Breakwater Vineyards -- a labor of love

By Beth A. Birmingham | Aug 01, 2017
Photo by: Beth A. Birmingham The view from the sitting porch at Breakwater Vineyards, 35 Ash Point Drive, Owls Head. The owners are celebrating 10 years since acquiring the property and building their business.

Owls Head — A local winery has proven to be a labor of love, hard work and sense of community for its owners.

Now in their 10th season of owning the former Anderson's Dairy Farm on Ash Point Drive, Jeanne and Bill Johnson are enjoying the fruits of their labor, so to speak.

The property, now home to Breakwater Vineyards, was operated as a dairy farm for more than 70 years until it shut down and was acquired by Uno and Sybil Ilvonen, who both worked at Owls Head Central School for many years.

When they died, the estate's antiques were left to the children of Owls Head and were auctioned off, and throughout the years more than $450,000 has been given out in scholarships for various children to attend higher education.

"So people feel very special about this property," Jeanne said, explaining that after that, the property was sold and transformed into an equestrian farm and the big house and all the barns were built. That lasted about five years.

"When my husband and I came along, we were just looking for some acreage to plant some vines, and the topography was right," she said.

Growing up in Massachusetts and living in Cape Cod for 25 years, the couple found the maritime influences of the Ash Point property fit.

Both having an interest in wine and, not minding the hard work, the Johnsons applied their marketing and sales backgrounds and got their hands dirty. And with the help of handyman Jake Oliver, the winery has taken shape.

With pruning in February, then awaiting the growth of fruit and ripening, harvest usually does not begin until the first week of October. And in between, there's a lot of organizing, planning and monitoring.

In full swing, the winery produces up to 1,800 cases of the spirits -- 20,000 bottles -- annually. Some take a couple of years to age, so may not be readily available each year.

The vineyard produces about seven varieties of grapes, with some being hybrids and others being vinifera, or common grapes, like Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Riesling.

"We've taken any two vinifera and crossed them to make a cold-hardy hybrid," Oliver said, explaining that the hybrids can withstand temperatures dipping below zero.

To protect the other grapevines that are not as hardy, after harvesting they are taken off the trellises and buried in the ground for the winter months. "Then we have the wonderful joy in the spring of digging them up and reattaching them," he said.

To help get the Breakwater Vineyards brand into the marketplace, the Johnsons initially opened a tasting room on Main Street in Rockland, which was open for two years while the couple continued doing their own self-distributing.

Then, for more cost-effective distribution, they partnered with Pine State Distributors and watched their business grow from having their wines in 30 places to more than 270 establishments. So the tasting bar was moved to the Ash Point Drive location, helping turn the tide on the business.

When the vineyard was a bit slower, Johnson got some goats and began to make goat cheese, but found the five hours a day processing it started getting overtaken by winery tasks. Now the goats, along with some chickens and a barn cat named Pumpkin, are just part of the experience, as well as serving as subjects for the labels.

"We have our own little niche," Johnson said.

Breakwater Vineyards is open daily from 12 p.m. to 5 p.m. for tastings through August. Tours are available with advance notice.

Courier Publications reporter Beth A. Birmingham can be reached at 594-4401 ext. 125 or via email at bbirmingham@villagesoup.com.

Jeanne Johnson, owner of Breakwater Vineyards, stands among 50 barrels that are drying and preparing for the fall harvest. (Photo by: Beth A. Birmingham)
Jake Oliver shows how the bottling machine works at Breakwater Vineyards in Owls Head. (Photo by: Beth A. Birmingham)
Steve and Priscilla Adler, and four-legged Nina, enjoy a peaceful tasting at Breakwater Vineyards. (Photo by: Beth A. Birmingham)
Jake Oliver points out one variety of grapes being grown at Breakwater Vineyards. (Photo by: Beth A. Birmingham)
One of 14 goats that add to the experience at Breakwater Vineyards. (Photo by: Beth A. Birmingham)
Breakwater Vineyards' bottles feature unique local black-and-white photographs. This is the new Pinot Gris. (Photo by: Beth A. Birmingham)
One of the stations where the magic mixing occurs. (Photo by: Beth A. Birmingham)
(Photo by: Beth A. Birmingham)
Ron and Pam St. Pierre, visiting the area from New Orleans, toast at a tasting at Breakwater Vineyards. (Photo by: Beth A. Birmingham)
The tasting bar, which was relocated from the Main Street tasting room. (Photo by: Beth A. Birmingham)
(Photo by: Beth A. Birmingham)
(Photo by: Beth A. Birmingham)
(Photo by: Beth A. Birmingham)
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