PUTNEY—It started in 1998, when Kate and Charles Dodge made a few bottles of apple wine in the cellar of their farmhouse.
Now, 17 years later, Putney Mountain Winery is selling 40,000 bottles a year of its fruit wines, liqueurs, and non-alcoholic sparkling juices, and the Dodges are expanding their operation to keep up with the growing demand.
“We’re just a little family business that went berserk,” Charles said.
Putney Mountain Winery recently held an open house at its expanded tasting room and winery inside the Basketville store on Route 5. It was a chance for the Dodges to savor all the changes that have taken place in the Vermont wine industry over nearly two decades.
When they started, Charles said, they were one of only five wineries in Vermont. Now, there are more than 30.
Selling the wine got easier, too.
At the dawn of the wine industry in Vermont, it was illegal for vintners to sell their own wines. They couldn’t ship wine within Vermont. They couldn’t present tastings, nor could they sell bottles of wine, at farmers’ markets.
Over time, those laws changed, sparking a wine boom in Vermont.
But the Dodges still have a firm grasp on their niche — making wine from fruit other than grapes.
At first, Kate said, that was a necessity, because Vermont was not grape-growing country. With climate change, however, Vermont has become more hospitable to various varieties of grapes.
However, as Kate pointed out, many vintners in Vermont work with grapes from out of the area. The Dodges don’t grow the fruit for their wines, but Kate said nearly all of their fruit comes from farms in Windham and Windsor counties.
“I like to tell people that southern Vermont is like the Napa Valley, except that it’s not grapes,” Kate said. “I love getting to know all of our farmers.”
The Dodges press thousands of pounds of fruit a year at their farm on Holland Hill Road. It is made into wine at their winery, which is based at the Basketville store at 8 Bellows Falls Rd. and has expanded by a third this year.
Kate said the biggest factor in the winery’s growth was moving into Basketville. “We couldn’t have made it without being here,” she said.
The Dodges started doing tastings there in 1999 because it was too difficult for visitors to travel the backroads to their farm.
When they needed more room for production in 2008, Kate said Basketville was happy to rent them space in the back of the store.
By 2010, the arrangement had worked out so well that they hired associate winemaker Jason Hubner to help with production.
While Basketville remains their headquarters, the Dodges have also opened tasting rooms in the River Valley Market in Wilmington and at the Cabot Cheese Store in Quechee.
“I love doing the tastings,” Kate said. “I like talking to people and psych out what kinds of wine they like. And because Basketville is still a big tourist attraction, we meet so many interesting people from around the world.”