SPRINGFIELD, Vt. – On Saturday, Nov. 23, Fernleigh Cellars, the state’s first maple syrup winery, hosted a wine tasting event at the Trout River Brewing Company at 100 River St. in Springfield, where Erin Hunter, Fernleigh’s owner and winemaker, introduced her four maple syrup wines.
Erin Hunter has a lot of layers, and she is a woman of “firsts.” In college, she wrote a thesis on dendroclimatology, utilizing core samples of maple trees and a handwritten journal to compare tree growth as it relates to the weather. When Hunter moved to Vermont, she opened a contracting company. She was hired by the River Valley Tech Center where she became the first female carpentry instructor in the state and has taught for the past 18 years. Like most entrepreneurs, this is her day job.
Hunter is also a member of the state’s wine counsel and has been producing wines since 2014 from her Springfield home, the circa 1799 Old Whitcomb Farm nestled in Spencer’s Hollow by the Connecticut River, where she and her team of three dedicated women, Wendy Reeves, Sue Dana, and Jenevieve Johnson, together produce, bottle, and distribute the Maple Reserve Wines. Although Fernleigh Cellars is licensed for wine-tasting and retail sales, Hunter said there is presently not a designated area at the farm to offer these services full-time, but that is on her agenda – to open to the public with regular hours instead of by appointment only.
The whole team attended a sensory wine workshop where they experienced test methods and learned to identify differences and preferences in wine in order to educate and better promote the success of the business.
At the wine tasting Saturday, Hunter and Reeves introduced four maple syrup wines. The first is a Tappers Maple Mead with honey, maple sap, and yeast. As described in Fernleigh’s website, “The sap gives the mead a unique citrus note that compliments the wildflower honey.” Next is a Maple Reserve Amber “reminiscent of a light sherry, with notes of apricot.” Third is a Special Dark “port like” maple wine made from 100% Vermont dark maple syrup. The last is a Maple Reserve Special Dark, a “cognac like” wine aged for up to 12 months in oak whiskey barrels that infuse the wine with vanilla and caramel flavors. In all of these wines, the only sugar is the maple syrup and none are distilled. The lightest is the mead and the heaviest is the special dark harvested in the oak barrels. The alcohol content runs from 13.7% to 14%.
How is a maple syrup winery different from a grape vineyard when it comes to the effects of the weather on the product? It is not very different at all, according to Hunter. She said the wine is fairly stable after aging, but the product is affected by the same elements that affect every vineyard. Climate, the cold, and length of the season can all impact a maple syrup wine.
Hunter, who is of Irish descent, admits that the name Fernleigh Cellars has a bit of a family hook to the Fern part of the name; but mostly it originates from the countless varieties of ferns that grow in Vermont. She said the Leigh comes from the Gaelic translation for meadow.
Erin Hunter invites the public to plan a visit and experience all that the farm offers.
CORRECTION Nov. 26, 2019 12:33 p.m. – Erin Hunter did not own the winery in Virginia and it is still open today. Hunter also moved to Vermont and started her own contracting company. Wendy Reeves was the high school nurse. The corrections have been reflected in the article above.