The Campagna’s serve views by the vine
Gianna Campagna, just seven years old, and Jayden Campagna, aged ten, spend countless hours in the spring chasing and catching frogs alongside their backyard pond. Their mother, Lindsey Campagna, and their grandmother, Terry Ashline, draw designs of a vine leaf for a wine label. The label will wrap a bottle of Seyval Blanc— a lively white wine both refreshing and light in style and taste. Lindsey’s husband, Ryan Campagna, and her father, Frank Ashline, are roaming the Campagna’s 45 acres of undulating fields. They are pruning grapes in preparation for spring.
More than 4,500 grape vines grow on Lindsey and Ryan’s land. Their family, in-laws included, “dormant prune” the grape vines anytime from November to April. Dormancy, a phase in the vine’s growth cycle, helps the crops adapt to cold winter temperatures. “Dormant pruning” is essential and unique to the process of creating cold-climate grapes. The Adirondack terroir, similar to the Finger Lakes regions, has the soil to grow cold-climate grapes. The process is arduous at best.
“We’re doing what some people would call the impossible. We’re growing grapes in a climate that should not grow grapes. And we’re making good, nice, fine wine with grapes that are hard to work with,” Ryan says. “The process for every grapevine is different. And you really have to know what you’re doing,” Lindsey says.
In recent years, pre-bud break, the end of a wine grape vine’s growth cycle and the end of dormancy after the winter, is coming later each year. Before, it would begin in April and now it is beginning in January. During the same months, it is the sugaring season at the vineyard. The Campagnas use a wood fired evaporator fueled by dead trees, which were harvested and cut by them, to help the environment by using reusable resources.
In the spring, they begin the year-by-year process of soil analysis— to determine whether the soil is lacking any macronutrients and adjust whatever may be lacking. All of this plays a crucial role in a wine’s expression and identity.
The grape vines experience their first bud-break.
The Campagnas walk the vineyard and pull off the shoots, or “suckers,” that are too low to bear fruit. They fertilize the vines. The vines continue to grow, and the family continues to go out to mow and weed the fields. This is a daily job.
When he isn’t pruning grapes, Ryan is employed as an English teacher at Boquet Valley Central School District. Lindsey, a consultant teacher at Keeseville Elementary School, serves as a mentor who delivers strategies to prevent problems and to improve student performance. Education is so important to this family, they have begun teaching their children, Gianna and Jayden, the family business. They want them to be hard workers and learn the operation behind the vineyard.
“We want to raise our children to see the work that we’re doing and appreciate it and get their hands dirty,” Lindsey says. It is necessary, because it is a family-run winery. For a large-scale vineyard with mechanical pruners, the pruning process may be done in a fraction of the time. For the Campagna family, doing the work by hand means the whole family has to be hands-on.
“Last year, I had Jayden work with me for two hours a day, every day,” Ryan says. “He would just kind of hang out with dad and see what dad does.” To some kids, this might seem like an unwanted chore. Not to Jayden, though. “The weather has to be just right for me,” Jayden says. “I don’t like working in too cold weather or too hot weather. We get to experience all the different seasons, unlike California or Florida.”
The weather also has to be just right for a successful harvest every year. The amount of rainfall, humidity and fluctuating temperatures all affect the delicate juice that will fill guests’ wine-glasses each season. Or, in recent times of COVID-19, the plastic cups, filled with cold climate samples.
Navigating a pandemic.
During a time when start-up-businesses were at risk, the vineyard’s owners wanted to prioritize health and safety in their community. Last season, the family brainstormed ways to keep their tasting room doors open.
“My dad made wood tasting holders for six different wine varieties,” Lindsey says, “and then people could take them outside.”
Guests would sample multiple creations in the fresh air while remaining socially distant. They could try the Marechal Foch, a dry red, with traces of raspberry in a decadent boysenberry color, and the Traminette wine, which holds flavors reminiscent of sweet fruit, with hints of tangerine and apricot. The Traminette wine is full-bodied, rich and infused with ginger and fresh blossoms.
As the pandemic worsened, the Campagnas made the difficult decision to shut the taste room’s timber-framed doors for the season. They used the remaining months to prepare for a spring 2021 reopening with worst-case scenarios in mind. They will continue to use the wooden tasting holders, so guests can sit outside and enjoy their creations while socially distant.
The time, energy and dedication this family has given to creating a brand for themselves are beginning to come full circle as its owners are proud to announce their new products.
“We’ve had so many that are ‘coming soon, coming soon, coming soon’ forever. But now, they’re going to be ready in the spring and fall. We have a lot of new lines,” Lindsey says. She is excited to introduce guests to their Petite Pearl Marquette blend, a wine that is oak-aged after having rested in barrels for over a year.
This is only the beginning of the Campagna and Ashline families’ journey to create a travel destination in wine-tourism. The Highlands Vineyard is a destination like no other. On days with no haze, looking over the waves of Lake Champlain, guests can view the panorama of Burlington and the Green Mountain Range. At Highlands Vineyard, guests are accepted as family, and family is everything to this community.
Photos by Clarice Knelly
Story by Heaven Longo