Rob Nicoll Biography
Rob's early path had some significant changes in career before leading to the winery. Having grown up in a boat building community, and having both grandfather and father work with furniture and boats,he became a craftsman as well. Rob moved from carved and gilded picture frames to furniture and ultimately the interior joinery of some special yachts built in East Boothbay. However the shift to modern synthetic materials in current boat building reduced the use of wood so Rob started to look for a new work experience.
In order to understand how the winery became a reality, a brief look back at childhood activities is revealing. Every great entrepreneur starts early with curiosity and a fire for something. With Rob it was chemistry and life sciences. By the time Rob was 11, he was using his first microscope, slides, test tubes, beakers, and flasks. He still has those original test tubes and beakers. Interestingly, one of his first woodworking projects (circa age 11) was a chest to store these treasures, the lid hand lettered with the word "Chemistry".
Rob loves the natural world and it's earthly pursuits. A beekeeper since 1971, Rob began to understand how his early love of bees could contribute to a future business. As an avid gardener, Rob planted grapes in the early 70's but was not impressed with the results. He gave up on grapes but not on the gardening. Throw in a little home brewing, with great results, and you can begin to see where this might lead. Fast forward through several woodworking decades, Rob started to search for an alternative and fulfilling type of work. Wanting to start a winery, yet knowing grapes were a marginal crop in Maine, he turned to honey as the source for wine. After reading as much old literature about honey wine as he could find, in 2001 he started trial batches of mead at home just to see what would happen. Keeping meticulous records, he graduated from the experimental batches to ones that had consistent flavor profiles. Rob would invite family and friends to his home to taste the different formulations. During tastings we were comparing flavors, wine qualities, and suggesting what foods would pair best with the wine samples.
Fiddler's Reach was chosen as the name of the winery and the business incorporated in 2004 as an LLC. After receiving his Federal Basic Permit in 2005, he continued to test different recipes for honey wine, always looking for refinement and authenticity. Rob kept very busy while deciding how to set up a winery that would be commercially viable, what to make, and how to distribute the mead. In October 2007 a new milestone was achieved. The first 30 cases of Merrymeeting Dry Mead were released for commercial distribution to South Portland Wine Company. These bottles sold out by Christmas. Rob now has six beautiful meads in production.
Rob noticed there are no definitive books or research on honey wines (unlike grape wines which have a huge body of literature). In 2004, ever in search of understanding, he applied for and received his first seed grant for "Yeast Flavor Profiles in Honey Wine" from the Maine Technology Institute. The grant allowed small scale testing of the sensory contributions that yeast make during the fermentation of honey, and quantifying the results. In 2009 a second grant was awarded to Fiddler's Reach LLC. The grant "Biomass Analysis in the Blueberry Mead Process" allowed Rob to look at mead microscopically (new microscope!) to determine how honey, fruits, wild yeast and controlled yeasts interact. Now he uses a high-tech microscope to see just what the yeast is doing while the honey wine is in fermentation.The new microscope gives real time viewing of what the yeasts are doing in mead wine , assuring quality control.
Rob is developing a vertically integrated approach to the mead business, that is, Fiddler's Reach will supply it's own raw materials for wine. Over the last several years Rob has increased the number of beehives that he handles and has been propagating elderberries for use in his meads. This year will see his first raspberries planted.