A pair of corporate expats have poured their business acumen into a Lincolnville vineyard.
- By: Kathleen Fleury
- Photography by: Benjamin Magro
Some Maine businesses begin under the best of circumstances, others under the worst.
In 2006 two high-powered coworkers at Fidelity Investments in Boston named John Tynan and Bettina Doulton discovered they shared complementary dreams after she was diagnosed with cancer. “I’d had a bad doctor’s appointment, and I asked John, ‘What are things you always wanted to do before you died?’ He said, ‘I always wanted to own a vineyard.’ I had always wanted to go run a small business. John looked at me and said, ‘Well, there is a vineyard for sale in Maine.’ ”
The property was the Cellardoor Winery, a sixty-eight-acre farm in Lincolnville owned by John and Stephanie Clapp and known locally for its dessert wines. As business-savvy executives, Tynan and Doulton immediately recognized the brand’s unrealized potential. “It was a great opportunity to take the experiences we had had in corporate life,” explains Doulton, “and use them to manage a small business.” Within a day of closing on the property, they hired Phi Home Designs, a high-end general contractor in Rockport, to begin a detailed restoration of the vineyard’s two-hundred-year-old post and beam barn.
Tynan and Doulton also went looking for a high-visibility outlet to showcase their new wines. They found their future “villa” in a dilapidated building at the intersection of Route 1 and Route 90 in Rockport. In keeping with their commitment to promote Maine artisans, they hired Dan Bloomer, of Winslow, to craft a custom staircase consisting of whimsically cut balusters. Janet Redfield, of Lincolnville, designed stained glass windows to match the plum-colored wallpaper selected by Marcy van der Kieft, of Margo Moore Interiors of Camden. Blue Dolphin Antiques in Northport even salvaged a grand Tiffany chandelier to adorn the new tasting bar.
Cellardoor’s lavish renovations represent the owners’ vision of marketing the wine lifestyle as much as wine itself. “To me, vineyards have always represented the perfect place,” explains Tynan, “where people come from all over, let down their guard, and are willing to try things, to discuss, and learn.”
Whereas many new businesses seek a low profile, Cellardoor has embraced the midcoast community with a series of spectacular events. Last June it hosted Pop the Cork, a ritzy, art-laden benefit (complete with living statues) for the Farnsworth Art Museum in Rockland. Its Romp and Stomp Grape Harvest Festival drew five thousand people for a weekend of food, music, hot-air balloon rides — and, of course, wine.
Because, ultimately, Cellardoor’s success hinges on the fruit of its casks. Vintners Aaron Peet and Brian Smith, trained in Washington and California respectively, have begun crafting new wines, such as Ned Said, “Red,” made from a Chambourcin hybrid. Other wines that existed before Tynan and Doulton purchased the company — such as Perfect Stranger, made from the Cayuga grape — now contain less residual sugar resulting in a drier finish. Last year, Cellardoor sold 36,000 bottles of wine. This year, they’ve increased their production capacity to approximately sixty thousand bottles. A small percentage of the grapes used in 2008 actually grew at the Lincolnville vineyard; the rest were imported from across the country. In the future locally grown grapes will be used in a quarter of Cellardoor’s wines.
Trained to recognize the benefits of smart collaboration, Tynan and Doulton have also seized the initiative to form the Maine Winery Guild. This group of wineries and distilleries aspires to promote the industry and create a more powerful voice in policy discussions. “There are so many things happening before the legislature, and we need to stand with a united voice,” says Mike Anderson, the owner of Winterport Winery. He believes Tynan’s and Doulton’s experience and energy will pay dividends for all Maine wineries: “Both of them came out of very high-powered business backgrounds. They are used to seeing things happen. They are movers and shakers.” The guild has already formed a Maine Wine Trail so tourists can sip their way across the state.
The product, the customers, and their working environment may be foreign from their previous profession, but for Tynan and Doulton, the skills they use every day — team work, dedication, long-term vision — are those they honed over their careers in corporate America. They speak of business strategies and trends, synergies and collaborations. Most importantly, they remain focused on the one invaluable resource they share with other small Maine business owners. “There is great equity in the brand of Maine,” says Tynan.
Indeed, there is — in this case, bottles and bottles of it.
If You Go
The Cellardoor Villa (207-236-2654) is at 47 West Street in Rockport. The vineyard (207-763-4478)
is at 367 Youngtown Road in Lincolnville.