A World of Unique Character and Natural Beauty

Romancing the Vine

May 30, 2012      Author : Thomas "Quattro" Massey    Category: Environment      0 Comment(s)

Island vineyards produce specialty wines from remote and highly cared for environments that bring love, passion, and beauty to the experience: Maine Vineyard Maker Tom Massey IV contemplates the meaning of planting vineyards on Maine islands, where special stories and precious soils are especially unique, personal, and so often exquisitely romantic.

Tom Massey IV, his best friend Alison McKellar, and their son Colton leave Nautilus Island after a harvest. Says Massey, “We are blessed to be on the pioneering culture of grape growing in Maine, cultivating new varieties of cold-hardy, quick-ripening, high wine-quality grapes, only recently developed by Cornell and the University of Minnesota to deliver outstanding wines for cool climates. These new grape varieties, bred from noble European bloodlines crossed with hearty American types are growing with tenacity and character across Maine and especially well on its islands.” – Photo by Eliza Massey

The question of what it means to grow grapes on Maine islands has boundless answers that could all be intertwined into the threads of growing with the rhythms of Maine’s life, seasons, communities, and consciousness. Fruit is often used to symbolize a sweet, divine pinnacle achievement, born of hard work, patience, diligence, and loving care. The “fruits of one’s labor” speaks to all of us, when smiling upon our jobs well done. Many of us even give thanks to wrap our barest skin in the Fruit of the Loom.

Island fruit ready for the winery. – Photo by Eliza Massey


La Crescent, a cold hardy variety that does well in Maine. – Photo by Eliza Massey

Grapevines grow everywhere and in all soils, unearthing and absorbing the minerals and uniqueness of each site into the roots, sending it through their trunks, and then giving the ultimate expression of “place” by manifesting all the micro-climatic features into their gift of grapes. The meaning of this evolution and expression carries the same musical notes of our human experience and the continuous shaping of our own character, hewn from the land, seascapes, and special places that invigorate our hearts and minds. Imagine a place where one literally breathes in and feels character and qualities that personify attributes within!

Frontenac Gris grapes during harvest: Just twenty vines can provide enough owner's grapes to produce a bottle of wine for every weekend of the year. – Photo by Eliza Massey

Nautilus Island is one such majestic location, boasting a full acre of Marquette, La Crescent, Cayuga, and Frontenac Gris grapes, with harvests turning out wine for Castine’s Dennett’s Wharf Oyster Bar and Restaurant. Mount Desert Island, home of Bar Harbor Cellars, bestowed

Creating the planks for the little bridge over a stream for a Southport Island property. In addition to installing vineyards and making wine, Massey is a professional arborist. – Photo by Jesse Simko

upon us the honor of replanting their half-acre vineyard with Marquette, the new tannin-filled red grape that is respectfully becoming Maine’s flagship red wine. Southport Island, accessible by a swing bridge connected to Boothbay Harbor, now holds in its soils three different home vineyards, making the region a “terroir” – different vineyards that share similar soil and weather conditions: Two are petite, ornamental vineyards with 24 grapevines yielding the owners around two cases of wine annually. Pinot Noir and Semillon are the results from the third Southport vineyard of one-fourth acre. Due to this island’s bright, warm summer days being contrasted by cool, breezy nights, an ultra desirable flux in temperatures concentrates and unlocks deep flavors within the grapes.

Twenty-four Frontenac Gris vines make a backyard vineyard yielding two cases of wine in the fourth year and beyond. One case is usually born in the 3rd year as the vineyard matures. – Photo by Tom Massey IV

A Southport home’s third year grapevine: new shoots grow vertically and set fruit a few inches above the fruiting cane, a typical training method used in cool climates. – Photo by Tom Massey IV

The work is not easy, and yet with passion, love, and patience, planting vineyards is beautifully rewarding: The lifestyle enrichment of owning a vineyard, big or small, goes far beyond the satisfaction and reward of savoring homegrown wine or harvesting grapes to sell to wineries. The romantic landscaping and inspiration from cooperating with Mother Nature to produce gleaming clusters of juicy orbs represents a sustainable artisan view of life.

Nautilus Island caretaker Walter Bagaduce helps out during the annual October harvest. While it is four years before the first harvest, the lofty endeavor of creating private label island wine is worth the wait. – Photo by Eliza Massey

Raul enjoys his grandfather’s island vineyard while assisting with the harvest. – Photo by Eliza Massey

Nurturing grapes into wine with one’s own hands

Tendrils searching for its trellis. – Photo by Eliza Massey

creates a masterpiece of living art that is simultaneously unique and personal. The experience feels like a symphony - the sense of connection to the universal life force vibrating harmoniously within: Buds pop in spring. Soon after we watch in awe as the innate intelligence of the finger-like tendrils reach for its unseen trellis, much like we all reach and stretch for our own inborn potential with “grape-ful” meaning - family, friends, faith, and special places – our own islands. We all climb our own trellis within that wider world, and bear the fruit of our personal terroirs - just as the producing grapevines reflect the unique character and natural beauty of the vineyards’ island homes.

Island vineyards epitomize the best of Maine – natural beauty and unique character waiting right out the front or back door. – Photo by Eliza Massey

Photo by Eliza Massey

Tom hails from Camden and co-owns Maine Vineyard Makers with Brian Smith. After studying economics and finance at Bentley College outside of Boston, he returned to the Midcoast to live where the mountains meet the sea. Thankfully, he was given the opportunity to learn the art of viticulture and winemaking from his Godparents, John and Stephanie Clapp as they passed their Cellardoor Vineyard and Winery in Lincolnville to new owners. Tom is creating a private label winery in Rockland right now, to make wine for his vineyard clients and offer custom label, Maine-made wine to restaurants, inns, businesses, and for special events.

Maine Vineyard Makers: www.mainevines.com (formerly named Maine Vineyard Management)

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