"If you want to get the best the Kingdom has to offer you have to go someplace faraway."
That’s how Eleanor Leger sizes up the difficulty of actually buying Northeast Kingdom food products in the Northeast Kingdom.
Leger says the best selections are found somewhere else; like Hunger Mountain Co-op in Montpelier or Healthy Living in Burlington.
There’s no question there’s a lot more going on in the Kingdom in terms of culinary tourism than there was just a few years ago. In fact, there’s enough to write a book: Kingdom’s Bounty by Bethany Dunbar is a guide to local eateries and food producers.
What Leger has in mind, though, is something new to the Kingdom. She wants to bring many local food products together in one place. Leger’s idea took a significant step forward recently when the limited liability corporation in which she and her husband are investors, purchased a downtown Newport building that will become the future site of the Northeast Kingdom Tasting Center.
Leger imagines a space that includes a local cheese monger, Kingdom-raised meat and maple products and any other edibles grown or produced in the area.
"It’s really fun for people when they can taste the cheese with the wine with the local meats," Leger says.
A pub and restaurant would serve up meals and beverages from local sources. A community kitchen would provide a space for people to process their own foods and hold classes.
Time and money still stand between what Leger envisions and reality. She and the local economic development people are soliciting investments from foundations, organizations and individuals in Vermont that subscribe to the "slow money" and "patient capital" approach to investment.
While many of the plans for the tasting center will have to wait until that money materializes, the newly purchased building will have one immediate occupant.
Leger and her husband own Eden Ice Cider Company, which has outgrown its current location – the 800 square foot basement of their home in West Charleston.
The company started producing wines from cider five years ago. The original run of 1,200 bottles sold out in 90 days. The latest batch is 33,000 bottles. Eden Ice Cider is currently sold in 20 states.
Leger says to be sustainable in the long term, production needs to grow by two or three times. The 8,000 square foot cellar of the building in Newport will give them that capacity.
"Wine really likes to be made in basements. That’s where it’s been made for thousands of years," Leger says.
The new location will give her company a chance to sell retail in addition to wholesale and a chance for visitors to see how the wine is made.
The company plans to move into the Newport space early next year and Leger hopes the tasting center will take shape around it in the months that follow.