Lake Champlain’s hidden islands
Lake Champlain’s hidden islands offer many pleasures
For those of us who don’t live in Vermont, the islands in Lake Champlain are hidden treasures. As for those who do, I can’t imagine their wanting the world at large to discover this serene archipelago in the stunningly beautiful lake.
I discovered the chain of islands by accident while researching Snow Farm Vineyard for a visit. A few miles from Burlington, we drove to the first island, South Hero, passing many bikers, using a bridge so low that we could hardly tell we were on one. For a Californian, the sheer volume of water is mind boggling. The miles of green feel surreal: Over the past few years, succulents have replaced leafy greens in California gardens.
The views were stellar, of course, but more so when we took the cutoff to the vineyard and the road wound us through trees that framed the lake sparkling under the filtered light of the sun just breaking clear of clouds. I can, of course, wax philosophical here: Can a writer really describe a scene as beautiful as this? [Short answer: no; long answer – really long – read A.S. Byatt’s Still Life.]
Through the vineyards in a golf cart.
We drove into the graveled driveway of Snow Farm Vineyard where a smiling Julie Lane, one of the owners of the winery, met us. Julie cleared her golf cart of flowers that she planned to plant around the wood building that housed the winery, and my husband and I clambered on – a new experience for us.
It was late spring and the vineyards were springing into life. Vines were throwing out long shoots, and Julie told us that she and winemaker Patrick Barrelet were busy managing them. In vineyard speak that means lopping off excessive shoots and training the ones the managers want to keep.
Like Shelburne Vineyards, Snow Farm grows a wide variety of grapes that sound melodic to the ears of a Californian. French grapes leon millot, baco noir, seyval blanc, vidal blanc. And let’s not forget frontenac, (Western) frontier-sounding but going East from the University of Minnesota, which hybridized a cold resistant, pinot noir-like varietal. The first two wine grapes are red.
After we rode back to the winery building, we crossed the street to a house built 200 years ago that now serves as a bed and breakfast. Owners David and Julie Lane live in a portion of it. The gardens around the house were lovely, but most intriguing were some stone structures – a couple of miniature castles and a basket made from small pebbles.
These were the handiwork of one Harry Barber from Switzerland, a stone mason who came to these parts in the 1930s looking for work. Someone up the street, a guy named Horatio Nelson Jackson — gave him a job tending cattle and in his spare time, Barber brought stones from the beach and built what he remembered from back home. As for his employer, he was the first American to drive across the U.S. – from San Francisco to New York City — in an automobile. The year was 1903.
More recently, 120 acres of land that has been in David’s family for several decades is now with the Land Trust, so that developers can’t roll in with their backhoes and alter the rural nature of this island. Twenty acres changed hands over the years until Dave and Julie bought them in 2012.
Back at the winery, Patrick and I tasted some wines, many from the grapes that I had seen on my tour. Everything, he said, is done by hand, even moving barrels. I enjoyed the many wines that range from dry to off dry. The most memorable, however, was their 2016 vidal blanc ice wine, unforgettable for being my first time tasting one. A sweet wine, it was absolutely delicious. For those who like dessert wines, gather these rarities from the Northeast while temperatures still freeze the juice within the grapes. A few years from now, they may be written about in wine history books.
The General Store.
On leaving the winery, we caught the main highway and continued driving north, passing a state park. We could have reached Canada driving up that road, but stopped at the General Store on the island of North Hero where, Julie had told me, they will make you a good sandwich. Visiting the store was taking another step back in time. Quiet, unpretentious, civil. I bought a Thomas Jefferson sandwich – turkey and Vermont cheese on a hand-made roll.
And then we retraced our steps, the Lake our companion for miles.