Q&A: Winemaker Aaron Peet on Breaking Tradition to create Award Winning Wines

Born and raised in Maine, Aaron Peet received his formal training at the Center for Enology and Viticulture in Walla Walla, Washington. After gaining experience at some of Walla Walla’s finest wineries, he desired to return to his home state. As fate would have it, he met Bettina Doulton on a visit home in 2007 and began his career as Cellardoor’s Winemaker the following year. Throughout the years, Aaron has shaped and grown the winery‘s portfolio to include a broad spectrum of world-class wines. 

Aaron Peet

Congratulations on this year’s awards! Did you have any idea that the wines you submitted to this year’s San Francisco International Wine Competition would be so successful?

We always send our A game to this competition so I hoped we would do well given some past success, but I didn’t expect that we could win Best Bordeaux Blend and Best Italian Varietal Blend at one of the top international competitions.

Let’s talk about Iron Gate – not only did this wine receive an outstanding 99 points from the judges, but it was also named Best Bordeaux Blend against wines that cost more than twice as much. That’s incredible. Why do you think this is?

The complexity, structure and acidity of our wines is somewhat unique in the current landscape of wine production. When we put blends together, our goal is to achieve a balance within all components so that the whole is not overwhelmed by any one element. This approach to complexity is distinct and is what makes Cellardoor wines special, and in the case of Iron Gate, award winning.

Iron Gate is named after a bit of a personal story, isn’t it? Can you tell us about that?

Our inspiration for Iron Gate was a famous 100 Point Bordeaux wine that Bettina gave to us almost a decade ago. While visiting Bordeaux a few years back, CC and I made a joke of getting our photo in front of the imposing gates of this Chateaux knowing they are not open to the public and their wine is sold out as soon as it is released. To us, this was as close as we could hope to get to this great winery. When we returned, we worked with one of the top growers in Washington State to source premium Cabernet grapes and we aged it in single forest French oak barrels.

The name “Iron Gate” is sort of a hipster ironic jab at elitist wineries that put up imposing iron gates. We wanted to make our own 100 point wine that we could welcome our guests to enjoy at an accessible price. We just didn’t realize that we would get so close to 100 points. Our unrealistic dream for this wine somehow just came true.

Eighteen Cellardoor wines won awards in San Francisco. Is there another wine that you’re especially proud to see receiving recognition?

Our 2013 Monti al Mare received Best Italian Varietal Blend, Double Gold 96 points. The inspiration for this wine was the Italian Super Tuscans. The founding concept behind Super Tuscan wines was to break tradition and make the best wine possible without blending rules to stand in the way. Monti al Mare is the embodiment of my winemaking philosophy–not letting tradition stand in the way of making great wine–and to say that we are breaking tradition here in Lincolnville, Maine is putting it mildly. For this wine to win a top award is gratifying, to say the least.

Cellardoor’s Double Gold winners from the 2017 San Francisco International Wine Competition.

Over the past decade, you’ve gone from making wine in the cellar of a barn to creating award winning wines in a state-of-the-art winery. What do these big awards mean to you after your nine year journey with Cellardoor Winery?

This has been an incredible journey. Competing at the highest level with wines made in Maine was once inconceivable. I feel these awards are further proof that a winemaker’s artistry and technique are more important than terroir alone.

What can we look forward to in the coming years?

In our opinion, the 2015 Iron Gate is even better than the 2013 and the 2016 Iron Gate blend that we are currently working on could be our best wine to date – only time will tell.

Did you crack open anything special to celebrate on Sunday night when you received notice of the awards?

We did not receive the news until early Monday morning. While CC was feeding the baby, I reached over and checked my phone for email. By my exclamations, she thought someone had died. This, of course, woke up our 3 year old who proceeded to exclaim, “I have to poop!” and thus our day began. We celebrated that night by an impromptu dinner out while grandparents baby sat. Not a very sexy sounding celebration, but that is life with two young kids.

Cellardoor wines can be purchased in Cellardoor tasting rooms, online, and in stores around Maine

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