Tastemaker: Ethan Joseph, Shelburne Vineyard


Simply put, our visit to Shelburne Vineyard, was one of the surprising highlights of TasteCamp 2016: Vermont last year. Thanks to Todd, I’d tasted a fairly wide array of Vermont wines leading up to the event, but he didn’t prepare me for what we’d see, hear and taste at Shelburne.

At the center of literally everything at Shelburne Vineyard is vineyard manager and winemaker Ethan Joseph. Talking with Ethan, it’s clear that the vineyard is where his passion resides, but not to the detriment of what he’s doing in the cellar, where he’s embraced the cold-climate grapes of Vermont to make distinctive, singularly delicious wines.

I’ve had a handful of Louise Swenson-based wines in the past, but I’ve never liked one as much as I enjoyed Ethan’s 2014. His off-dry La Crescent was another standout. But perhaps the wine of the visit — and no-doubt one of the best wines we tasted the entire weekend — was a 2015 Marquette that hadn’t seen a splinter of oak yet, which reminded me quite a bit of some of the Passetoutgrain I’ve tasted from Burgundy.

That tasting led to quite a discussion about oak programs for Marquette (the winery produces a few different versions, from unoaked to barrel aged for 18 months). Perhaps not surprisingly, I preferred the unoaked version — which you’ll see reviewed on this site shortly.

As Vermont wine earns more accolades and attention, I think you’re going to hear Ethan’s name more often. He’s approaching things the right way and seems to have boundless energy to try new things and push his little corner of the region forward.

Get to know Ethan Josephn, a true tastemaker…


Location: Shelburne, Vermont

Current Job: Vineyard Manager and Winemaker, Shelburne Vineyard

Wine/cider/beer of the moment: A Winderlea 2011 Single-Vineyard Pinot Noir I picked up on a trip to visit a buddy who works in the Willamette.

My winemaking style in 1-5 words: Approachable, exploratory, obsessively cared for

First bottle of wine I remember drinking: Well as embarrassing as it may be now, I used to be a dread-locked love child taking swills from a jug of Carlo Rossi while sitting around a drum circle or hanging in a field somewhere. There was nothing better in those days — to me anyway.

I had no real interest in wine before I began my tenure at Shelburne Vineyard. But, like any wine, that jug was part of many memorable experiences. I can’t say I long for a swill these days, but I still remember more about the experiences surrounding a bottle of wine than the bottle itself.

How I got here: A friend of mine at the University of Vermont was working here and there for Shelburne Vineyard and introduced me our sophomore year. I was an avid homebrewer of beer and cider and always had a community garden plot, so working occasionally in the vineyard here was a welcome distraction from school.

Post-graduation I was wrapping up a job as a research technician for UVM and needed a full-time gig to keep me in the state. It just so happened that Shelburne had finished construction of their new winery and tasting room and was looking for someone to run the operations in the field and winery. I had a keen interest in fermentation and agriculture, but no formal education or training; those I picked up over the last 10 years.

I think the passion was always there, but it took the right opportunity for me to realize it.

My winemaking style — in more words: Clean, tight, and full of energy. I want to create unique, expressive wines, not only of their site and soils but also of my interaction with the grapes and wines as we develop together. It’s an intimate process from vineyard to glass.

Mentors:  My introduction into the wine industry was unanticipated and fairly abrupt, so I’ve relied on the support and guidance of myriad friends, family, and colleagues over the years. I look and have looked to all of them for their particular strengths, whether it be in wine, business, or even life.

Music playing in the cellar right now: Josh and CJ, my two all-star assistants are music aficionados. They curate an endless musical experience. At any moment we could shift from Joe Cocker, Traveling Wilburys or The Grateful Dead to Outkast, Railroad Earth, or Nightmares on Wax.

Favorite thing about the local wine industry: We aren’t confined by rules and regulations. We’re free to experiment with varieties, yields, blends, etc. I think this makes for more interesting wines from a small, yet geographically diverse area. It’s also a lot more fun.

Least favorite thing about the local wine industry: As a small and relatively new industry, there’s a lack of depth to the overall knowledge and know-how related to our varieties in both the vineyard and the winery. We also don’t have any significant local academic or wine-related industry support. It’s exciting to be pioneering the Vermont winegrowing scene, but there’s still a long way to go. Every vintage we learn more and the wines keep getting better. 

One surprising thing that I’m really good at: For someone who works outside year round, I sunburn exceptionally well.

What I drink: I have a restless palate and am interested in trying as many wines and ciders as I can. But I love bubblies, the southern Rhone, and Austria. And more recently, coffee. Gotta have that afternoon coffee.

My “Desert Island Meal” — wine/cider/beer included: This is tough because I’m a voracious eater. For survival, I’ll take my cue from Papillon and go with coconut. For joy, I’d have to say grandma’s gnocchi with meat sauce, seeded baguette, pork ramen, and ice cream, with a sparkling rose.

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