Life Off the Vine
Trading Fidelity for Serenity
Start with the premise that winemaking, specifically in Maine, is art. Given the brevity of the New England growing season some might consider it magic, but wines are crafted and art is a reasonable assumption. It is also a process driven by its own timeline - from plant to palate timing is critical.
Bettina Doulton and John Tynan understand this latter concept well. Ten months ago neither dreamed they would be winemakers in Lincolnville, Maine. Today, both have traded successful careers at Boston's Fidelity Investments for life off the vine at Cellardoor Winery.
"It was a confluence of events," said Doulton, as she surveyed her new vineyard blanketed by a fresh coating of April snow. "John has always dreamed of running a vineyard and I've always wanted to run a small business. I think things happen for a reason."
The story begins with Tynan, who enjoyed a 20-year career in human resources at companies like PepsiCo, General Electric and Corning before landing at Fidelity in 2004. He and his wife, Mary Ellen, had discovered Lincolnville while taking their two children to a local summer camp.
"Last August (2006) my wife and I got a week's vacation without kids for the first time in 14 years," said Tynan, "and we came up to Camden. We were looking for something to do one afternoon and decided to attend a tasting at Cellardoor."
Tynan was impressed. "The wine (at Cellardoor) can stand on its own in any venue," he said. "John Clapp has crafted some amazing wines."
An appreciation for Cellardoor wines might have been the only thing Tynan received that day. A glance at the wall on the way out of the tasting room, however, initiated a series of life-changing events.
"There was a little handwritten note on the wall," said Tynan. "It said the winery was for sale." The seed was planted.
Since 1986 Bettina Doulton has been a rising star at Fidelity Investments. For two decades she rose steadily through the corporate ranks to manage high profile funds. In early 2006 life intervened when she was diagnosed with breast cancer.
Doulton battled and beat the disease, ending treatment in August. To celebrate her victory, she planned a trip to Maine. During a casual conversation with Doulton in November, Tynan mentioned Cellardoor was for sale and suggested she check it out.
For a woman who had harbored a dream of owning a small business, fresh from a battle for her life, Doulton's visit to the Lincolnville winery proved cathartic. She returned and made plans with Tynan to purchase the winery. She bought the winery on February 15.
"Don't get me wrong," said Doulton. "I like my job. It's challenging and rewarding. I know this sounds overused, but I was looking for a place where I could breathe. This is that place."
Nestled in a shallow valley bordered by abundant woodlands and coastal mountains, the vineyard at Cellardoor is breathtaking. Overlooking the property is a barn built in 1790, a structure that was restored when former owners John and Stephanie Clapp purchased the 65-acre tract 10 years ago. The barn is the focal point of Cellardoor operations, serving as tasting area and gift shop, as well as storage and bottling facility. Careful planning, wise investment and sweat equity transformed the dilapidated farm into a successful winery.
The barn, however, is being transformed. Woodworking specialist Phi Home Designs of Rockport was brought in to handle a project that is equal parts restoration and renovation. When finished the historic structure will house an expanded tasting area and gift shop, a loft where local artists can display their work, and a spacious deck that treats guests to spectacular views of the vineyard below. When the winery reopens it will be called Cellardoor Vineyard.
The second story of the renovated 1800s-era barn is now open to visitors. Light snacks are served daily.
Despite the success and beauty of the vineyard, why trade the stability of a six-figure salary for the uncertainties of a five-month growing season?
"For 20 years I've told people how to run their business," said Tynan. "It was time to run my own."
"Sometimes it's not about the money," added Doulton. "John's had a dream of running a vineyard. I've always wanted my own business. We both love this place, the area, and the people here. The time was right for both of us and events happened that put us in this position. We're where we're supposed to be."
And then there is the other issue, the actual winemaking. Though both "appreciate" wine, neither has actually made any.
"What do we know about winemaking," asked Tynan rhetorically. "Not a ton, but the people who do are still very much involved."
Doulton and Tynan plan few changes to the operation. John Clapp has agreed to stay on as a working consultant during the transition. The staff will be retained intact, joined by 23 year-old general manager Tom Massey, a Bentley college graduate and local resident. Massey also happens to be the Clapp's godson.
"Same operation, different owners," said Doulton. "John says, `do no harm,' and that's our approach."
Right now, the new owners are giddy in transition. Denim has replaced dapper; portfolios are now building plans. Tynan speaks excitedly about a March pruning lesson. Doulton points out the new tractor she has just purchased. The two recount how Bettina found the quickest way from barn to vineyard, in the winter, was to slide down the hill on her stomach.
"The people and the landscape are so diverse," said Tynan. "Every time I come up I find something new that I like. To steal a line from Bettina, it's a place you can breathe."
View Cellardoor Vineyard's website: www.mainewine.com/index.htm
- By: Jim Leonard