Veterinary Oncologist Kendra Knapik Revitalizes an Abandoned Vineyard in the Champlain Islands
April 24, 2021
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Balancing motherhood with a career in veterinary oncology motivated Kendra Knapik to choose a different path, one with more balance and flexibilty. Three years ago, she established Ellison Estate Vineyard.
Knapik and her husband, Rob—a Norwich University professor and chair of the physics department—purchased an abandoned vineyard in Vermont’s Champlain Islands. The property they purchased is the former East Shore Vineyard in Grand Isle. The vineyard now produces natural wine from one of the oldest and largest single plantings of grapevines in Vermont.
Returning to Her Roots
Knapik was raised in northwestern Vermont and spent many days in the Champlain Islands, where her grandfather operated a dairy farm in Alburgh near the Canadian border.
She pursued veterinary oncology and returned to Vermont with Rob in 2011. After the birth of the couple’s second child, Knapik realized she wanted to spend more time with her children and decided to work part-time as a veterinary oncologist.
“I realized I wanted flexibility, and I wanted to build something. It became apparent to me that I wanted to start my own business,” she says, explaining she still has her veterinary license. “I had been intrigued since we moved back to Vermont about the vineyards I was seeing around the state.”
Making a Lifestyle Change
-Kendra and Rob with their son, Bobby, at their home in Stowe.
The couple has long been interested in wine. Even before Knapik set her sights on the vineyard in Grand Isle, she enrolled in a viticulture course at the University of Vermont to study cold-climate grape production. But the turning point was when the couple was expecting their youngest son, Bobby, now 3.
“I ended up in the hospital with really serious complications, and we didn’t necessarily think our third child was going to make it,” she says. “We went through basically an existential crisis and were faced with some really big questions. It wasn’t the reason we did this because we had already started down the path, but it definitely makes you reassess.”
When it comes to location, the Champlain Islands are a good bet for growing grapes. The climate is temperate, and the islands don’t get hit with those hard fall or spring frosts that other parts of the state often experience.
The couple is working to restore the vineyard’s health using organic and biodynamic farming practices. This spring, the Knapiks will integrate sheep to the land management process at the vineyard. The six different varieties of grapes are processed in their basement winery in Stowe at harvest.
“I think what is unique about us being scientists and really wanting to understand these varieties, is we’re doing a lot of small-batch cuvees just to learn,” she says. “So we have a lot of different wines, a lot of different stills and sparkling wines.”
For Knapik, running a vineyard in the Champlain Islands feels like coming home.
“What was missing for me…was that I wanted to build something. I wanted to build something for my family,” she says. “I wanted my work to be part of our lifestyle.”
You can find Ellison Estate Vineyard wines at Dedalus wine shops in Burlington, Stowe, and Middlebury, Cork Restaurant and Natural Wine Shop in Stowe, Cheese and Wine Traders in South Burlington, and other local wine and specialty food shops.
You can also learn more by visiting www.ellisonestatevineyard.com.
Happy Vermont Podcast
In this episode, Kendra Knapik talks about her path to becoming a vineyard owner, incorporating sheep into the vineyard, and why she feels at home in the Champlain Islands.
You can find Happy Vermont’s podcast on Spotify, Apple Podcasts, Amazon Music, iHeartRadio, Stitcher, and Google Podcasts. You can also listen here on Podbean.