I don’t precisely remember when I first learned about Deirdre Heekin who co-owns la garagista farm + winery in Barnard, Vermont with her husband Caleb Barber.
It may have been my wine writing colleague Todd Trzaskos — who lives not far from Barnard — who first told me about her. Or maybe it was her appearance on Levi Dalton’s I’ll Drink to That podcast. Or maybe I came to know Deirdre the way we meet many people nowadays — Twitter and Instagram.
No matter how I met Deirdre, I’ve come to understand just how much there is to know about her.
She is an accomplished author. Her most recent book An Unlikely Vineyard: The Education of a Farmer and Her Quest for Terroir is a beautifully written and designed book that I’m happy to count as part of always-growing collection of wine books. She is a former restaurateur as well. It wasn’t all that long ago that she and Caleb closed Osteria Pane e Salute.
And, of course, she is making stunningly fresh, savory, delicious wines in a largely undiscovered and underappreciated corner of North American wine country, which is why almost-annual wine writer conference TasteCamp, was centered in Vermont in 2016. These are wines and people who deserve far more attention than they are getting.
Location: Barnard, VT
Current Job: Co-proprietor and winegrower at la garagista
My winemaking style in 1-5 words: Honest, lively, transparent, savory, with a sense of place.
First bottle of wine I remember drinking: My first wine I remember was a Graves. It was the white wine I started drinking in college when I went out to dinner with my now-husband. I don’t remember the label, but it was probably a fairly large house that was readily available in the hinterlands of Vermont back then. It was served by the glass at a local eatery that Caleb and I would frequent when we could.
I didn’t like beer yet, I didn’t want a cocktail with dinner, and my sister and brother-in-law had given me a New York Times book on Graves, so it seemed like the best choice. I stuck with it as my go-to wine while living in New York City until we moved to Italy three years later and a whole other world opened up to me.
I haven’t had a Graves in about 20 years, and I think it’s about time to revisit!
How I got here: My father was an educator and had summers off, so for several summers in a row, we came up to Vermont for a lengthy summer vacation where we would rent a house and stay for awhile. By the time I went to college, I chose Vermont, that connection forged as a child.
Then as an adult, after having lived in New York City and abroad, Caleb (who grew up in Vermont) and I came back to Vermont to get our feet back on the ground and make some decisions about our future. We stayed.
My winemaking style — in more words: No style probably! My hope is to simply do right by the vines during the growing season by being aware and working the land in response to what the vineyards need, and then be the steward to the fruit as it makes it’s journey into wine. My constant hope is to make wine like an old Italian contadina with simply good fruit, a clean cellar,and a vessel. Having said all that, I do think that a producer does make choices along the way that effect the outcome of the wine that is very particular to that person. I’ve noticed that the wines I shepherd tend to have a very floral, aromatic quality which I think must relate to my interest in perfume. They also tend to be savory which I think relates to my interest in the relationship between wine and food. I don’t set out to make these connections, but I think they may be a result of my palate and view of the world.
Mentors: In wine, Bruno di Conciliis (di Conciliis), Emmanuel Guillot (Domaine Guillot~Broux), Nicoletta Bocca (San Fereolo), Randall Grahm (Bonny Doon) for producers. George Schwartz, Alice Feiring, Terry Theise, Pascaline Lepeltier on the wine education and writing side.
Music playing in the cellar right now: We are very equal opportunity in the music department as long as it’s not discordant in any way. I really believe music can effect wine and I am always looking for balance and harmony. So we usually play our local classical station and country music in the morning, then dance pop, soul/funk, soul house in the afternoon, and jazz in the early evening.
Recently, in our tavernetta, we’ve been playing a compilation of Barry White, the Brand New Heavies, and Michael Jackson. But we often like Madeleine Peyroux and Brazilian Soul.
Favorite thing about the local wine industry: That it is small and personable. That we have little-to-no rules and everyone has the ability to find their own niche. We are a region of experimentation and questions. I think this is one of our strong suits. I am also very thankful for the incredible soils we can work in, some of the oldest geology on the planet with the potential to make some of the best wines.
Least favorite thing about the local wine industry: That for a small state, producers tend to be far apart from each other, so it is more difficult to form collaboratives in terms of sharing and supporting each other, though we do have them and I am very thankful to be a part of small group that encourages each other and can share information two or three times a year. We are fortunate that we have Fable Farm Fermentory right in our village and we can share equipment and experience more easily with each other.
One surprising thing that I’m really good at: Braiding horses’ tails.
What I drink: Sparkling wines, and anything else that has been grown organically or biodynamically and that has had little intervention. I want to taste widely and continually further my education, but I am very conscious of what has gone into the process of growing the wine and what I am willing to imbibe from an additive perspective whether in the farming or in the cellar.
At our osteria, my specialty is Italian wine, so I am constantly tasting from that region, as well as domestically as I want to support my compatriots and learn more about what is happening stateside. But I am eager to continue studying French wine, Austrian, Slovenian, German, etc…
My “Desert Island Meal” — wine/cider/beer included: Grower Champagne, perhaps Les Meuniers de Clemence, oysters, salted anchovies, shrimp cocktail, salmon caviar with blini and crème fraiche, followed by Caleb’s pizza.