La garagista Review
Address: 1834 Mt. Hunger Road Barnard,Vermont 05032.
Phone Number: 802-291-1295
Tasting Hours: By newsletter invitation.
Reviewer: Elizabeth Smith
Review Date: 6/3/2016
Reviewer: Elizabeth Smith
La garagista farm + winery is located on Mount Hunger in the Piedmont hills near Barnard, Vermont. The homestead and land have been farmed for over 200 years. Acquired by Deirdre Heekin and Caleb Barber in 1998, the farm’s gardens provided vegetables for their sister project, a restaurant named osteria pane e salute in Woodstock, Vermont, then expanded into wine and cider production. In 2010, La garagista offered its first vintage of wine, and in 2014, the farm grew to include two additional parcels of land, two “rehabilitation projects,” in the Champlain Valley. Guests are welcome to visit by invitation only by signing up for email updates via their website, as after all, it is both a home and a working farm.
The approach to La garagista is steep, rural, and beautiful, surrounded by the greenest summer landscape I have ever seen. Upon arrival, our hosts directed our group to park across the road in a field. We were greeted warmly by Deirdre and Caleb and handed a glass of their fizzy and fresh Ci Confonde Pétillant Naturel Blanc (Pét-Nat), made from brianna, a cold-climate grape created by Elmer Swenson, an innovator of grape breeding in the upper Midwestern United States. Deirdre and Caleb introduced us to what they call their farmhome, eight and a half acres including their private residence, farm, gardens, orchard, vineyards, and winery. La garagista currently produces around 450-500 cases of wine from this farmstead as well as their two other vineyards, including wines made from the aforementioned brianna, frontenac noir, frontenac gris, frontenac blanc, la crescent, st. croix, and marquette, all cold-hearty, hybrid grapes.
After our introduction, Deirdre and Caleb led us on a tour of their organic and biodynamic farm. Along our route through the gardens to the vineyards, we met the free-range chickens, including the outspoken and proud rooster, Mr. Darcy. The land was abundantly lush, green, and a bit untamed except for the garden beds and meticulous trellis, training, and canopy management of the vineyards. Hailing from the warm Napa Valley, I had never seen this style of vineyard management, but grapevines in Vermont are trained to grow taller and wider to maximize fruit exposure to the sun.
The tour continued to the winery building. The wines are handcrafted with minimal intervention, including handpicking, sorting, and even foot crushing pigeage à pied of the fruit at harvest. Caleb explained that they make wine the old way with no mechanization, nor laboratory or cultured yeast. During fermentation and aging in glass demijohns and used oak barrels, they “listen” to the wines to determine when they are ready for bottling and release. As the website states, the wines are “the result of a happy marriage of field and fermentation.”
Before departing, we had the opportunity to taste three more of the wines paired with small bites. The 2015 Loup dOr, the still version of their Ci Confonde Pétillant Naturel Blanc, is aptly named, as it is a coppery-gold in color. Still in a shiner bottle at the time of tasting, it was our sneak peek wine of our visit. The 2014 Loups-Garoux, crafted of lastly picked frontenac noir from one of their Champlain Valley vineyards, is almost repasso in style as it includes raisined berries. It was fermented on the skins in an open vat, punched down once per day, then aged sur lie nine months in used, French oak barrels. This wine both startled and intrigued me with its powerful acidity and compelling rusticity. My personal favorite was the 2015 Ci Confonde Pétillant Naturel Rosé, crafted of frontenac gris. A gorgeous, bright, ruby-pink color in the glass and delightfully tingly on the palate, this bottle-fermented, unfiltered pét-nat reveals aromas and flavors of pink grapefruit and tart strawberry along with zingy acidity.
Our visit concluded more quickly than expected. Due to our schedule, we were unable to linger. However, from start to finish, La garagista is naturally hands-on and personalized, delivering an unforgettable experience and extraordinary wines from farm to bottle.