. They both accepted jobs with the state of Vermont and injected the earth with vines in their spare time.
After a few years, they had enough grapes to begin making wine in the lower ground floor of their farmhouse. “Better conditions than the Romans,” according to Al, “but far from ideal in the 21st century.” Admittedly, “winemaking with American hybrids isn’t easy.” He says that making wine with European varietals is less complicated. “Give it some yeast, wait a few months, and you have a good wine.” On the other hand, crafting wine with American hybrid grapes, like Frontenac, Swenson White, and Frontenac Gris, is a challenge.
Cold Weather Pros and Cons
The beauty of the Americans is those vines are hardy and can sustain the frigid temperatures of a New England winter. However, some of the cold weather varietals can produce off-flavors. The good news is the hybrid grapes can be enhanced by fermenting the wine in different ways, including cold fermentation. This is where the basement comes in. Small batches in double-walled tanks, which ferment in the “dunny,” eliminate the need for expensive cooling machinery.
Nutty Idea Takes Hold
In his 20s, as an enlisted man, Al was stationed in California, but that’s not where he took an interest in wine. “I’m a beer guy, myself,” Al says. He didn’t develop a taste for the nectar of the gods or really even visit wineries back then. It was only after he was an officer, working on his master’s degree, that Al stumbled onto the idea. During a class project, he and his group-mates decided to write a business plan for a winery. That business plan planted the Lucky Bugger seed. When Al mentioned it to Heidi, “I’m confident she thought it was a nutty idea, until we started gaining ground on the vineyard…though, with all the work and investment put into this endeavor, I have to be nuts! We could instead be going on terrific, romantic vacations around the world.”
The Simple Life
Luckily the Air Force saw to it that they enjoyed beautiful “beach” destinations like Baghdad and Saudi Arabia, plus “plush” accommodations in South Korea. Al says, “after [seeing war and other countries firsthand] you get to appreciate the bigger picture, so being a farmer of vines and grapes and selling wine are simple compared to the complications of worldwide events.”
Growing the grapes is only the beginning. Once it is a tasty liquid offering, where will people enjoy it? How will they consume, and most importantly, where will they buy it? Enter the Lucky Bugger tasting room. “We weren’t going to sell wine from our old house, so the dilemma was where to sell it?” says Al. “I shall build a post and beam above our property, the old-fashioned
way (like I said earlier, I’m nuts, plus I have to do a lot myself to keep expenses down). I wanted a great, comfortable feel for when people visit to de-stress, to relax with a view.”
Elegant and Off the Grid
The resulting structure is rustically elegant, warm, inviting, and completely off the grid. It runs on solar energy and has a battery backup. Al says, “It was going to cost a bloody fortune to connect to the grid.” Everything the Gees wanted it to be from its inception, it is. An old, warm wood smell gives the place an authentic New England vibe. The indoor space couldn’t be more enticing if Joanna Gaines herself designed the interior. The winery porch sits above a grass patio. There’s lots of outside space to lose oneself in the side of a green mountain.
Al brings a certain worldliness to Lucky Bugger. He and Heidi wanted to name their adventure something witty, something more along the lines of a brewery and something less stuffy-winery, so they settled on Lucky Bugger. The Nordic rune symbol for harvest is embedded in the logo.
Nordic rune symbols for luck make great marketing fodder, but in the end, luck has nothing to do with it. The Gees weathered every storm the universe showered on them in 2019, 2020, and even 2021. In spite of a pandemic, building a tasting room by hand, and holding down 40-hour-per-week gigs, Alastair and Heidi worked their “bugger” off.