by Sally Colby
If there’s an ideal spot for a winery, Boyden Valley Winery might just have it nailed. The Cambridge, VT winery is situated in the northern part of the state, a reasonable distance from some of the finest skiing in the Northeast.
Although they didn’t know much about growing grapes or making wine when they began their venture, David and Linda Boyden were interested in starting a winery as a means of diversifying the family farm.
“We did a lot of research and we also went by what people were growing in Quebec,” said David, describing their first grape selections. “We started with Cornell French hybrids like Marechal Foch and Leon Millot. We did that for a few years and around that time the Minnesota varieties came out. They were a lot more cold-hardy and less foxy, and made much better wine. We took all the other vines out and planted the cold-hardy varieties.”
That was in 2000 and in addition to changing grape varieties, the Boydens changed their growing techniques. “We used to bury the vines,” said David. “We’d hill them up and unhill them every year, and grow them in a goblet form low to the ground. It was very labor intensive and we’d get about one ton per acre. Now, we’re growing in a top wire system and get about four tons per acre of nice fruit.”
The Boydens are always interested in trying new techniques to get the best possible grapes. They used to till around the bases of vines, but steep hillsides and gravelly soil resulted in excessive erosion. This year, creeping red fescue grass underneath the vines helps reduce herbicide use. David explains that the grass is widely used for this purpose because it’s hardy and doesn’t grow tall. He plans to use a mower that can mow closely around the vines to manage growth under the canopy.
“It has rhizomes,” David explained. “The blades of the creeping red fescue are far apart and thin, and it only grows about eight to 10 inches tall. What we found with herbicides is that sometimes we end up with weeds anyway, and those weeds harbor moisture and cause more problems than grass. All the herbicide work we won’t have to do will free up time for pruning and training.”
Today, the vineyard includes cold-hardy Minnesota varieties such as Frontenac, Marquette, Petite Pearl, La Crescent and Frontenac Blanc. Because the vineyard is on farmland and on a migratory bird path, the Boydens net the entire vineyard at veraison and leave the nets up until grapes are hand-harvested in fall.
The Boydens have all of their own equipment for destemming and crushing, and pressing is done with a vertical basket press. “It presses vertically,” said David. “It’s like an old-fashioned hydraulic press, but this one is modern so it can be cleaned and moved easily. The basic principle is that you’re pushing down, so all the skins go to the bottom which sends the flow out through the cake. It makes for very soft tannins because you’re pressing in the opposite direction from the sieve. With a bladder press, you’re pressing the same direction as the sieve and it’s much more aggressive. When you press through the cake, even if you press fairly hard, the line is nice and soft.”
David says that although the basket press was costly and takes more time to use, it was worth purchasing because they also use it for their line of ice wines.
Boyden Valley’s ice wine is made from grapes that have frozen on the vine then pressed while frozen. “We take the first 20 percent or so of the must and ferment that,” said David. “We make that in late November and early December.” David explains that they have to rotate the vines that are used for ice wine. “If we use a block one year, we try not to use that same block (for ice wine) for the next two or three years. It’s hard on the vines because we leave the fruit on and the vines don’t harden off and store as much carbohydrate for winter. It makes the vines more susceptible to winter kill.”
David says it takes time and a lot of effort to develop new products, and that small batches are the key. “We do bench trials to see if we’re going to change the yeast on a wine,” he said. “We’ll try two or three different yeasts in small batches before we do it the next year. We work a lot on fermentation, especially on grapes like Marquette and our reds. Our reds are pretty robust and we do a lot of macro-oxygenation and a lot of maceration on the skins. On the reds, we do a cold soak first, then ferment on the skins. We like to get a fermentation with a lot of vigor in the beginning.”
In addition to a full-scale winery, Boyden Valley also distills. “We became a licensed distillery in 2006,” said David. “We focused on craft distilled crème liquors. We make an apple crème liquor that’s made of ice cider, apple brandy and crème — all from Vermont apples. Then we have maple crème liquor, which is apple brandy with our own maple syrup. We have 10,000 trees on the farm for maple. A lot of customers have asked for brandy over the years, so we set aside some of the brandy and put it in American oak barrels and have been aging it for about four years.”
David describes the two hand-crafted, limited release brandies made at Boyden Valley: Pomme Noir which is straight apple brandy that’s been barrel aged for four years, and Pomme Noir de Glace which is a barrel-aged blend of apple brandy and ice cider. The brandies are packaged attractively in a 375-ml bottle with a simple label.
Like other wineries, Boyden Valley has found that cider is popular among many consumers. “One thing that’s unique about our cider is that we have four 12,000 liter tanks that are refrigerated,” said David. “We fill those in the fall with hand-picked apples and that’s it for the year. We don’t buy any cold-storage apples. We make one really nice batch in the fall with the best apples we can get. Northern Spy, Idared make up about 50 percent of the blend and the rest are Empires and Macs.”
First-time guests are sure to have a memorable experience at Boyden Valley. Although the tasting room is in an old building, guests immediately experience a clean, modern feeling inside. This year the Boydens installed a cheese cooler and offer an assortment of different cheeses every day, and also have a selection of baked goods.
Boyden Valley Winery is a popular draw for visitors to Burlington or Stowe who enjoy a visit to an authentic farm. “We make sure they have a nice experience,” said David. “We serve cheese and prosciutto from Vermont and we give them a tour and explain how we make ice wines, ciders and spirits. In spring, the sugarhouse is open so guests can see the maple syrup process and how it’s used in various products.”
“We’re geared toward hospitality,” said David. “We have people try the different products and talk about what they might go with. We explain why our ciders are different than other ciders, and what ice wine is. My wife Linda oversees the tasting room. She brings life and atmosphere into it.”
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