Too Many Berries A Vintage Doth Make
When Mark Libby and his wife, Karen Walsh bought their place on Route 7 between Dover-Foxcroft and Dexter, they got more than they bargained for.
“We had a huge blackberry patch out in our back 40 when we bought the house,” Karen explained. “We really didn’t pick many of them, and in the late summer, the canes on the plants were huge and hanging over the lawn. Whenever Mark would mow, he’d get all bloodied up mowing underneath those things. One day he came in, and he was pretty irritated. He told me I had ‘one week’ to decide what I wanted to do with those things, and if I didn’t decide he was going to ‘mow them down and build a lawn under them.’ I said, ‘Whatever you need to do, you do.’ A few days later he said, ‘Hey, we like wine. Why don’t we try and make some wine out of those blackberries.’ That’s really the end of the story. He became hooked and has not stopped making wine since!”
Mark learned as he went. “He does a lot of reading and research, and he’s a natural science guy,” Karen said. Eventually, the couple was nearing the amount of wine they could legally have without being licensed, so Mark got his license. Anthony Lee’s Winery tasting room and store opened in August 2016.
Mark, 62, a Monmouth native, and Karen, 60, who grew up in Millinocket, bring a certain “why not?” spirit of fun to most things. The couple married in 2003 in a surprise ceremony at their 2nd Annual “Markaren” Pig Roast.
Karen has an Associate degree from Husson College in Secretarial/Computer Science and a Bachelor’s from the University of Southern Maine in Applied Technical Education. She’s been an instructor at Tri-County Technical Center in Dexter for 20 years. Mark, now semi-retired, was a supervisor at major industrial plants, working to overhaul turbines and generators.
These days, it’s mostly about the wine. “Mark has improved his winemaking skills every year,” Karen enthused. The couple uses fresh fruits and berries, most locally sourced. “First we crush them and then press them. Then we prepare them for fermentation for at least eight months before bottling. We design and print all of our labels and affix them to the bottles ourselves.” Karen, a self-professed computer geek, said she enjoys designing all the materials for the wine business.
Business has been good. “Business, production, and our customer count has grown every year. We have the best supporters,” Karen said. She adds that Mark has “entered many of his wines into regional and national competitions and has received many medals, including a Double Gold medal for his Apple Mead! We’ve won many awards including, Bronze, Silver, Gold, and Double Gold. They are all on display in our Tasting Room. One of our favorite competitions to enter is the Finger Lakes International Wine Competition. It is a fundraiser for terminally ill children, and 100 percent of the proceeds to go Camp Sunshine where these children live. It’s a wonderful cause to support—whether we win a medal or not!”
Because the tasting room is not spacious enough to accommodate social distancing regulations during COVID-19, Anthony Lee’s has become an outdoor operation, at least until snow flies. “We have been extremely fortunate and have set up an outdoor tasting area out behind our house,” Karen said. “Our customers—who are now our friends—have been so supportive and have kept us busy all summer long.”
It’s a shame that customers can’t access the tasting room, at least for now. It doesn’t look like much from the road, but as the old adage goes, “never judge a book by its cover.” The small building features charming interior décor, and the row of award-winning wines on display make a good first impression. The bar can seat five or six patrons, and there’s a cozy table for two in one corner. This winery is also a stop on the Maine Wine Trail. (Don’t forget to ask Karen to stamp your passport.)
The product lineup has grown to include a variety of fruit wines, apple mead, and several “spirits” which are wine blended with brandy and a hint of chocolate. Created in small batches, the most popular wines disappear quickly. For example, those eager to taste the raspberry wine with hints of chocolate and brandy will have to wait until next May to do so, if they aren’t fortunate enough to visit immediately when a batch becomes available.
Sadly, tastings may not be offered over the coming winter due to COVID regulations. “It’s looking like we will not be legally allowed to do inside tastings this year,” Karen said. “So, when the weather gets to be too cold, we will need to shut down our outside tasting room, unfortunately. We will still be able to do curbside pickup, though. Folks can just call us and arrange for payment and pick up their wine just outside of our tasting room.” While the couple hopes to offer online sales and shipping eventually, they are not set up for that now.
Other ways to savor these wines are to order them while dining at Mammie’s Country Kitchen restaurant in Unity, or purchase them from the Little Cheese Shop in Pittsfield, or at the P&L Market, Spring Street Greenhouse or Toot’s Variety, all in Dexter.
When they were younger, Mark loved snowmobiling and ice fishing—Karen, not so much. They also enjoyed playing horseshoes, but they are considering a change to corn hole, because Karen said, “It’s much easier on the back.”
Now, she reflects, “We both like to read, and we love to watch football and compete against each other for the most wins for the week.” Looking ahead and considering bucket-list aspirations, Karen said, “We haven’t thought too much about what’s next. We are really having fun with our home business, and we want to continue that as long as we can!”
For now, folks can enjoy visiting the outdoor tasting room Thursday–Saturday from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. and on Sunday from noon to 5 p.m., or by appointment by calling Mark and Karen at 207-924-2209.