A Maple Wine That Makes The Grade

By now, there's nothing new about maple beer and maple booze. Depending on your location and your preference, you can sip Maple Pecan Porter or guzzle Voodoo Bacon Maple, ruminate over Maple Trippel Ale or delight to the flavor of Bigleaf Maple Red. If you like spirits, there's Sapling and Sortilege, Boyden Valley Maple Crème liqueur and Crown Royal Maple-Finished whiskey. In fact, when it comes to the maple spectrum, there really only seems to be one thing missing: maple wine.

That's where Ken Shapiro comes in.

Shapiro lives in western Massachusetts, right in the heart of America's maple belt. In his area, maple is still a cottage operation, with dozens of farmers tapping their trees, draining out the sap and boiling it down into precious syrup and sugar. While much of this bounty gets shipped out across the country and around the world, there's also a hearty hometown appetite, and Massachusetts maple junkies are famed for their creativity when it comes to figuring out ways to transform local syrup into a dizzying array of sauces and syrups, candies and spreads.

One night, at a potluck dinner, Shapiro found himself face-to-face with that rarest of maple crossbreeds: maple wine. "A friend said, 'Hey! You want to try my sap wine?,'" Shapiro recalls. "It wasn't bad. I called my son Logan over and we started talking about trying different things, like bourbon barrel aging. Logan brews beer, and we decided that this was something we could do together."

Some of Shapiro's friends worked at Artisan Beverage Cooperative (ABC), a local brewing and winemaking company that is gaining attention for its mead blends. "They were willing to let me use their facility," Shapiro says. "All I had to do was put it together."

Shapiro and his son experimented with a variety of recipes, ultimately settling on a blend of water, Grade B maple syrup, yeast and lemon juice. They made a mead-like wine out of it, which they then aged in bourbon barrels for eighteen months.

The finished product, Blackfeather Maple Wine, manages to be sweet without being cloying. The barrel aging adds a slight whiskey roughness to the finish, while the lemon juice cuts the sugary maple flavor. "It does really well at tastings," Shapiro notes. "Almost everybody who tastes it buys a bottle."

Unfortunately, most people can't taste it right now. Thus far, Blackfeather is only distributing the brew to Massachusetts wine and liquor stores, including Provisions, Domaney's, Spirit Haus and Ryan and Casey. While some of those stores may be willing to ship it out, the wine itself doesn't have much of an online presence. Shapiro hopes to set up worldwide shipping in the coming year, however.

In the meantime, Shapiro and son will keep mixing their maple, experimenting with aging, and looking forward to a winemaking future that looks very, very sweet.

Try out these recipes using maple syrup on Food Republic: