Vermont vintners promote northern wines with passport

VERMONT — Those who visit a Vermont winery before the end of the year may well find themselves compelled to visit a couple — or 20 — more.
That’s because the Vermont Grape and Wine Council two weeks ago launched its own version of the wildly popular Vermont brewery passport program. The passport promotion plots out 21 wineries and tasting rooms throughout the state, and participants who collect stickers from at least 10 will be entered in a January prize drawing.
Bob Foley, owner of Neshobe River Winery in Brandon and president of the Vermont Grape and Wine Council, said the idea comes in part from the many other states that have done similar wine-tour promotions.
“It’s popular in pretty much all states that have wineries,” said Foley.
Vermont’s wine culture is young, but it’s growing quickly. Most wineries in the state, including Lincoln Peak in New Haven, Neshobe River Winery and Otter Valley Winery in Brandon, are between four and five years old. Foley estimated that the Vermont Grape and Wine Council has around 40 wine-making and grape-growing members. Also among the local members of the council is the Woodchuck Cidery in Middlebury, though it isn’t part of the passport program.
Not everyone who visits Vermont expects locally made wine to flow in northern climes. The passport program seeks to change that.
“We want to give an awareness to people that there are wineries in the state,” said Foley.
The program was developed with the help of a student from the College of St. Joseph, who drafted the proposal to expand the reach of Vermont’s wineries.
The grand prize winner in the January drawing will receive a Vermont bed and breakfast getaway for two, with runner-up prizes of a case of Vermont wine and a basket of Vermont products.
“We wanted to keep things all-Vermont,” said Foley.
He said many of the visitors his winery gets in the summer are from out of state, and with the prizes the Vermont Grape and Wine Council hopes to keep those visitors coming back.
Sara Granstrom of New Haven’s Lincoln Peak Winery, said the passport program will give people an incentive to seek out those corners of the state that they might not otherwise have explored.
“We’re all pretty scattered,” she said of the Vermont wineries. “A lot of us are down little roads, tucked away.”
She and Foley both said that even though the wineries only began the program this month, they’ve already seen people coming into their shops with multiple stickers on their passports.
Foley said if the program is successful, the council plans to hold similar promotions in the years to come. And he said he has high hopes for their success, since similar models have taken off in other states and in other Vermont food and beverage businesses, like artisan cheesemakers and breweries.
In part, that’s because it’s just fun.
“People like to make a day of it,” he said.
Reporter Andrea Suozzo is at [email protected].

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