Visits to Every Connecticut Winery
December 2012 (re-edited November 2014)
I’m writing this somewhat self-contradicting essay having been to all the currently-open-for-business wineries in Connecticut. There are more slated to open at some point in the future in Woodbury, East Granby, and Glastonbury and who knows where else beyond that. And frankly, who knows how many, if any, of the existing wineries will cease operation in the near future?
That’s a real question in the face of a state liquor commission audit of at least a few unnamed state wineries. The industry is mum on the situation, but I’ll be following it with interest. I don’t know all the ins and outs of the changing laws, but when the state allowed wineries back in the 1970’s, there was a rule that 51% of the grapes had to be Connecticut grown. With this law, “farm wineries” were able to circumvent Sunday sales laws which was good for tourism as more wineries popped up in the new millennium.
Then a big winery was busted using a higher proportion of Chilean grapes than the state allowed. This is entirely forgivable (to me) because these people are in Connecticut, not Napa or Bourdeaux. Wine grapes just don’t grow so well here and of those that do, who really wants to drink Seyval Blanc or St. Croix all year round? No one. And since we’re being honest here, I really don’t like fruit wines at all – and I think five of our wineries only make fruit wines.
So the state lowered the amount of local grapes to 25%. But apparently that is still too difficult a standard for our local guys to attain as it appears several of our wineries are still cheating with the lesser requirements.
It’s so silly. If you ask wine people which winery makes and sells the best wine, Jonathan Edwards in Stonington is usually at or near the top. Care to guess why? Because they use grapes that they grow on their estate in California, that’s why. (And, it must be noted, they are very up front and honest about that – and therefore it is not an issue with the state.)
If you’re wondering why I would spend so much effort on the above, it’s because I think it softens the blow of what I’m about to write: our wine, overall, isn’t very good. Now, I think it’s very good considering the limitations our farmers have here. But before I get into it, here is a blurb from the CT Wine Trail website:
Our cool-climate growing region allows for intricate and refined flavor development. Whether you are looking for robust barrel aged reds, crisp and bright whites or local fruit wines, Connecticut delivers. Although the range of wines statewide is almost limitless, commonly grown varietals include Cabernet Franc and St. Croix for reds and Chardonnay, Pinot Gris, Riesling, and Seyval Blanc for whites. Should your trip start in the Litchfield Hills, the Connecticut or Housatonic River Valleys, the Quiet Corner or along the coast, visitors are sure to notice the distinct differences that make each growing region unique. Despite the geographic variability, a common theme of dedicated farmers, passionate winemakers and timeless New England charm await regardless of where your trip takes you.
The statement that “the range of wines statewide is almost limitless” is patently absurd – unless they are talking about what’s available in package stores. Connecticut’s climate and soil and topography hugely limits what types of grapes we can grow here. Hence, the issue with the 25% above.
The grapes that grow here to make the wines that are actually made here are not, to my taste, grapes and wines I’d seek out on purpose. You may. I encourage you to find out.
But – and this is a very important but – I absolutely encourange you to visit our state’s wineries and patronize the hardworking people who own them. I’ve viisted most many times over and I often leave with a bottle. Also, you may be surprised how many of the wineries and vineyards are kid-friendly. Or at least kid-tolerant. We almost always see other couples with kids in tow, so don’t let that dissuade you.
Some of the wine here IS pretty good, but I’m afraid to learn down the road that my favorites are mostly Chilean or Californian grapes. I won’t tell you which ones I like the most – I want you to decide for yourself.
In addition to supporting our local small businesses and supporting local agriculture, many of our wineries are just straight-up pretty. Simply enjoying a glass or two of wine while the sun sets over the western hills at one of our wineries should be on every resident’s to-do list, every year, year after year.
But beyond that, almost every single winery is “off the beaten path” as they say. Just navigating your way through the back roads of Pomfret or Stonington or Wallingford or Sherman or Brookfield – you get the point – is often eye-opening. The drives are often beautiful and will expose you to parts of the state that you are most likely wholly unfamiliar with. Other historic and cultural attractions are almost always right near by – as are some great trails to hike or lakes to swim.
You can folllow my lead and build entire days around a winery or two (or 3 or more) and explore some areas and museums and other things that are new to you. I’ve done it probably 50 times or more, in order to fill up my Winery Passport year after year.
To me, that’s the draw of the wine trail and our wineries. Sure, we can lament our lack of great grapes and wines, but that’s boring. Get out there, explore, enjoy some local wine while meeting some really, really nice people along the way.
And despite what you may be thinking right now, I keep going to our favorites. Some have donated to our Smith-Magenis Syndrome Research Foundation fundraising efforts and I appreciate our relationship and others are just owned by great people Hoang and I like to say hello to at least once a year. Since we drive around the state more than the average people… Okay, more than 95% of people, it’s always cool to say, “Hey, let’s go have a glass of wine up at Such-and-Such winery.”
And we never take that for granted.
At the time of this writing, December 2012, the Connecticut Wine Trail has an updated website after many years of frustration on the part of users. The Wine Trail’s slogan is “Taste the Adventure” which didn’t particularly strike me as the best possible choice. So I asked a few people what their reaction to it was. My wife Hoang replied, “It’s telling me to lick a mountain.” Delicious.
The Connecticut Farm Wine Development Council promotes and runs the annual Passport program which is one of the best things to do in the state. We started completing passports in 2008 and did two per year, every year, through 2011. The number of required visits climbed from 10 to 16 in that time. You can walk into the tasting rooms and ask for a stamp and leave, but I’ve never done that because I’d just feel like a tool But many people do just that and don’t care, perhaps because the grand prizes are incredible.
There are over 30+ wineries that participate in the Passport program but only 24 currently on the Wine Trail. The trail is a state thing that has requirements about longevity and production volume whereas the Passport simply includes all the viable commercial wineries who wish to participate.
As you read through these reviews, please know that I don’t really know everything about wine, so don’t expect any high-minded gibberish about nose or legs or tannins. Also, these visits took place over 5 years. My tastes have changed, the wineries have changed and their wines have changed. Use my reviews as more of a general guide than any sort of final word. In fact, do that with everything on this site.
Arrigoni Vineyard, Portland, October 20, 2012
Bethlehem Vineyard, Bethlehem, November 1, 2014
Bishops Orchards Winery, Guilford, August 24, 2009
Black Lion Vineyard, Woodbury (Probably not opening)
Brignole Vineyard, East Granby
Cassidy Hill Vineyard, Coventry, May 24, 2009
Chamard Vineyard, Clinton, July 12 & 26, 2008
Connecticut Valley Winery, New Hartford, October 5,2008
Crystal Ridge Winery, Glastonbury (Opening in 2016)
Dalice Elizabeth, Preston, August 7, 2010
Digrazia Vineyards, Brookfield, November 2, 2008
Fitch Claremont Vineyard B&B, Bozrah, June 11, 2011 (Non-commercial vineyard)
Gouveia Vineyard, Wallingford, July 19, 2008
Haight-Brown Vineyard, Litchfield, November 2, 2008
Hawk Ridge Winery, Watertown
Heritage Trail Vineyards, Lisbon, November 1, 2008 – CLOSED, late 2012
Holmberg Orchards, Gales Ferry, July 11, 2009
Hopkins Vineyard, New Preston, November 2, 2008
Jerram Winery, New Hartford, May 18, 2008
Jonathan Edwards Winery, North Stonington, October 24, 2009
Jones Winery, Shelton, October 17, 2009
Joseph Preli Farm Winery, Glastonbury
Land of Nod Winery, East Canaan, October 5, 2008
Lebanon Green Vineyards, Lebanon
Lost Acres Vineyard, Granby, September 25,2011
Maugle Sierra Vineyards, Ledyard, July 11, 2009
McLaughlin Vineyards, Sandy Hook, November 2, 2008
Miranda Vineyard, Goshen, June 15, 2008
North Winds Vineyard, Watertown, July 10, 2010 – CLOSED, early 2013
Paradise Hills Vineyard, Wallingford, August 6, 2011
Preston Ridge Vineyard, Preston, September 28, 2014
Priam Vineyard, Colchester, October 18, 2008
Rosabianca Vineyards, North Branford
Rosedale Vineyard, Simsbury, September 27, 2008
Saltwater Farms Vineyard, Stonington, May 22, 2010
Savino Vineyards, Woodbridge, December 2, 2012
Sharpe Hill Vineyard, Pomfret, February 2, 2008
Staehly Farm Winery, East Haddam
Stonington Vineyards, Stonington, October 24, 2009
Sunset Hill Vineyard, Lyme
Sunset Meadow Vineyard, Goshen, June 15, 2008
Taylor Brook Winery, Woodstock, November 7, 2009
The Vineyard at Hilly Land, Scotland
Walker Road Vineyard, Woodbury, June 28, 2013
White Silo Winery, Sherman, September 14, 2012
Maywood Winery, Bridgewater (Private estate, but wine can be bought in stores)
Blackrock Vinters, Bridgeport (100% California grapes, but wine can be bought in stores)
Spring Hill Vineyards, New Preston (Private estate, but wine can be bought in restaurants)
Strawberry Ridge Vineyards, New Preston (Private estate, but wine can be bought in stores)
CT Winery Superlatives Lists
Check out pictures of The Complimentary Wine Glasses in Various Parts of my Yard
Check out pictures of Hoang drinking wine at a bunch of wineries
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