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Liking Fruit Wines

they tend to be pigeonholed into one of two categories:
country fair craft wines or commercial Boone’s Farm-esque
flavored wines, neither of which is very esteemed. These
particular flavor profiles, however, do not apply to all
fruit wines. With popularity at an all time high, skilled
winemakers throughout the country in areas that cannot
successfully grow grapes are getting creative and
experimenting with fruit wines with some surprisingly
impressive results.

Owned and
operated by Bob and Kathe Bartlett, the Bartlett Maine
Estate Winery in Gouldsboro, Maine, has been producing fruit
wines ofsuperior quality for over twenty years. Although
they make a few dessert wines for which they are quite
renowned – a sweet blueberry, sweet raspberry and a mead –
their overall catalogue portrays a diverse assortment of dry
wines, which actually have a great deal in common with
traditional viniferous wines.

The Bartletts
moved to Maine from Michigan in the 197Os. They shared a
common enthusiasm for food and wine and a dream of making
wines of their own. Bob got his degree at the acclaimed UC
Davis and has carefully studied and practiced the art of
making serious viniferous wines. Inspired by the up and
coming wine-making in Long Island and the Hudson Valley, New
York, they planted every kind of grape they could get their
hands on – over 2O different varietals – with unfortunately
little success. Today, Bob calls their dream to make grape
wine “a pretty naïve idea”. After five years they had
to come to terms with the fact that viniferous grapes would
not grow properly in the coastal Maine climate. They
entertained the idea of moving to the Hudson Valley to
pursue their dream but ultimately decided that they loved
Maine too much to uproot. Ever resourceful, they decided to
make wines from fruits that thrived in the coastal Maine
climate, namely: blueberries, apples, raspberries, and

The Bartletts
have spared no expense with regards to their winemaking. All
the equipment used is intended for grape wines. They employ
state-of-the-art technology for pressing and fermentation,
combined with traditional French and American oak for barrel
aging. The winery houses top-of-the-line German Willmes
presses and American stainless steel vats. Their labeling
machinery is imported from Italy and the equipment for
methode champenoise sparklers comes from France. In
anticipation of reintroducing sparkling wine to the line,
Bob is looking into using algaenate, a bead capsule of yeast
developed by Moët and Chandon that eliminates the need
for tedious riddling of the bottles. The Bartletts have made
a decision to use the finest tools of the trade in order to
produce the sophisticated wines that they do. As a result
they have carved out quite a distinctive

great wine was a good start but back in 198O, selling it
involved a bit of political activism on the part of Bob
Bartlett. At the time, the laws in Maine required that wine
be sold by way of a three-tier system. Wine producers could
only sell their product through wholesale distributors, thus
excluding their winery from private retail sales. As the
laws stood then, the Bartletts were not legally authorized
to sell wine directly from their winery or offer a tasting
room to visitors. Bob notes that Prohibition began in Maine
and the state remains particularly stubborn with regards to
alcohol sales. The government restrictions, as they were,
would have made it nearly impossible to market their wines
in Maine or beyond. Bob lobbied for and eventually passed
emergency legislation to allow them to sell wine on-premise
and offer tastings to visitors at the estate. The most
persuasive element in his argument was that Maine, at the
time, sold many raw materials but not enough value-added
products. His wines would take Maine fruits and modify them
so as to fetch a higher return. Showing a long-term
commitment to Maine agriculture, Bartlett included in the
legislation that he would use a substantial percentage of
Maine-grown fruit in making his wines. The legislation,
which Bob wrote himself, took effect in July of ’83.
Incidentally, all the press that resulted from his activism
provided priceless PR for the wines. When the Bartletts
opened the doors to the public on the exact day the
legislation was finally passed, there was already “a line at
the door,” says Bob.

Over the
years the Bartletts have experimented with various styles of
wine but have been constant in their use of pear, apple,
blueberry, and honey. At present they are making more than a
dozen different wines, including sweet, semi-dry, dry and
oak dry blueberry, a sweet raspberry dessert wine, sweet
mead, dry and French oak dry pear, as well as various
blends. The Bartletts also produce two reserves, a pear and
a blueberry, which are oak-aged and sport a hand-signed
vintage on the bottle. The reserves are Bob’s personal

The Bartletts do
everything they can to get people to sample their product,
and the craft and care of the winemakers is evident in every
sip. Their high-end, dry fruit wines are distinctive but
have proven to be a bit of a challenge to market. Serious
wine drinkers are hesitant to stray from tradition and
wine-cooler drinkers might actually be disappointed when the
fruit wines they quaff taste more like Silver Oak than Arbor
Mist. Fruit wines tend to be judged on different standards
of quality than grape wines, and thus the Bartletts’ dry
selections score somewhat erratically in fruit wine ratings.
Bob finds it frustrating to see gold medals often going to
sweeter, fruitier wines. What the Bartletts make is meant to
appeal to the serious wine drinker. They pride themselves of
the fact that their wines do not taste like spiked fruit
juice. Bob jokes that one would never sip Bordeaux and
expect it to taste like fresh grapes. One might say,
however, say it has hints of blueberry!

Another issue
that arises in the marketing of their product is the price.
The Oak Dry Blueberry retails for eighteen dollars a bottle,
the same price as a David Bruce Petite Sirah or a Bonny Doon
Cardinal Zin. And while the price is a reflection of the
extremely high quality fruit being used, getting a potential
buyer to make that fiscal leap of faith on a fruit wine is
difficult. Jim Desrosiers, a former representative for Ruby
Wines and the current Beverage Manager for the Harvard Club,
commented on the essential challenges of marketing high-end
fruit wines. He agreed that Bartlett wines are something
special, saying that he was “blown away” by the depth of
flavor and the sophisticated style of the wines. He was
particularly partial to the Oak Dry Blueberry that he
thought resembled great reds from Paso Robles, California,
which often have blueberry notes. Desrosiers was supremely
impressed by the wines he tried, however, he believes that
because of preconceived notions with regard to fruit wines –
namely that they are sweet, heavy and syrupy – people really
do need to taste to believe. But people will not casually
taste at eighteen dollars a bottle or ten dollars a glass in
a restaurant. This is why it is so important for the
Bartletts to have a tasting room at their estate and to get
out to personally provide samples to potential buyers. When
asked what he would say to cynics, Bob compared his wines to
sushi, approaching the skeptical drinker with a “try
something new, it won’t kill you” kind of


Word of mouth has carried the Bartletts for over twenty
years but they have not rested on those laurels alone. Over
the years they have carried out many inventive advertising
schemes. Each autumn from 1985 to 1992 the Bartletts
produced a “Nouveau Blueberry” which they had flown into
Blue Hill from Gouldsboro via biplane to simulate the
arrival of Nouveau Beaujolais on the red eye from France.
This was a stunt covered enthusiastically by local TV news.
The Bartletts also work with local restaurants, hosting
tasting dinners to enforce the notion that their wines can
stand up to, and indeed enhance, haute cuisine. Guests at
the tasting dinners come to accept and appreciate these
high-end fruit wines in the context of fine dining, enjoying
pairings such as sweet mead with fois gras or dry blueberry
with lamb. Such events are an appropriate showcase for the
wines and lend legitimacy to their slightly higher price
tags. The Bartletts understand that people need to try the
wines to be convinced of their quality, and that is why most
of the their marketing has been grass-roots and

Today their
wines stand on an elevated level where they are competitive
with traditional grape wines. In fact, the Oak Dry Blueberry
has scored in top 4O ranks with grape wines and was mistaken
for a Pinot Noir clone in a Carneros Creek Alliance for
Quality Control tasting in California. In addition to
winning numerous national and international awards, the
Beverage Testing Institute has classified them as one of the
top five premier producers of fruit wine in the US, and
given seven of their wines ratings of 9O points or higher.
The Blueberry Winemakers Reserve received a 94. And though
one shouldn’t judge a wine by its cover, labels do sell
bottles. The Bartlett bottles are adorned with unique labels
depicting old Victorian era designs of fruit and flowers.
This smart packaging contributes to the overall air of
sophistication surrounding the wines.

promoting their product, Bob enforces the idea that these
wines are truly a reflection of Maine’s agriculture and are
unique to a specific, special locale. New England – and
specifically Maine-made – products have national and even
international appeal. People come to see mountains and
foliage and go home with bags full of maple syrup, jam,
soaps, pine-scented pillows, you name it. As far as wine is
concerned, people who visit New England from California,
Oregon, Washington, or any other wine-producing state are
often more interested in local flavor than the wines they
can already get inexpensively back home. In this way,
Bartlett fruit wines occupy a special niche as they
represent the best of Maine agriculture. Even with augmented
production over the years, they still buy as much as they
can from local farms. While the Bartletts are slightly off
the beaten path, the charm of their estate draws people from
afar. People come to the winery not only out of an interest
in wine but also because it is a beautiful place. By making
the estate inviting and fun to visit they encourage return
business. Locals and tourists alike who are traveling up the
coast can stop by for a charming experience and have their
eyes opened to a new enological experience.

For over
twenty years the Bartletts have successfully overcome any
obstacle that has stood in their way. In 1983 they bottled
2OO cases and now, twenty-two years later, they produce
8OOO, an impressive increase. They still make their own
deliveries and sell their wine on premise but they are now
also dispensed through Pine State Distributors. As a result,
their exposure has increased significantly in Southern
Maine. Steve Kayo, a local representative for Pine State,
says he highlights Bob’s education and training to
illustrate the high quality of the wines. With potential
buyers, he also plays up the tourist appeal, and to those
that are reluctant to purchase due to price, he assures them
that you absolutely do get what you pay for, that Bartlett
wines are of comparable quality to fine grape wines at the
same price point. At present they have accounts in various
restaurants, wine bars and retail stores.

Bartlett Maine
Estate Winery – 2O7.546.24O8.




The Bartlett wines
go wonderfully with food. Some popular pairings
are: Oak Dry Blueberry with assorted cheeses and
herb-crusted lamb. The French Oak Pear pairs very
well with pork tenderloin and parsnips or a beet
and walnut salad with baby spinach and dried
cranberries. The Coastal White, a blend of apple
and pear wine, is well matched with light seafood

Following is a
sample menu from a wine dinner put on at Nickerson
Tavern in Searsport, Maine.

A sausage of
Ducktrap Smoked Trout with warm cheddar and Apple
wine beurre blanc; served with Bartlett Dry

Maine Winter
Scallops and Lobster Medallions in puff pastry with
Pear wine sabayon; served with Bartlett French Oak

Bibb lettuce salad
with basil vinaigrette.

Grilled Moularde
Duck Breast with Dry Blueberry bordelaise and a
timbale of wild mushrooms; served with Bartlett
French Oak Blueberry.

A pave of Bosc
Pears and Genoise with Hazelnut Ice Cream; served
with Bartlett Pear/Apple Sparkling.


by William Nesto,

While some fruit
wine producers may stray far from the wine
paradigm, Bartlett makes every effort to stay
close. For its drier white fruit wines, Bartlett
chooses apple and pear. For its red fruit wines,
blueberry is its mainstay. The reasons for these
selections are obvious. Apple and pear makes fruit
wines that have white wine-like color and aromas.
Moreover, the natural acidity, principally malic,
mirrors the blend of malic and tartaric found in
wine. For its red fruit wines, Bartlett uses
blueberry. By sight, a blueberry fruit wine has the
vivid ruby color of gamay wine. Its nose too
mirrors gamay. What are clearly lacking in the
palate are the pleasant astringency of grape
tannins and the vivid acidity of grape acids. Mead
is fermented honey-water. The appearance of
Bartlett dessert mead could easily be confused with
a white wine, dry or sweet. The honey-laden nose
plays with the Sauternes model. However, honey has
little or no acidity. The mead producer has to add

There were moments
during my sampling of the Bartlett range when I
forgot that I was drinking fruit wine. I preferred
those samples where new oak aromas and tastes were
absent. Bartlett uses oak contact for its prestige
fruit wines, imitating the wine paradigm. The oak
smell enhancement was not so much a problem. The
problem was on the palate where the lower alcohol,
according to the labels 11.5%, could not support
the oak tastes and textures. Low alcohol wines are
rarely aged in small new oak barrel.

The most notable
aspect of these fruit wines was that they were
meticulously made. The wines were clean, clean,
clean. The fruit must have been of very high
quality. I reserve my comments about these fruit
wines’ age-ability until I have the opportunity to
compare aged samples with new.

Here are my wine
notes of the fruit wines of Bartlett Maine Estate

Medium-deep yellow-gold; Chablis-like wet wool,
pear, mushroom, with oak nuances; low alcohol,
medium-low acidity, oak dominates, slight bitter
and tannic finish.

OAK DRY, 1999 Rich gold color; burnt buttered toast
with pear in the background; tannic-bitter palate
unsupported by acidity and alcohol, slightly
viscous; oaky finish with lingering

apple-pear blend; moderate to light yellow, apple
and pear smells; slight residual sugar effect at
entry though otherwise dry, good acid

Pale yellow green; honey, flowers; sweet with low
acidity; slightly bitter finish.

apple-blueberry blend; light ruby appearance; fresh
and lively blueberry and apple aromas, red
currant-like smells; palate dominated by

WINE OAK DRY, 2OOO Light to medium ruby with a ruby
rim; new oak dominates the nose, blueberry, brambly
fruit, nuances of chocolate and licorice; dry,
light acidity, lacks enough alcohol to balance oak;
smoke-chocolate nuanced and slightly astringent

SEMI-DRY Light ruby appearance; blueberry,
redcurrants, wood spices; slight residual sugar,
tart, slight bitter astringent finish;



One of the most
difficult challenges that fruit wines such as the
Bartletts’ faces is convincing someone to set aside
their prejudices and have an open mind. Here are
some simple selling tools for promoting high-end
fruit wines.

Host tastings and
offer samples. Whether in a restaurant or at a
store, have a confident and knowledgeable sales rep
on premise to talk about the wine’s characteristics
and how it pairs with food. Also, taste them
side-by-side with comparable Chardonnays, Pinot
Noirs and the like.

Emphasize the
local, New England-made element. Even with New
Englanders, products made in this region have a
distinct cachet to them. The Bartletts use almost
exclusively Maine-grown fruits with some pears
coming from Massachusetts. The small production,
boutique winery label has a definite appeal, and
the price tag is an appropriate reflection of the

Emphasize any
credentials and awards. Bartlett wines are highly
acclaimed with many prizes and honors. Also, Bob’s
training at UC Davis adds to his credibility as a
serious winemaker.

Target the
younger, new wine drinker who may not have
prejudices in place yet regarding fruit wines. They
may be more receptive to trying and embracing
something new. -INGALLS



Wine can be made
out of just about anything from peaches to
potatoes, even fish (believe it or not). They may
not all be palatable but there is still very much a
market for fun fruit wines designed for the curious
as opposed to the serious wine drinker. At the
Ormond Beach Winery in Daytona, Florida, they have
put a unique spin on the old adage that says “when
life gives you lemons, make lemonade”. They make
over 2O wines including strawberry, grapefruit, key
lime, chocolate, even carrot. Their most popular
seller is mango. Rocky Meredith, the retail manager
for the winery, says that their advertising is
geared toward a tourist market; they have brochures
at all the local hotels and offer tours and
tastings to guests at the winery and store. It may
be a unique concept but they are certainly doing
something right. The wines have won substantial
acclaim and, to date, over 114 medals in various
competitions. -INGALLS