When driving by means of rural Maine’s hilly countryside, most wouldn’t suppose twice concerning the unremarkable low-lying fields past the highway. However step onto a kind of stretches of inexperienced and also you’ll discover red-tipped leaves alongside emerald-hued foliage, tall white flowers dancing within the breeze, and tight bunches of ripening blueberries huddled collectively towards the bluster. What could have appeared at first look to be a mere meadow is the truth is a kaleidoscope of colours and textures. This can be a wild blueberry discipline, the bedrock of a burgeoning wine trade in Maine that would assist save one of many state’s most treasured heritage crops.
Wild blueberries—smaller and extra tart than the produce aisle’s hybrid varieties, and genetically distinct from them—are indigenous to this state. “Maine wild blueberries are to not be grouped with hybrid blueberries from different states, nations, and continents,” says winemaker Michael Terrien, co-owner of Obsidian Wine Company and founding father of Terrien Wines in Northern California, as he confidently threads his manner by means of a blueberry discipline. Stopping abruptly, the Maine native bends down to look at a cluster of fruit—‘wild blues,’ as they’re affectionately known as. His eyes, the identical coloration as his prized berries, radiate enthusiasm as he explains that the wild fruit has grown naturally in Maine for greater than 10,000 years. Bushes are by no means planted; reasonably, farmers set up their companies round naturally occurring shrubs. “Therein lies the fruit’s sustainability bonafides; we haven’t messed with the genes,” says Terrien, which suggests wild blueberries are inherently extra resilient towards pests and illness.
“Maine is the one state with wild blues in any vital amount,” he explains. Nonetheless, “exactly as a result of they’ve by no means been bred, they’re at a business drawback to hybrids.” Yields are low: on common, a discipline can solely produce about 2 tons per acre, according to the USDA and Nationwide Agricultural Statistics Service, far lower than the ten tons per acre of commercially bred varieties, and wild blues can solely be harvested each different 12 months. Competitors from Canada—the one different place that grows wild blueberries abundantly sufficient to be commercially viable—can also be hurting Maine’s farmers. In recent times, the worth and quantity of the state’s wild blues have fluctuated wildly: in 2017, costs dipped to 25 cents per pound (2021 noticed some aid, with costs reaching 70 cents per pound), and in 2020, the crop’s yield fell under 48 million kilos, the bottom haul since 2004.
Baked into muffins, folded into pancake batter, or eaten by the juicy handful are how most individuals know and love wild blues. However Terrien noticed the potential for one thing extra. The winemaker realized he may apply his vintner expertise to the fruit—and assist revive the struggling crop by growing demand, producing curiosity, and offering farmers with extra alternatives.
Fruit wines usually are not a brand new idea, however many are cloyingly candy. Terrien knew blueberries had all of the parts to make a dry, vinous-like wine. Blueberries include sugars that may be transformed into alcohol—a part of the usual winemaking course of. Plus, the naturally occurring antioxidants permit wines to age slowly, defend them towards oxidation, and assist maintain the beverage steady, that means little to no sulfur must be added. The one factor lacking is tannins, which offer physique and texture to wine. By way of trial and error, Terrien and his co-founder Eric Martin discovered that including bubbles to blueberry wine gave it a texturally attention-grabbing mouthfeel that replicated the sensations created by tannins. Lastly, in 2014, Bluet was born.
The primary sip of a blueberry wine is tart, however distinctly redolent of the namesake fruit. What follows on the palate is a chic spice, calling to thoughts black pepper. With its acidity and glowing texture, the beverage is energetic and refreshing, not heavy or syrupy. It’s, dare I say, surprisingly wine-like.
Like all glowing wines, blueberry wine needs to be served chilled, and its low degree of seven% alcohol by quantity (ABV) makes it superb for the nice and cozy summer season months. For an especially simple cocktail, Terrien recommends including a splash of triple sec and a sprig of mint.
Cognizant of the challenges dealing with wild blueberry farmers, the state launched a bill in March to make the state’s Down East space, which is house to a dense inhabitants of blueberry fields, a Nationwide Heritage Space. If the invoice passes, the ensuing job alternatives and elevated tourism will present much-needed funding for the area’s agricultural trade.
Small farmers make up about 40 p.c of the wild blueberry trade, and Terrien sources blueberries solely from these boutique farms to assist them improve manufacturing and finally income. However one winemaker can’t shoulder an trade alone, which is why Terrien is encouraging different entrepreneurial souls to begin their very own wineries.
One protege is R.A.S., based by Joe Appel, Dan Roche, and Emily Smith. The vineyard just lately launched the second classic of its Arkadia blueberry glowing wine. R.A.S.’s fruit, sourced from natural farms, goes by means of an extended maceration interval than Bluet’s, which provides the wine a deeper coloration and extra intense flavors. The makers additionally use naturally occurring yeast to kickstart fermentation. The result’s a wine with an earthy and savory high quality, and intense natural notes paying homage to pomegranate and rhubarb. And the corporate shouldn’t be limiting itself to glowing wine. The makers have additionally produced an aromatized wine known as A7 Americano that infuses wild blueberry wine with natural herbs, spices, and fruit, then fortifies it with brandy. The ensuing beverage can be utilized in vermouth-based cocktails comparable to Manhattans and Negronis, or loved on the rocks. “We wished to make a fortified/aromatized wine that could possibly be used creatively as a mixer, however may additionally present numerous pleasure when sipped by itself,” says Appel.
On this nascent trade, there’s loads of room for experimentation. Terrien’s assistant winemaker, Davis Martinec, plans to reap his first crop of blueberries this 12 months for his personal yet-to-be-named label. Whereas he’s nonetheless determining his model, he is aware of one factor is obvious: the standard can be there. “[In Maine] we don’t need to attempt to drive one thing right into a field, like attempting to develop grapes the place they don’t wish to develop. Right here, you’re taking a fruit that loves being right here, that desires to be right here, and making wine out of it.”