A Talk with Bettina Doulton of Cellardoor Winery and Vineyard, Maker of Fine Wine in Lincolnville

A Talk with Bettina Doulton of Cellardoor Winery and Vineyard, Maker of Fine Wine in Lincolnville

It is still hard to grow grapes in Maine, says Bettina Doulton, owner and head of Cellardoor Winery and Vineyard in Lincolnville. The state’s short growing season and cool temperatures make a bountiful grape harvest a formidable challenge.

But thanks to viticulture scientists, cold-hardy hybrids are now indeed growing here—for example, at Cellardoor’s beautiful five-and-a-half-acre estate vineyard. And thanks to the careful blending done by the expert Cellardoor winemaking team, who use Maine-grown grapes and other selected grapes, success has come knocking. The results are wowing customers, winning awards, and pleasing those who visit for tastings.

Putting Maine more on the wine map has been Bettina’s latest “great adventure” these past 13 years. In her former life and career, she worked at Fidelity in the area of mutual fund investments. But this self-described “math dork” and workaholic was ready for a change, and she was drawn to the idea of running her own small business. She bought Cellardoor in 2007 and moved to Maine, and to a new field. Now, she and her team are changing people’s minds about Maine wines—an achievement.

I was so glad to have a chance to talk this month with Bettina, about the wines of Cellardoor, the company she owns and operates, and her unusual path to this pleasing doorway. While things are gradually returning to normal after COVID, she explained that the winery (the company’s state-of-the-art production facility) has not yet reopened for tours. But people can make a reservation for wine tastings at the gracious Lincolnville tasting barn. And while there, visitors can walk down and see the vineyard—yes, see the wonder of grapes growing in neat rows in Maine, just as if they belong here, which happily now they do.

 

Mary:

Tell me about the name of your winery, Cellardoor. I’ve read that according to surveys, that combination of words is considered among the most beautiful in the English language.

Bettina:

Yes, there was an article in the New York Times on that subject about two years ago, saying the same thing. I would love to take credit for it, but it was the people who started the company—I bought it from them—who were the ones who called it Cellardoor.

Mary:

How did you come to live in Maine?

Bettina:

I moved up here from the Boston area to buy the winery in 2007. I’ve had it now over 13 years.

This is a second act in life for me up here. I worked at Fidelity Investments in equity mutual funds for a long time. I had always loved what I was doing at Fidelity. They’ve given me incredible opportunities. I am a math dork by nature.

Then I had cancer in 2006, and you know what? I was more reflective after cancer. I had long had the idea that I wanted to run a business, instead of analyzing how other people ran a business. Through a weird confluence of events, I ended up buying Cellardoor. I have so many wonderful things to think about this adventure and this part of life’s journey for me.

Mary:

As you made this big change in direction, what was useful to you from what you’d learned in your previous investment job?

Bettina:

You work hard to build a team culture. You try and remember the best things that you learned from your life to this point and especially the mentors who have made an impression. Why did they make an impression? You try and build a mosaic out of all of those things, when you’re doing building a business and creating a work culture yourself.

You try and create an environment that was the one that inspired you or gave you a platform and you try and do that for other people. That’s all you can really do. You’re making it up every day. We all are. The business environment changes, the people you’re working with change, and you change. That’s a constant process. The backdrop you’re working in evolves. You have to keep doing the best you can to make all those pieces work.

I’m constantly reassessing what’s working and what’s not. You try and do more of what’s working, and you try and eliminate the things that aren’t working, or do less of them, or fix them. That was something I learned from my investment days. I try to be open minded and able to self-critique.

Mary:

Did you at least enjoy gardening and growing things before, or was your new life all totally new for you?

Bettina:

It was all new. I drove in Maine in February 2007, in a rear-wheel drive car! I mean, come on! I remembered, though, something my dad told me once: “Hire people who are smarter than yourself.” So, okay. I didn’t know how to grow a vine, but I found people who had good Maine farming experience. A gentleman came wandering onto the property, and he was there for eight and a half years. Now, I have somebody else, also excellent. My wine makers, they found me, and they’ve been with me since 2008. They’re incredibly talented and passionate about what they do.

Mary:

It seems brave. Did you come to Maine by yourself, or did you have a partner or a family?

Bettina:

No, I have no family here, and I came by myself. I don’t know if I ever felt brave about it, but when you are kind of pushing forward with your life, you just keep going. In the moment, none of it ever feels brave. You get your resolve, and you proceed–“I’m going to go give this a go.”

Changing careers and changing locales are incredibly difficult. You are jumping into the deep end. But I know I’m a hard worker. I know I’m pretty good at making mental jigsaw puzzles and businesses work.

I think more people have strengths and experiences—business or personal experiences—that would allow them to be more adaptable than they give themselves credit for. You rely on the things that you know how to do, and you figure it out. You do have to look at it as a journey and adventure and a bit of a game, though.

Mary:

How is Cellardoor wine distributed? How can people get it?

Bettina:

We have a tasting room in Lincolnville. So, we sell a lot through that winery. We had a tasting room in Portland. Unfortunately, due to COVID we had to close that, but we’re about to reopen another tasting room in Portland. We have to do some renovations on the space, but we’re hoping to open on Middle Street in September, and we’re really excited about it. We’ll have a presence in Portland, again.

We distribute through National Distributors and Maine Distributors, in the state of Maine. They both have been wonderful partners to us. We’re very fortunate. National Distributors covers the middle and south, and Maine Distributors kind of more north and down east.

It’s been interesting as people’s habits over the last 18 months have been impacted. Because we work with distributors, they both sell into wine shops and restaurants. Last year those partnerships worked for us because they were selling into places where people could buy our wine and drink it at home. This year, both that part of the business and the restaurant business is better. It’s been good year on both of those sides.

Mary:

Now, how does it work with growing grapes in the state of Maine?

Bettina:

When I first got here, somebody asked me, “So, what percent of your wines are going to come from grapes grown in the state of Maine?” Way back then, I said, “Well, our goal is 20 percent.” Mary, I’ve never made it, and I’m never going to make it. Growing grapes in the state of Maine is not easy.

Every once in a while, somebody asks me, “Why are you doing this in Maine?” And I sarcastically will answer, “Well, anybody can do it in Napa or Washington or Oregon.” The reality is, we’re making this work. The academic viticulture specialists have developed hybrids that can weather the cold. The big challenge for us is the fewer number of growing days in the state of Maine than you would have in

traditional growing areas. We need sunny days, about 55 degrees. We have a whole lot less of those here than you would in other places.

Mary:

Do you enter your wine in any wine-tasting competitions?

Bettina:

That’s an interesting question. Most importantly, we are proud of the fact that we produce wines that our guests enjoy. But yes, the wine competitions are really good for gaging how we’re doing competitively on the artistry and science of making wines. And we do great at the wine competitions. If you go on our website, look at our wines, you will see that they all have been sent off to competitions, and they all win awards. We go out to the tough competitions. We don’t go to the easy ones. We really want to see how we’re doing.

Mary:

Do you think you’re making a difference for the state of Maine and changing views on Maine wine?

Bettina:

Wines in the state of Maine had a horrendous reputation when I got here. I don’t think that’s the case anymore. Yesterday we had a group come in to do a wine tasting, and one gentleman came up to me. He was very honest, and he said, “When they told me we were coming to a winery in Maine, I said, ‘Really, do we have to do?’” But he had changed his views, saying, “This is really good!”

We have people come in, and they’re surprised, saying, “Oh, this is nice in here.” I don’t know what they expected, but, I think, they expected it to be very rustic. It’s a beautiful space. The wines are really good. We are very proud of the guest experience. If we have a whole lot more years of beating people’s expectations and surprising them positively, I think that’s just fine.

Mary:

Do you do tours all through the summer and the fall?

Bettina:

Right now, we are by reservation, so that guests can come in and do a wine tasting, have glasses of wine, cheese plates, and so on. They’re welcome to walk, enjoy the property. We historically have done winery tours, which is the production facility. We have not reopened the production facility tours yet. It’s really the heart of our business. We have to make sure that part stays. But it’s food processing, and we are not yet comfortable to let it be open back up to tours. When we can, we will. We have been incredibly diligent about making sure that our environment for producing your product is healthy.

So, we’re currently open Thursday, Friday, Saturday, Sunday by reservations for wine tasting. It’s those winery tours that we aren’t doing quite yet. We’re waiting for the health environment of our country to be just a little bit better before we reopen the winery to the public.

And in terms of how long into the season, we’re going to be definitely open through October. Then, we will see how we’re going to work through the winter. Last year, we did a one weekend every month, but

we’ll see how it’s going to go this year. We also can do all kinds of private tastings, occasions, work with wedding caterers, and things like that, that we are happy to host. We’ve done wine tastings on the road, such as a wine dinner down at the Craignair Inn that went really well. Yes. We love doing events like that.

Mary:

Who does the winemaking within your company? Do you get involved in that part of the process?

Bettina:

Aaron and Christina are the ones who do all the blending trials. They will often have me come up as they’re working towards which blends they want to do. They are the artists, and they are the creators. We have a good understanding of what types of wines we want on our list, and then I really leave it up to their brilliance to make sure that it is well produced, and that it’s something that we’re really proud of.

As a result, we have people who are very supportive of Cellardoor Wine and us. We have friends who drink our wine across the state, and we really appreciate them. We know there are an awful lot of choices—plenty of options for people. We work very hard to earn that loyalty, all the time. You have to earn it every day.

Mary:

What is your bestselling wine?

Bettina:

A Perfect Stranger is our number one selling wine, every year. It is an off-dry white, and guests love it.

For more information, please visit https://mainewine.com/

Cellardoor Winery and Vineyard is located at 367 Youngtown Road, Lincolnville, Maine 04849; (207) 763-4478. At this time, for preset tastings, pairings, wine purchase, and more, hours are Thursday through Sunday, by reservation only. The company is opening a new location soon in Portland: 127 Middle Street, Portland, Maine 04101; (207) 536-7700.

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