By MICHAEL FRETT
ISLE LA MOTTE – Seven years after their first grapes took to the soil, Jamie and Steven Foley lined their shelves with bottles of red and white, and welcomed their first customers to their Isle La Motte abode.
As a sign near Shrine Road now declares, the Isle La Motte Vineyard is officially open.
“We’ve always tried new things,” Jamie Foley said as she welcomed The Islander into the vineyard’s tasting room during a recent afternoon, “but we were done traveling and wanted to settle down.”
The Isle La Motte Vineyard stretches over a prominent corner of their namesake island, blanketing much of the land behind the intersection of Shrine Road and Main Street with an array Vermont vineyard mainstays like La Crescent and Marquette grapes, fanned out around the vineyard’s centerpiece winery.
For the prospective Green Mountain wine enthusiast, the Isle La Motte Vineyard is one of the most recent additions to a budding wine scene, one tracing the length of the Champlain Valley from Franklin in the north toward Middlebury and Brandon further south.
For the Foleys, though, wine is a relatively new adventure, the latest chapter in a background stretching from the Alaskan southeast to their new home in a nascent wine region, where retirement had proven to be a sort of homecoming for the two former North Country natives and current full-time islanders.
Before the islands, the two made a living in Alaska. Steven, an electrician by trade, ran his own contracting business out of Alaska’s capital city. Jamie, meanwhile, leveraged her background as a paralegal and worked within the Alaskan statehouse.
In between, there were a few grand adventures. Their website references several voyages through the Panama Canal aboard a sloop, the Sentient, and, as Jamie said above, “trying new things” was a sort of mantra for the two, whether it was packing their lives into a used Volvo or sailing between two oceans.
Eventually, “trying new things” led the two to retire to a comparatively “hot and tropical” small island on the opposite end of the U.S., closer to family and closer to their original hometowns in New York’s North Country.
It was “trying new things” that also led the Foleys to a vineyard.
According to Jamie, the decision to open a vineyard on Isle La Motte was a “natural” decision, stemming from a shared interest in the vineyard experience seen elsewhere in the world and hopes to develop their corner of Isle La Motte with some form of agriculture.
“We’ve always enjoyed vineyards,” Jamie said. “It seemed like a natural fit to just commit ourselves to this project.”
Despite an interest in vineyards, winemaking was entirely new to the two Foleys.
While he said Jamie had no problem adapting to the organizational side of the vineyard, Steven was fairly quick with his answer when he told The Islander there were few overlaps between work as an electrician and tending to grapes, a fruit with a learning curve despite an innate hardiness.
When the two settled on a vineyard for their slice of Isle La Motte, Steven enrolled in a Vermont Technical College program based out of Randolph Center, learning an entirely new trade that would come to stock a tasting room shelf with official, home grown Isle La Motte wines.
“It’s a totally different line of work than I’m used to,” Steven said.
“We’re having a good time”
The vineyard officially opened for business this spring, roughly a year after COVID-19 delayed the Foleys’ original plan for a 2020 grand opening. “In a way, it was sort of a blessing,” Steven said as an aside. “It gave our red wine another year to sit in oak, so it actually came out quite nice, you know?”
The vineyard currently advertises four wines, two reds made from Marquette grapes and a pair of blended white wines made from La Crescent and Frontenac grapes. According to Steven, there were hopes to round out the vineyard’s offerings with a rosé for the next season.
In a lot of ways, life on the vineyard seems like a family affair.
Among the vineyard’s customers during The Islander’s visit was a cousin from nearby in New York, and while the day-to-day work is managed by Jamie and Steven, one of their daughters is expected to join the two for the summer season in the coming weeks.
Even the vineyard’s location is intimately tied to family, as it straddles a home previously belonging to Steven’s late mother.
(That home, according to the two, might soon become the actual tasting room for the Isle La Motte Vineyard, a role currently assigned to a downstairs kitchen in the Foleys’ family home. “Steven would like his kitchen back,” Jamie joked as an aside.)
Future plans for the vineyard also include an artists’ market this August and a possible concert in September, both of which, according to the vineyard’s website, are still “taking shape.”
“Stay tuned,” the vineyard’s website teases.
Since its opening, life on the vineyard had been gradually picking up steam. For the most part, it has been locals trickling through the Isle La Motte Vineyard, though Independence Day brought a comparably large audience for the Foleys’ vineyard.
An unexpectedly busy Friday afternoon met the Foleys during The Islander’s visit. Throughout the afternoon, the two balanced their interviews with entertaining guests to their vineyard.
“The nicest part is we’re meeting more people from the island,” Steven said. “We’re having a good time.”