Connecticut Women in Wine
By Frank Whitman
The invitation from JoAnn LoGiurato announced a wine tasting to celebrate women in wine. Scheduled for International Women’s Day at Stew Leonard’s Wines in Norwalk, the event included wineries from the US, New Zealand and Italy. It got me thinking about the role of women at Connecticut wineries.
Marsha and I set out to discover women leading local wineries and meet as many of them as we could. On the first stop on our quest, rows of vines peeked over the ridge on the curving, uphill lane to Aquilla’s Nest Vineyards, just like wineries around the world.
Owner Neviana Zhgaba walked us through the winery with its gleaming stainless steel tanks to the spacious tasting room. Every corner showcased the winery’s commitment to the influence of women. The displays are all about women: in art, in history, and of course, in wine.
She and her husband Ardian Liomi, both trained as engineers, opened the winery during the pandemic. Looking for a lifestyle close to the land, they planted vines on their hilltop site in Sandy Hook seven years ago. Now that the vines are mature, he makes the wine and she makes the magic – handling the marketing, guest experience, and winery events.
When Neviana (she goes by a single name like a rock star) got into wine, she didn’t find many young women in the business. Since then, she’s made it her mission to build Aquila on a strong female foundation. Over eighty women are in her network of crafters, suppliers, musicians and artists who perform, display or hold events at the tasting room. She’s also in touch with an informal network of other Connecticut women in wine sharing ideas and supporting each other.
Aquila’s Nest wines are named after legendary women – figures from ancient mythology and legend that characterize the spirit of what’s in the bottle – Sibyl Dry Rosé, Zana e Malit Dry Riesling, Siren Moscato and Princess of Troy Merlot, for example.
Aquila’s Nest produces nine wines from a mix of estate and purchased grapes. Ranging in price from $29 to $45, the wines are only available at the winery. Visit aquilasnestvineyards.com for hours and pricing.
Kristen Parsons fell for wine after poaching a few bottles from her fathers cellar as a teenager. Following her training in New England and Washington, she returned to her home state to become the head winemaker at Chamard Winery in Clinton. There she has made their award-winning wines from both estate and purchased grapes for eight vintages.
“I was often the only woman at the table,” she shared about her early days. “Now there are lots of women winemakers, at least five in Connecticut.” It’s a close knit group that gets together informally and supports each other when called upon.
In addition to her ongoing work at Chamard, Parsons has a second “side project” – a common practice in the wine biz. With her winemaking partner, Michael Annatone, she’s making wine with traditional grapes purchased across the country at Small Batch Cellars in North Haven.
Her eclectic and original wines include Soul Shine, a Sauvignon Blanc aged in agave casks; Evolution, a dry Muscat Canelli made from the oldest known wine grape; and the Rhône style San Joaquin Cuvée, a blend of Grenache, Syrah and Carignan. Fourteen wines are available for tasting and purchase at the winery.
In her seventeen years in the wine business Maureen Macdonald has worked her way up from planting
vines to assistant winemaker, consulting winemaker and now head winemaker at Hawk Ridge Winery in Watertown. There she’s responsible for a portfolio of 35 wines and is developing a new series of pet-nat style sparkling wines.
She sees the quality of local wines improving every year – ready to take a place on retailer shelves and restaurant wine lists as a local farm-to-table product equal to any.
The Rose family has farmed their acreage in North Branford since 1644. Ellen Rose and her husband Jon started the Rose Vineyards and Winery as the next evolution of the family farm. Their estate Vidal Blanc white and Marquette red sold out of the last vintage. The next vintage will be released in a few months. In the meantime they’re offering eleven wines from classic grapes at their stylish, hilltop tasting room.
Paradise Hills Vineyards in Wallingford and Taylor Brooke Winery in Woodstock are two more women-led wineries that are making delicious wines.
Winemakers, marketers, owners, and suppliers, women are part of the Connecticut wine scene at every level. Next year, I hope the Woman’s Day tasting will include a Connecticut winemaker.