I’m told that wine is made in all 50 states. Although it’s hard to imagine the wine country in some states – cold North Dakota or hot Arizona for instance – grapes are very adaptable. Almost 90 percent of American wine comes from the west coast. In the Northeast, New York is the big producer.
Connecticut has a thriving if modest wine industry that merits a look. More than 30 wineries across the state make intriguing reds, refreshing whites, and distinctive fruit wines. The grape varieties may be new to you, but the wines are worthy of your attention.
The New England climate is a little cool for the traditional European wine grapes, but grapes such as Riesling, Seyval Blanc, Pinot Gris and Cabernet Franc like it that way. The majority of Connecticut wine is white or rosé. Only a little red is made. Drinking these wines is a chance to step off the beaten path and discover something delicious and new.
Connecticut wineries are concentrated in two areas: up in the northwest corner in the Housatonic valley and through the Litchfield hills; and along the eastern coast where the marine climate is a little milder. A few others are scattered across the state.
Tasting rooms are a common feature at the wineries, most are open year round. The wineries are happy to welcome you in for a chance to sample and purchase their wines. There are often picnic areas, so bring along a lunch to enjoy with your purchase. Groups are encouraged to come too, so bring your family, friends, club or business team. There is even a Connecticut Wine Trail passport that can be stamped at each winery visit. Get enough stamps and you’ll be eligible for prizes.
Closest to us is the Jones Farm Winery in Shelton. You may be familiar with Jones Farm as a source for Christmas Trees, pick your own berries and the pumpkin patch. Philip Jones, sixth generation on the farm, started making wine in 1999. The winery now boasts three whites, three reds, two rosés, three fruit wines and three dessert wines made from fruit grown at the farm.
Further north, the Hopkins Vineyard in New Preston has been in the family for 225 years. The former dairy farm in the Litchfield Hills was converted to wine production in 1979. Visitors are welcome to tour and taste their six dry table wines as well as sweet and sparkling wines.
Slightly to the east in Goshen (with Nodine’s Smokehouse, a favorite of mine) Sunset Meadow Vineyards produces a broad array of wines from their 13,000 vines on 32 acres. The tasting room is open year round.
There is a cluster of wineries up the coast around Stonington including Jonathan Edwards, Saltwater Farm Vineyard, and Stonington Vineyards, founded by Nick and Happy Smith in 1987. Stonington has been a perennial favorite of ours. We served their Chardonnay at our daughter’s wedding. The south-facing vineyards are warmed by the sun and the saltwater breezes, yielding a Bordeaux-like climate. They’re making six wines including a Cabernet Franc, two Chardonnays, a Riesling, a rosé and their proprietary Seaport White for quaffing.
On the way back from Stonington, stop at Chamard Vineyards in Clinton or Bishop’s Orchards in Guilford. Chamard is one of the few Wineries with its own on-site restaurant. Bishop’s is a large establishment with cider, a farm stand, bakery and more, a perfect place to stock up on lots of goodies
Fall is the busiest season in the annual cycle of wineries, but it’s a great time to see winemaking in progress. The harvest is underway and the heady aroma of fermentation fills the air. There is a general bustle of activity as the grapes are brought in, sorted, crushed, and moved to tanks where yeast will convert natural sugar to alcohol – and make wine. Tasting rooms may be busier and crowds bigger, but Fall is when it’s happening.
Many wineries run special events to encourage you to come. These include concerts, harvest festivals, cooking classes, art shows, poetry readings and much more.
A few Connecticut wines are available in retail stores, but mostly you have to go to the winery to buy. Direct shipping from the winery is also available within the state, order online.
I suggest you start your tour on the internet, sign up for e-mail and facebook so that you can get to know the winery. The Connecticut Wine Trail has an excellent web site (CtWine.com) packed with information and a good planning map. Then make a visit, taste the wine and bring some home, along with wonderful memories of a day in Connecticut wine country.
Connecticut Wine Trail ctwine.com
Jones Winery jonesfamilyfarms.com
Hopkins Vineyard HopkinsVineyard.com
Sunset Meadow Vineyards SunsetMeadowVineyards.com
Stonington Vineyards StoningtonVineyards.com