8 July 2017- O Little Town of Bethlehem

Duly chastened from our vacation, we set out Saturday last for a leisurely visit to the three remaining “near” vineyards, Walker Road, Bethlehem Winery, and the newest member of the Wine Trail, Hawk Ridge VineyardHawk Ridge Vineyard. We would take it slow, looking forward to snacking on cheese, crackers and sausage while enjoying a bottle under the summer sun.

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Our first stop was Walker Road Vineyards, taking a shortcut. Jim Frey recognized us, and chatted briefly with us about our trip to the Finger Lakes. Jim and his wife were celebrating their fifty-first wedding anniversary, and we lifted our glasses to their health and happiness. The sun was shining, and people were lounging about outside on the Adirondack chairs provided. It was all so inviting, and so was the wine. But Lara informed me that Hawk Ridge had light snacks available, to supplement our supply of cheese, and so with a regretted goodbye, we set off for Watertown.
Hitherto, we knew Watertown chiefly for Young’s Longrange Farm, an excellent source for fresh local meat. Depending on when you go, they will have chicken, beef, pork, and occasionally lamb on offer. The prices are reasonable. Do stop and say hello to the goats.

Hawk Ridge is new, and the facility is beautiful. Located atop a hill, it offers an impressive view of the Housatonic valley. The entrance is marked by a massive arch, clearly marked as not the entrance to the vineyard. I have no idea what the arch beckoned to, but it looked out of place. And that was just the beginning. The parking lot was packed. Flocks of people dotted the grounds. We heard the waifish voice of a singer-songwriter type warbling away. Patrons were chattering away in ease and comfort.

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Looking around, I wondered how they could possibly serve the number of people lounging about with the obvious serving areas. They couldn’t. We found a place at the very end of the main tasting bar. Our server acknowledged us, and continued attending to other customers. During the time we sampled our six wines, he served four other customers. The attention was fitful.

The wine was unremarkable. The rose attained the unique status of the only tasteless wine I have ever sipped. The Chambourcin did not taste like a Chambourcin. One red was syrupy, another left a soapy aftertaste. The Hawk’s Beak Reserve was the best of the reds.  The whites were decent enough, but I had a hard time telling them apart. Very tart.

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They had finger food on offer, but we didn’t feel like sticking around. The atmosphere was odd and we didn’t want to drink the wine. We decided to chance the weather at Bethlehem Winery.

If Hawk Ridge smelled of money, Bethlehem offered a sort of down at the heels familiarity. We first visited Bethlehem Winery a few years ago while attending Chime In!’s performance at the annual Bethlehem Christmas Festival. On our way home, we saw a flag advertising “Vineyard Open,” and followed the arrows. It is located in the woods well back from the road, and occupies the basement of a standard ranch house. There were a few chairs in the back yard, along with several rows of vines.

Nothing marked the entrance to the tasting room, as no one else was there at the time. We looked about, trying to figure out what to do. We were reluctant to ring the doorbell by the front door. I finally deduced that one had to enter the basement underneath the back deck. The wine was surprisingly good, and we’ve been back a few times since.
Their hours are among the more limited of the Connecticut Vineyards, as they are opened Memorial Day Weekend and the first two weekends of the month July through October, the first weekend of November, and the first two weekends in December.

We were famished by the time we arrived Saturday afternoon. Clouds had grown and we had dodged a few drops en route from Hawk Ridge. People were seated outside on chairs. In a few instances, they had overturned grape tubs between them as a table. We ducked inside the tasting room to see what they had on offer, with an eye to buying a full bottle to enjoy outside with our food.

They had out a small platter with cheese, pepperoni and crackers, adjacent to what I took to be their water heater. Another storage room held cases of wine for sale. The actual tasting room space is limited, you can see into the bowels of their basement behind the counter, where there are a few tanks and a forlorn Christmas tree.

They have revised their tastings for 2017. You get five, with a rose and red available by the glass or bottle only. I liked the Cayuga, but Lara had had her fill of Cayuga in the Finger Lakes. I have liked Holiday Cheer in the past, but not this time. The others were decent, but not remarkable.

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When it came time to pick a bottle, not liking the wine we tasted, we ordered a bottle of the rose. It was excellent. Light and fresh, it was the perfect complement for our cheese, olives and peppers. We sat outside enjoying the late afternoon and talked, letting the stresses of the day fall away, as we gazed out across the vines.

Our reverie was interrupted by a staff member coming by to inform us that it was five minutes of five, when they would be closing. If we wished to buy another bottle or settle up our bill, now was the hour. And that was that. I bought another bottle of the rose and the four dollars to purchase our tumblers, which Lara really likes.

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Methinks for next time we will better arrange it to spend the time lounging about with a glass of wine for earlier in the day. There is something special about sitting outside with good company, good food, and a good glass. Perhaps you’ll run across us the next time you’re out. Till then….

Oh, and this time, I remembered our passports.

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