I’ve gotta be completely upfront on this one. I’m entirely biased.
You see, this place has literally two of my favorite things in the world in one location: Sheep and wine.
Not only this, but they’ve got a LOT of wine. And quite a few sheep. So, really, this entire review is not at all objective. But I’m going to give it a go.
Now that it’s established that I’m a sucker for fermented fruit and wooly animals, I’ll get onto the important parts.
Farm Name: Sweetgrass Farm Winery & Distillery
Operated by? Keith and Constance Bodine
Primary goods: Wine, Gin, Brandy, Lamb, Fiber, Whiskey
Sell to the public? Yep!
My personal favorite part of the farm: It’s a really tough call, but I must say the blueberry wine.
Most interesting part of the farm: The Still. It’s got character.
So, after learning my hard lesson from Gouldsboro, I actually LOOK at a map to see where I’m going. Sweetgrass is located in Union. I booked it from Central Maine right up 95, took the Gardiner exit and stumbled around a bit until I found it. Unbeknownst to me, it’s located about twenty minutes from Camden. So it’s in a good touristy spot, which is nice for business.
Business, Keith does not struggle with at all. He has his Masters in winemaking. (Seriously, how did I not know that existed, and why am I not studying it?) and his wine has been voted one of the top 50 in the world. IN THE WORLD. I asked him how he figured out what makes good wine, he says, “I guess we just have good taste.”
So obviously I tasted all of them. But only a little, don’t worry.
So as of right now, Keith is working on his first year of whiskey making. Unfortunately for everyone in Maine, whiskey takes six years to age, so you’re going to have to wait a while to have some of that goodness. But if you’re around this year, here’s what you CAN have, and here’s how long it took to mature:
Wine: At least a year
Brandy: Four years
Rum: Two to four years
Gin: Immediately (Awesome!)
Oh, and if you’re going, well where does Keith get his grapes for wine? You A) Haven’t been reading closely because he doesn’t use grapes and B) Can rest easy because he’s using blueberries, and they’re harvested just down the road from him.
EIGHT. THOUSAND. POUNDS. OF. BLUEBERRIES.
I don’t know how else to phrase this: That is a ridiculous amount of blueberries. Here’s how many blueberries it is:
– 2,000 average sized platypuses (platypi?)
– 228 toddlers my son’s size
– 16,000 boxes of Annie’s Mac & Cheese
I hope that gave you some useful benchmarks on the massive amounts of blueberries.
So anyway, I roll in after consulting my map. The farm is unobtrusive, with only a sign that says “Winery,” and another, smaller, hand-painted sign that tells me the winery is closed for the winter. Keith is equally as unobtrusive: He is willing to tell me about his business, but also not shoving anything in my face. I look around a bit overwhelmed because I’m used to seeing … y’know, cows and stuff.
But all I see are enormous containers all over the place, some made out of metal, some of glass, some of wood and some of plastic. Just containers. And this GIANT, copper still.
Now, I was given a brief rundown by Keith, and then an in-depth explanation of the inner workings of the still by the farm intern, Graham. I contemplated getting into the technicalities of it all on here, but determined I would somehow mess it up and that it’s very complicated. Too complicated for me to sound intelligent about it.
Briefly, the alcohol to be distilled goes in here, is heated, and since the alcohol has a lower vaporization point than water, it is separated from the water through the top of this piece of equipment, into a cooled coil where it turns back into liquid and is poured into containers. That is the REALLY, OVERLY, WILDLY simplified version of the process.
So something I thought was super resourceful is that they have a LOT of options in terms of products:
So you’ll see a trend here in ingredients. Apples, cranberries, (peaches…). Thing is, there is a wide variety of products, but in the world’s most resourceful maneuver, many of the products are made out of the same thing. In fact, Keith notes that many of the products have evolved because of a base ingredient. So blueberries and apples form the basis for what Keith and Constance do.
As a side note, the labels for the bottles are all designed by Constance. The kids (there are three!) have each done the artwork for at least one bottle, as well. I think that’s mighty crafty.
So I got the grand tour, including a wine-tasting. Here are some random facts I was completely unaware of before coming here:
– Rum actually gets its color from the barrels. No kidding!
– Keith makes something called a “Smash,” which is his version of a Port. DID YOU KNOW that Ports are only from Portugal? I actually felt like an idiot for now knowing that.
– The still was imported from Portugal, it’s called an Alembic still.
– The barrels pictured below are old Jack Daniels barrels:
So after I got the tour of the winery and distillery, I got to go visit some sheepies. I really, really love sheep. I mean, I can’t explain why. We all came to the agreement that sheep, as a whole, aren’t the worlds most intelligent animals. But good grief, are they cute.
Lamb is a good pairing with the customer base that Keith has developed; Y’know, lamb and wine. I suggested cheese.
The sheep, there are plus or minus about 27 of them, are (you guessed it!) a mixed breed. There are some Romneys in there, but they’re also a bit mixed.
The one that stole my heart? Sam Shepherd, the ram. He’s the head boss man, and he is separated from the ewes and lambs. Look at this face:
The lambs without their tails docked will be the lambs for consumption. Generally speaking the ewes are kept because they are producers, which is the same as many cattle operations. There was one lucky whether there (Do you remember the term “whether” from our vocab lesson earlier? Castrated sheep.) But there were also several lambs, mamas, and in-betweens.
Not too much to tell except that they are all free-range, and are able to graze on wonderful green pasture with a fabulous view. There was also a barn cat that followed us around the entire time we were in his territory.
So what did I get as an overall impression from this farm?
It is low-key enough to welcome anyone, but also tailors to people who enjoy lamb and fine wine. Overall, it is open for the tourist season and is near to Camden and Rockland, so it certainly is suited to that cohort of people. It is clean, well-organized and worth the drive. The views are stunning, Keith is friendly, and did I mention the wine is great? Coming from someone who does have the word “oaky,” in her vocabulary, I can tell you this is delicious and worth the trip.
What makes the biggest impression on me?
I loved that Keith and Constance built all of their wines, spirits and the farm itself, from their own taste. They had to have the artistic and intuitive talent to create wines that draw people from miles away. Keith is a knowledgable person who has come from twenty five years of experience, and is happy to pass on knowledge. It is obvious in the way that he talks about what he does that he enjoys it, and can also make a living from it. I got a general feeling of success and fulfillment from the place.