FALMOUTH — A new wine made from Maine grapes and produced by a Falmouth family in their old chicken coop will be available in markets starting this week.
Steve Melchiskey and Nanci Kahn have been working to find the right vines and the right blends for a decade at their farm on Hurricane Road. In a renovated space on the first floor of the old chicken coop, they’ve crushed grapes and let them macerate and ferment in large steel tanks. Then with a pencil, roll paper and a graduated cylinder, they’ve mixed and tasted until finding the right blend.
“We field blend,” Melchiskey said, holding up the cylinder. “Just a couple of percentages difference and it really changes the flavor of the wine.”
Having secured the federal permitting to produce wine nearly a year ago, Melchiskey said they received a state permit to bottle the product two weeks ago.
“So we just released the first wine this week,” he said, holding up a bottle of Maine Coast Vineyards Rose. The label features a painting by Falmouth artist Ed Langford, titled “Snowplow.”
“We really want this to be an art farm,” Melchiskey said, explaining that each variety produced will feature artwork by a local artist. David Puelle of Yarmouth designed the label and Jeff Badger of South Portland designed the cork art.
Kahn plans to design one of the labels, too. She is an artist known for her photographs of swimming and floating dancers. Most recently she’s turned her attention to creating paper mache birds inspired by Mexico’s Day of the Dead art.
Kahn and Melchiskey are bottling and labeling the wine themselves, with help from their two children, who are in charge of the low-tech labeling machine. If fact, all the equipment is pretty simple. The machine that puts the capsule on top of the bottle is old and from Italy, and was given to the couple by an old friend who lives in California, where the couple used to live.
The friend makes the nationally distributed wine, Our Daily Red, which has outgrown the antiquated capsule machine.
In addition to the two acres of grapes growing in their yard, Melchiskey said they use grapes from Royal River Alpaca farm, where there is about an acre of vines.
Maine Coast Vineyards will put out about 500 bottles of rose, 1,400 bottles of red and 300 bottles of white with grapes harvested last October.
Melchiskey runs the wine imports company USA Wine West, which is based in California and does not distribute in Maine. Kahn said they will distribute Maine Coast wines themselves and do not plan on retail sales at the winery, or having tastings, because those uses would require changes to the property.
“Plus, this is where we live,” Kahn said.
Melchiskey also said the couple is committed to supporting local food producers and sellers, since “this is a local wine, made from local grapes.” So far, he said, the three Rosemont Market stores, Leavitt & Sons in Falmouth, the Lighthouse Wine & Deli in Manchester and Good Life Market in Raymond plan to stock Maine Coast Vineyards wines.
The unusually cold and wet June and July were not kind to the vines out on Hurricane Road. Melchiskey said some of the varieties were not hardy enough, and the wetness caused rot.
“You fight various things, growing grapes in Maine,” he said. “We had a lot of cold problems this spring.”
Because of the constant rain, several varieties – most of which are French-American hybrids – couldn’t successfully bloom, either.
“We’re thinking about calling next year’s batch ‘L’ete Perdu’,” Melchiskey said. “The Lost Summer.”
Kahn and Melchiskey plan to add more vines to their crop, and are also looking for farmers who might be willing to grow grapes for them.
“No one has really ever made it work from the ground up in Maine,” Melchiskey said. “We’ve tested and tried it and would like it to lead to a good industry here.”
The rose retails for $13.99, and the couple expect their other wines to be in the $11 to $15 range. For more information, go to mainecoastvineyards.com.
Nanci Kahn and Steve Melchiskey, owners of Maine Coast Vineyards, examine some of their vines in Falmouth.