Selections from my local rural wine shop

Black Sheep Wine Shop in Harpswell, Maine. Owner John Verplanck will admit that he is far from a wine expert, but he loves the stuff and puts his money where his mouth is. He’s also a fine and fascinating guy. After 20 years, I’m getting to know him a little.
He just turned 80, he’s been a US Air Force and commercial pilot, he’s a non-best selling author of aviation thrillers that still sell well enough to provide him with a little extra money. He speak 6 languages, is smart, polite and if you know him, pleasantly cantankerous. His store is sub-microscopic and sells lots of local craft beer as well as a good selection of cheese and chocolates. The website is ever so slightly out of date, announcing an upcoming tasting this Saturday, March 1, 2014.
In the pandemic, he’s stayed open by putting a loose-leaf booklet of his wines outside with tables, chair, umbrellas, order cards and pencils. Sorry to say descriptions in the book are not always 100% accurate. I put together a case, he was out of some things and I told him to pick substitutes for the missing.

I was the one who ordered 2019 Pacificana Chardonnay. Never heard of it. The booklet said ‘Santa Barbara’. When I got home, the label said ‘California’ and ‘barrel fermented’’. Rather golden color for under a year. Aromas were generic Chardonnay. The wine was soft, with low acid but some noticeable oak tannins. Correct Chardonnay flavors but nothing more. Rated 80, my lowest drinkable score. $14.62 less 10% case discount.

John included Barone Cornacchia ‘Casanova’.
Wasn’t he a character in a Bevis & Butthead skit?
This is Montepulciano d’Abruzzo and made with organic grapes.
This was a complete shock and more than redeemed the previous. Young almost opaque ruby-black color. The aromas are pungent and intense, with black fruit (blackberry, cherry). The palate has some young fresh crackle to it, fine intensity with minerals behind the black fruit and a very lean trace of garrigue and green herbs. There is something almost Syrah-like and peppery about this. Not great wine, but almost riveting in intensity, balance and interest. Rated 91. $16.24 less 10%.
You’ll notice I didn’t list a vintage. It’s stamped on the back label and says 2013. The bottling Lot # is L351 19. Something doesn’t compute here and I would like to know what. Neither color nor crackle nor fresh pungency are likely for 2013. But in the end, it’s excellent wine and a great value.

Dan Kravitz

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Sounds like a fun place. It reminds me a little of the Madison Wine Shop in Madison, CT. The place was like stepping into a time machine. The owner wouldn’t let me leave without tasting a few things each time. I was heartbroken when he died and they sold the place. I walked in after it changed hands, saw the changes and immediately walked out.

My brother has a place up in Fayette (recently featured on Maine Cabin Masters). Next time I’m up there I’ll try to swing by. Any good lobster roll places nearby or fun things to do in town?

Stuff of life there, Dan. And you sound like you are almost a “Mainer”. Cheers.

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That would have been Rick, don’t remember his last name. Very old school “merchant” type, I don’t think the place was ever remodeled in Rick’s time there, always something interesting on the shelf at fair prices. Rick was an acid freak, always pushing something like picpoul, many memories of tasting at the little counter by the back door. RIP.

You do live in paradise.

Many great times at Estes, 1982 an onward.

Awesome that there is a wine shop in Harpswell, muchless one with character. Looking forward to a post-COVID trip.

It makes me happy that others remember Rick. The experience of going there was so much fun. One of my all time favorite places on the planet.

I’m pretty sure that somehow he rubbed my dad the wrong way – he was super opinionated. Like if you went in and asked for a Chardonnay recommendation he’d basically say, “WTF do you want to drink that for?”. [rofl.gif]

My father took on the project of digitizing his hometown newspaper over the past year. Here’s a wine article featuring Rick Lewis of the Madison Wine Shop from 1991.

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He could live there until he’s 1,000 and someone who was born and bred would say, “That’s that out-of-state guy.”

I grew up but was not born there but lived basically across the bay from where Dan is. Actually believe I hit a couple of tennis balls into the yard (well before it was his house) playing baseball at my friend’s house. The weird dead end road I grew up on had/has a homeowner’s association. Not like the one you belong to I assure you. It was about maintenance and the dock and other stuff that grew more esoteric in nature as grudges played out over the years. When I was back in 2019 I saw the woman who lived up the hill and she was telling me about the stuff going on there and I said, “How did you get through all the HOA bullshit?” She said, “Eventually the originals all died and we could finally get things done.”

Those people are Mainers.

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Enjoying this thread, Dan, and sharing a photo of the saltwater farm in harpswell center I was born on in 1968. One from 1969 and one from 2012. I imagine it is gone now.

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Michael, a poet once observed that “progress is a comfortable disease”. Cheers.

to all: Thank you for reviving this thread.

to Jim Anderson: I’M MAD!!! You didn’t let me know you were coming and we didn’t get to share a glass. Please please let me pour you a glass of wine next time you’re in Maine, especially that close.

to Michael Terrien: I’m on the Island side, not the Neck side, but will find out if your place is still there and post again, moderate thread drift.

to Jim Stewart: So just how many other people on this board know E. E. (or e e) C(c)ummings?!???

Thanks again to all.

Dan Kravitz

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I used to visit Madison, and always went into Rick’s shop. I loved his tastings, where you absolutely had to at least try all the wines.

He was already gone, but the shop burned down a while back.

Thanks very much Dan. I may have to take a drive up to that wine shop. Sounds great.

Dan, to answer your question I was hoping for at least 1, but I was just drifting a bit when I saw the sad state of that once fine farmhouse . . . “thoughts of a dry brain in a dry season” ?
Best, -Jim

I’m glad for the thread drift over to Madison Wine Shop and Rick Lewis. I also knew him, a fine, opinionated, cantankerous and occasionally intolerant gentleman, great wine lover and wonderful merchant. He used to order a Champagne I import. The grower has always been willing to bottle quantities as low as a case with no dosage or dosage to your taste. Rick would order multiple cases of both zero dosage and 0.5% (5 grams).

Folks in Maine or near Maine, especially about 30 miles NE of Portland, please keep in touch. We aren’t entertaining in this COVID environment, but if you’re in this neck of the woods we can find a way to have a glass.

Dan Kravitz

I will try to make it to Black Sheep Wine Shop next week. I’m spending a few days at my brother’s camp in Fayette. Going to do a day trip to the Coastal Maine Botanical Gardens.

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I was in there last week, nothing has changed.

Not a straight line between Fayette and Boothbay, site of the wonderful Botanical Gardens, but right on your route is Wiscasset, nowhere near the ‘Prettiest Village in Maine’ as it claims, but far from ugly. I haven’t been in a while, but ‘Treats’, on the main street, used to have a good, interesting wine selection.

Dan Kravitz


Dan, if you find yourself in Manchester, Maine, home of Maine Cabinmasters, you should stop in at The Lighthouse. Very good lobster rolls and an impressive selection of wines from South Africa, where the current owner hails from. We have a summer place nearby and stop by frequently.

I’ve driven by The Lighthouse dozens of times. Will try to stop next week. We usually go to Fielders Choice at least once when we’re in town.