Jeanne O’Brien Coffey, Contributing Writer
Charming small towns surrounded by spectacular scenery welcome visitors to Vermont. The Green Mountains – and several other less-well-known ranges – stretch mainly north to south along the narrow state, meaning you’re never more than a few minutes from another breathtaking view. Small towns tucked into the valleys beckon with picturesque church steeples, not to mention artisanal cheese and handcrafted pottery, while active types will enjoy hiking and biking in the summer, and skiing in the winter. And wine lovers will love sipping in the local Vermont wineries.
Vermont Wine Tasting Itinerary
Vermont Wineries to Sip
Vermont is really best explored by car – wineries are usually off the beaten path, in beautiful locations. To settle in, start your Vermont wine weekend adventure in the town of Woodstock at the Woodstock Inn. Originally built in 1892, and modernized through the years, the property offers a luxurious spa, high-end farm-to-table restaurant with special wine dinners, and cozy elegant Old World charm. Bikes are free for visitors, so borrow one to explore.
Woodstock is home to the oldest bookstore in the state, Yankee Bookshop, which opened in 1935. But that’s not even the oldest shop in town. F.H. Gillingham & Sons is a classic general store that opened in 1886. Stop in for a good selection of Vermont wines, as well as ciders, maple syrups, and lots of other made-in-Vermont goodies.
If you can get a reservation at the Lincoln Inn & Restaurant at the Covered Bridge, grab it. Chef Jevgenija Saromova’s intimate seven-course prix fixe emulates her European Michelin-star-training, drawing from luxurious in season ingredients all over the world. Spring for the matching wine pairing for a transcendent experience. (Lincoln Inn is another great option for places to stay when sipping through Vermont wineries.)
Before heading north to spend a night or two in the Burlington area, check out the Simon Pearce Flagship Store and glassblowing factory, where you can usually observe artisans crafting exquisite tableware. The attached farm-to-table restaurant, open for lunch and dinner, is perched on the edge of the Ottauquechee River, which also powers the studio.
The Grapes of Vermont
Major grape varieties in Vermont include Frontenac, a red grape with a cherry-berry aroma and soft palate, Marquette, a more intense and complex red, with fruit, spice, and a tannic backbone; and La Crescent, a new white grape developed by the University of Minnesota gaining popularity for its intense apricot flavor, good body, and balanced acidity. Sip in more…
From there, it’s a pretty –and distinctly rural– half-hour drive to La Garagista Winery in Bethel, where winemaker Deirdre Heekin has garnered national attention for her natural Vermont wines and aperitivos. The tasting room – really a rough-hewn barn dubbed Tavernetta Forestiera + Bar a Vin– is open by whimsy, fitted in between caring for the beautiful biodynamic fields and making wine. Subscribe to the La Garagista newsletter for information on pop-up tastings and dinners. Either way, it’s worth a stop just to breathe the air and admire the views, and perhaps organize curbside pick-up of a couple bottles for later.
From La Garagista, point your car north to Fresh Tracks Farm Vineyard & Winery. If you’re in a hurry, hop on Interstate 89 to get there, but the scenic Route 12 takes just a couple minutes longer, wending through charming countryside. The Fresh Tracks tasting room is powered with renewable energy, and peers directly into the “cave” full of oak barrels aging wine. An outdoor pergola welcomes picnics, or you can just stroll the lush grounds. Fresh Tracks is a few minutes from Montpelier Vineyards, a certified-organic producer growing eleven varieties of cold-hardy wine grapes.
After a leisurely day of driving, Burlington is a good base of operations for another night or two. Grab dinner at Honey Road Restaurant in Burlington, where James Beard-nominated chef Cara Chigazola Tobin impresses guests with her Middle Eastern mezze, crafted with locally sourced ingredients. Be sure to have the Halloumi cheese appetizer – and consider pairing it with a bottle of Vermont wine – the restaurant usually features a few options.
You can – and perhaps should—plan to spend the entire next day just a bit to the south in Shelburne. The charming town is home to Shelburne Farms, a National Historic Landmark and nonprofit education center on a 1,400-acre working farm and forest, and Shelburne Museum, focused on American history, art, and design, with its own spectacular gardens. But first, stop by Scout & Co. for delicious coffee and, if you’re lucky, Miss Weinerz’ sourdough donuts, made with unique local and seasonal flavors like marigold and wild grape.
Plan to relax after a day of walking trails and admiring the Hudson River School artists with a tasting at Shelburne Vineyard, a pioneer in the Vermont wine industry. While walk-ins will be accommodated when possible at this popular spot, it’s best to make a reservation, either inside the soaring tasting room or on the expansive outdoor patio overlooking McCabe’s Brook vineyard. Order a charcuterie plate and try the spontaneous ferment Iapetus line or the more traditional Shelburne Vineyards line –or some of each.
Things to Do
Besides Sipping Wine
Got one more day to spare? Head over to Local Motion to rent a bike, then follow the Island Line Trail over to South Hero to visit Snow Farm Vineyard & Winery. It’s a pretty easy trip involving a bit of pedal power and a bike ferry to Grand Isle in Lake Champlain.
If you’re a serious cyclist, continue up the island to Ellison Estate Vineyard, where they are opening a tasting room this summer atop a hillside overlooking Lake Champlain and the mountains. It’s a pretty majestic site—and they have a pair of glamping Airstream trailers for rent, if you’d like to spend the night. If two wheels are not your thing, the drive is pretty spectacular as well. And we can’t think of a better place to wind up your weekend than with a glass of Ellison’s biodynamic wine, gazing out over mountains and spectacular Lake Champlain.
Jeanne O’Brien Coffey
New England native Jeanne O’Brien Coffey delights in sharing the hidden gems in her corner of the world. She blogs about food, drinks and travel for ForbesLife and her work has also appeared in Naturally, Danny Seo and Boston magazine.