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5 August 2017: Wallingford Trifecta

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The most concentrated spot for vineyards in the State of Connecticut is Wallingford.  The two in Goshen are closer, but they are only two.  In Wallingford, you have three in close proximity.  It’s an easy way to check off three stops on the Connecticut Wine Trail, and you get to enjoy some spectacular views and great wine.

It was a strange day to set out.  The morning had featured torrential rains and thunderstorms.  By noon, it was clearing and a fresh breeze filled the air.  The sun burst through the banks of dark clouds, inviting us out.

First stop, Paradise Hills Vineyards.  It is located off of some vacant farmland at the end of a residential cul-de-sac.  The tasting room is out back behind all of the houses.  The building is beautiful, featuring a hammered copper bar top.  The painting behind the bar was actually done by a friend of ours, Blair McCleod.  There is an outside eating area under a trellis with a view of some of the vines.

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There were two parties going on when we arrived.  The shrill notes of their laughter echoed off the stone floor and bounced off the ceiling.  It got inside you.  I don’t know how the staff manage it.

The tasting bar was crowded, and it was a few minutes before we could actually reach the bar for a tasting.  The staff was trying to juggle the tastings as well as people buying bottles of wine.  It might be easier to separate the two, because the bar isn’t big enough to accommodate everyone when it’s busy, and we want them to be busy.

They offer a full selection of wines.  Amongst the whites, Lara liked the Casa Bianco, I liked the Vino Bianco Del Paradiso.  But it was the reds where they really shine.  Trio, President’s Choice, and the St. Croix were excellent.  However, they are apparently out of one of our favorites, the Landot Noir.  It’s hard to describe, but it may be one of the best wines mad in Connecticut from grapes grown in Connecticut.  Hear our plea- please bring back Landot Noir!

From there it was at most a mile to Gouveia Vineyards.  High atop a hill, the beautiful tasting room affords a spectacular view across the surrounding valley to the hills beyond.  It, too, was crowded, but much more quiet than Paradise Hills.  The staff was friendly, and unlike many Connecticut wineries, they had a separate station for those buying wine by the bottle.

Uniquely, Gouveia strives to achieve Portuguese-styled wines.  You have a choice of steel or oaked chardonnays- the oaked was not very oaky.  The Rose was good- perfect for turkey sandwiches, but had an odd soapy smell.  The Stonehouse Red was much lighter than I was expecting.  In theory, it should have worked with pasta and pizza, but I’m not convince it would stand up.  Stick with the Cabernet Franc.

We enjoyed a light repast on their patio, enjoying the views, as couples strolled the grounds.  You can bring your dog with you, so long as you stay outside with it.  Lara made sure to say hello to all of the puppies she encountered.  Everyone was enjoying themselves.  Alas, they close at 5:00 PM, so we collected our things and proceeded to the next stop, Rosabianca Vineyards, maybe two miles away.

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Rosabianca is the fulfilment of the dreams of its founder, Andrea Rosabianca.  Much of his extended family works there, giving it a homey atmosphere. The tasting room is on the second floor of the winery, and you can look out on the production floor below, with its tanks of wine awaiting release.

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Rosabianca is a fairly recent entry on the Wine Trail, and they remain a work in progress.  We visited earlier this year in the dead of winter, and were impressed by the sense of family amongst the staff and the customers, who were primarily neighbors and friends.  We did not care so much for the wines.  We were in for a pleasant surprise on our return.

The whites all had odd tastes to them.  It’s not clear to me if any of them use grapes grown on site.  Most of the vines are still too young.  It takes from three to five years for grape vines to mature to the point that you can use the grapes for wine.  They expect to have more of their wines use only their own grapes in the coming years.

The reds, they will likely always import from elsewhere.  As has been said in many places, it is difficult to grow red wine grapes in New England, and even far more difficult to grow the classic red wine grapes.  The Primitivo was dry, with a bit of an aftertaste.  The Tramonto offered a strong berry taste.   The Dolcetto was surprisingly dry with a nice berry flavor.  The Vino del Nonno was a strong dry, smoky wine that I could easy see enjoying with a plate of pasta and Lara’s Mother’s sauce for a Sunday dinner.  Lastly, the Tre Uve adds an oak flavor to the smoke and berries.  We had a bottle last night with grilled steak, and it was perfect.  Next time, we will stay longer and enjoy a bottle in their outdoor patio, with a nice block of asiago and some olives.

As far as things to do and places to see, both Paradise Hill and Gouveia’s websites offer a fairly extensive of list of local attractions.  Gouveia has also opened a restaurant in Wallingford, The Library.  We haven’t been there yet, but the menu looks good, and offers one of our favorite wines, the Fairview Pinotage.

So till next time, see you on the trail!

29 July 2017: A Change of Plans

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This weekend was Open Farm Weekend in Goshen.  We have gone a few times, and have really enjoyed getting to see more of some of Connecticut’s farms.  The plan was to leave tennis lessons on time, which we did, and to come straight home, shower, pack and depart, with the goal of reaching Goshen by Noon, which we accomplished, except the last point.  Try as hard as we might, there was no way we were going to make Goshen in time for a milking demonstration at Thorncrest Farms.

We pondered this on our way up Route 8.  Lara also wanted to see the goats at Ivy Mountain Farm. There was still time for that of course, and a stop at Mohawk Bison and Milkhouse Chocolates.  There would even be time for some vineyards, but which ones?  It was then that Lara asked if I had remembered our Wine Trail Passports.  Frantically running through my preparations and packing, revealed that, once again, I had forgotten the passports in my haste to loads the car and leave on time.

Our enthusiasm cooled immediately.  It had been a vigorous morning of tennis, and the rush to pack, coming after a long work week let us drained.  Did we really want to rush about?

“Are we near Young’s”, Lara at last asked.

Yes, we were, and so we drove through the center of Watertown to Young’s Longrange Farms.  They’ve opened a new retail space the better to sell their beef, pork, chicken, and produce.  We parked by the barn, and made a point of stopping by the goat pen before going inside.  Come what may, Lara was getting her goat fix!

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We were in for a treat.  In addition to the usual beef and pork they had chicken, and some lamb.  I was hoping for ground lamb, to use in a Lebanese stuffed bread, but that they did not have.  We picked up various meats, cucumbers and some really great fresh Kale.

We enjoyed a really tasty ribeye that night with the kale and chimichurri.  Can’t wait to try the fresh brisket!

22 July 2017: If You Build It, They Will Come

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Another weekend, another vineyard trip.  This time we headed to far northern Hartford County. We drove up Route 8 to where the highway ends, and then it was eastward into the woods, past Barkhamsted Reservoir, up hill and down, letting the Connecticut Wine Trail Companion app guide the way.  This time, we were really to the back of beyond, and without GPS to guide us, I’m not sure how we would have found Lost Acres Vineyard, a place that truly lives up to its name.  But for the tell-tale sight of grapevines, we would not have known we were there.

Lost Acres is set amongst a number of orchards.  The area was a major fruit producing region in Connecticut for many years.  Co-owner and winemaker Kevin Riggott started making wine as a hobby, but when faced with the likelihood of losing his job in technology service and repair, he decided to turn his hobby into a business.

They have five acres of vines.  Initial experiments with growing red wine grapes were not successful, and so the only grapes grown on site are white varietals: Riesling, Seyval Blanc, Traminette, Vidal Blanc, and of course, Cayuga.  They import all of their red grapes from California, where they can enjoy the long growing season they need.

I was very impressed by their focus on growing the right grapes for wine making in their particular location.  Unlike many vineyards, they do not grow Chardonnay.  Apparently it did not do well for them.  The results of this thinking is the wine itself.

All of their whites have a consistent crispness.  The Reisling has a hint of pear.  While they apparently oak the Clemons Springs, we didn’t taste it.  Our favorite white, by far, was the Wedge White, which convinced Lara to drink a Cayuga again, after all the Cayugas we had in the Finger Lakes.  It would pair well with spicy Asian food.

We also loved the Salmon Brook Rose, which was dry and crisp, with a hint of fruit.  It was a great summer wine, pairing well with grilled chicken.  The Merlot was smooth with black cherry and pepper notes.

But our absolute favorite of all the wines we tasted at Lost Acres was the Rock Wall Red.  It is dry, bold, thick and oaky, rich with fruit.  It works with grilled meats, pizza and light pasta.  We ought a bottle to enjoy outside, basking in the sun.

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Unlike many vineyards in Connecticut, Lost Acres grows more than wine grapes.  They raise pigs and chickens, and many herbs and vegetables.  Many of these come together on their meat and cheese platters.  We loved the antipasti platter, and highly recommend it.  You get a generous select of crackers, cheeses, roasted peppers, olives and sausages.

It was here that we brought out our Plush Picnic for the first time.  Perfect for vineyard hopping, it holds plates, glasses, flatware, a cutting board, a waterproof blanket, and an insulated carrying space.  It passed with flying colors.

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Our server as excellent.  She was a neighbor, and clearly supported the mission of the vineyard.  To our minds, this is a huge asset for such an enterprise, and creates its own atmosphere of excitement and interest.  We will be back, particularly for their pre-Thanksgiving Farmer’s Market.

The transition from Lost Acres to our next stop, Brignole Vineyards was stark.  We came down from the woods and headed into downtown East Granby.  Another recent entrant to the Wine Trail, their facility is beautiful.  There were couches and tables with games about the tasting room.  I would image that there will be fires in the fireplaces come fall and winter.  They have created a destination, and people have responded.  “If you build it, they will come,” was Lara’s thought.

The place was bustling, and we saw our share of bright young things.  All of the servers at our station were young men, and they showed marked disinterest in serving a middle-aged couple.  They did not seem very interested in the wine.

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Was the wine worthy of the facility?  Not for us.  Some Connecticut wine has a funky taste, the result of odd yeasts, or bacteria in wine, often, in my experience, the result of very damp conditions.  Brignole imports some of their grapes from California, and one of their California wines had that funky taste.

This is a shame, as, from their website, they are very serious about educating people on the science of growing wine grapes, and the particular techniques employed for the different varieties of grapes.  It might also be that the wines themselves are new, and over time this taste will disappear.  We certainly hope so.

From there, we turned westward to Simsbury, and Rosedale Farms.  My family has deep roots in Simsbury.  At the town’s tercentenary celebrations in 1969, my great grandmother, Lucy Stockwell Comstock had her own float as Simsbury’s oldest native.  Rosedale Farms started out as a dairy farm in the 1920s.  As with so many of New England dairy farms, years of government support put an end to their operations.  Instead of shutting down completely, they turned to other products, initially fruits and vegetables.  They have a lovely farmstand, which invites discussions of food pairings.  Wine is only a new addition to their product line-up.

You park out on the edge of a farm field.  It brought back memories of going to my grandfather’s orchard in the fall to pick apples.  The tasting “room” is set up behind the stand buildings under a canopy.  What is not so obvious is that you must go into the stand itself to buy a token to get the wine tasting, as the servers do not take any money.  Later, we did find a small sign explaining it, but it was far from obvious.

Our two servers, both teen-aged girls were enthusiastic and informative about the farm, the Epstein family that owns it, and even about the wine.  They were intrigued by the sight of us entering our tasting notes into our phone, so we showed them a little bit of the Connecticut Wine Trail Companion.

Unlike most vineyards, your tasting includes every wine they make, and they make a few.  We liked Serendipity, a Foch-Cayuga rose, the Farmington River Red blending Foch and Marquette with Cabernet Sauvignon, and Lou’s Red, blending St. Croix with Merlot and Sangiovese.  We found the Farmington River Read to be better than some French Bordeauxs.

They are in the process of erecting a dedicated tasting room building, which will hopefully make the process of getting a tasting easier and allow for extended hours.  The farm stand itself has local food and cheeses available for purchase.  We’ll be back with my mother to remember the past, and probably stop for a scoop of ice cream at Tullmeadow Farms.

Next up, the Litchfield Farmer’s Market.  Stay tuned.

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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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11 June 2017- Living Up to Our Title

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Last weekend, we had agreed to support a friend of ours by attending her bell choir concert in Bethlehem. It would have been an obvious choice to stop at Bethlehem Vineyards, but we didn’t.  This sad story recounts why.
We decided to visit Walker Road Vineyards in Woodbury first, figuring we could make a quick stop there, since they offer only two wines, red and white. It was a beautiful, but hot day, and the vineyard was crowded. They have tables scattered about the grounds and located in what must have once been a shed. People were out and about enjoying the rare taste of sunshine, in what has been a rainy spring.

20170611_141558[1]The main tasting room is located in a converted barn. It felt good to get out of the heat. We were greeted by the owner’s wife, who showed us the label bottle of white before we tasted our sample, to explain that the label its significance. It was actually a clever way of doing a label on the cheap. They had been asked to produce a private label wine for the Woodbury Historical Society, using a scene from their museum and garden. They chose a nice floral arch. The vineyard then added an image of the founder’s mother, suitably adjusted to look like she was leaning against the arch. Clever.

20170611_135222[1]At this point, Owner, Founder, and Winemaker, Jim Frey took over serving us. Gregarious would be a good word to describe Jim. He is passionate about his wine, and proud of the fact that he was named Connecticut Winemaker of the Year for 2016. He is a great ambassador for Connecticut wine. He will happily answer any question you may have, particularly about winemaking, which makes Walker Road a little different from most other Connecticut vineyards.
Their two wines are blends, and that perhaps is their genius. Recognizing that the climate is cold and damp, they take the grapes that grow well here, St. Croix, Cabernet Franc, Seyval Blanc, Traminette, and Sauvignon Blanc and blend them, adding some Sangiovese to the red for flavor, because it’s the flavor profile Jim’s after. You will note a roman numeral marked on each bottle, which indicates which particular batch the bottle came from.
Gertrude’s Garden White, is an unusual white, in that it is full-bodied. Most whites, whether sweet or dry, tend to be thin wines, delivering a single note or taste. Gertrude’s Garden brings a wealth of flavors, with a boldness, I associate with reds. There is a touch of sweetness, but only that. It would not work well with grilled chicken, but it would pair well with turkey or pork, and quite likely macaroni and cheese.
Walker Road Red benefited from the two years of drought we have experienced in Connecticut. In discussing wines in general, Lara confessed that her all time favorite wine is an Italian Barolo.  Jim agreed heartily and said he had its characteristics in mind when blending this. It is dry and oaky, with a strong taste. Pair this with steak, or smoked pork chops, or a big bowl of pasta.
But we were in for a surprise. Jim had a new wine for us to try. Several years ago, he planted a small batch of Marquette grapes as an experiment. This is the first year he made wine with them. It was a much light wine than either the white or red. I would be curious to see ho a bottle tastes after a year or so in the cellar, since it is so new.
Given the heat of the day, we opted for a chilled bottle of Gertrude’s Garden to enjoy with some cheese, chorizo, and crackers. It felt good to just sit, and enjoy the day.
It was then that tragedy struck. We were about to have our passports stamped, when I realized I had not brought them. My dear wife gave me one of those exasperated looks of disbelief that come from several years of marriage. I feebly pointed out that the wine was good, so we would be coming back anyway, but a lesson was learned, do not forget the passports.
I’ll add, parenthetically, that it also provided and idea for the wine trail app, digital check-ins and passport stamps.
By the time we had finished, we would only have enough time to make it to the concert, which was held at the Congregational Church of Bethlehem. Chime In! is unique, for these parts, in that it is a community bell choir, as opposed to a church bell choir. They make every effort to reach out into the community to interest people in playing bells.
The concert was evenly split between traditional religious pieces and more “secular” pieces, often with a touch of humor. Hearing the 5th Dimension’s version of “Age of Aquarius/Let the Sun Shine In” performed on handbells reminded me of hearing a group of elderly Englishwomen playing Simon and Garfunkel on steel drums at a church fete in London- incongruous, but fun. Keeping with their mission, the group explains various aspects of bells and how they work.
Following the concert, we decide to check out a newer “Farm to Table” restaurant in Woodbury, Market Place. As you might expect, they draw upon the produce of local farms, though curiously not the wine of local vineyards. The food was very good, quite fresh, and well presented. There is a cost for all of this, and it is not cheap. Actually, for what we got, we felt we paid too much. The atmosphere contributed to that feeling. We were square by the entrance to the kitchen, and from it streamed a steady progression of waitstaff, busboys and other employees. So too some of the younger staff members behaved condescendingly toward our waiter, and older gentleman who gave first class service. We made sure to tip him well for his troubles. Would we go back? Perhaps, but not for some time.
And now we take a little intensive detour. Lara and I are off the Finger Lakes for a week.  We will check out both the wine and cheese trails there.  Stay tuned!

21 May 2017: Jonesing It

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Last week, we took a break for hitting the Wine Trail to attend to Mother’s Day, since we were hosting.  Lara and I had hoped to hit several vineyards Saturday, but the day opened cool, dark and damp—hardly the sort of day to pop the top and go for a drive.  When my mother-in-law called to say that they were going to a wedding that evening, that settled any thoughts we had of going anyway.  I got some groceries and collected the four year old beagle-springer spaniel mix we share with my in-laws, so they wouldn’t worry about leaving him alone for too long.

The Lord’s Day dawned bright and clear, with the promise of a delightful day to experience some new vineyards.  What we had forgotten to account for was our minister’s proclivity to preach for an hour.  Even if we had thought things through better and been prepared to leave immediately after the service, the hour long sermon delayed our departure too much to reach northern Connecticut and our chosen destinations.

So, where to go?  We had already been to Savino’s, which would have been an easy choice.  We thought about going to Wallingford, which has three nice vineyards reasonably close to each other, but we weren’t certain we could get in all three before the last one closed at 6:00 PM.  Walker Road Vineyards in Woodbury was close, too, but nearby Hawk Ridge Vineyards will not open until June.

That left Jones Family Farm Winery in Shelton, from whence we had just come.  They serve food there, so no outside food is allowed, simplifying things for us.  Off to our winged chariot we flew, backed out of the garage, lowered the top, and set our course for the winery.

The Jones family has been farming in Shelton for several generations, and over the years, their enterprise has spread.  They offer blueberries, strawberries, pumpkins and Christmas trees.  The winery site boasts a number of buildings and houses, but the path to the tasting room is well marked.  Unlike many Connecticut vineyards, they do not permit dogs with the admonition: “This is a working farm.”

Lara is from Shelton, and she grew up not far from the farm.  She used to play on the hill of Christmas trees that forms the backdrop to the tasting room.  We were greeted at the entrance, and told of the special event of the day, a port and truffle tasting.  We were then steered to the tasting bar and assigned a staff member to pour our tasting.  The staff was very personable, though I would be curious to see how they functioned under heavier traffic.

Our server told us something about the history of the farm and the family, and how they got into wine.  They offer a wide selection of wines, divided into two styles of tasting: Dry and Sweet.  We really liked the one wine that appeared on both lists, the Muscat Ottonel, which is new this year.  We also really liked the Vidal Blanc, which sadly may not be available by the time you read this.  We were told that they were pouring the last bottles of it, which is a shame, as it was a very versatile white.  I liked the Woodlands White, which I thought would go well with cheese.  We both liked the Ripton Red, which ironically has the smallest percentage of Connecticut grapes of the wines they make.

As we checked in, we were told that there was a special port and truffle tasting, for which we eagerly signed up.  They make the port from a blend of every grape grown on the farm.  We’ve had a number of Connecticut ports, which are pale echoes of a true port.  The Seventh Generation is not one of those syrupy creations.  It was as close as we seen to a real port.  It certainly went well with the truffle.  Dave, our server, told us to come back in a month or two when the truffles on offer would be freshly made on the premises.

The food selections were quite good.  The cheeses are from New England, and you get an entire cheese, not a few slices.  The salami comes from Before and After Farms in Woodbridge and was among the best we’ve tasted.  It certainly keeps the ethos that pervades the place- keeping things fresh and local.

I could not leave our stop a Jones’s without mentioning one wine we did not have, the Black Currant Bouquet.  Tart, crisp, with a hint of sweet.  It makes for a great after-dinner drink, especially in the summer or early autumn.

When we left Jones’s, we headed up Route 110 to stop at Stone Gardens Farm to check out their meat selection.  They are a complete farm stand, offering chicken, pork and beef, eggs, and all sort of produce.  We picked up a bunch of scallions, the largest I’ve ever seen.  As we examined a package of breakfast sausage, the woman who waited on us apologized for the cost, but said that her husband insisted on using the New York butcher who made them, because they were very good.  We had some the next day for breakfast and heartily agreed.

In downtown Shelton itself, you can get a taste of both Jones Family Farms and Stone Gardens by dining at Grow.  The atmosphere is eclectic and a touch bohemian.  But food is all local and fresh, and it doesn’t get much better than that.

6 May 2017: Happy Birthday to Me

In contrast to the steady rain of the previous day, the second day of our Wine Trail tour toyed with us, switching back and forth between sun and clouds.  We had decided that if the weather proved fair, we would make the short drive from our home to Savino Vineyards in Woodbridge, to celebrate my birthday.

The weather cooperated, so off we went.  It was busy, and a little loud.  After all that rain, it seemed everyone wanted to get out and enjoy the day.  As we have come to expect, there were not many men there, certainly not in groups of guys, as one would find at a brew tour.  Women, however, were plentiful.  Men were there, of course, with their wives or girlfriends, but scene was dominated by groups of women, chatting away noisily.  This seems to be par for every vineyard we’ve been to.

They come from opposite ends of the age spectrum.  We had a group of “bright young things” conversing about weddings, funerals, and getting trashed in such manner that you could not help overhearing.  We learned about the bathroom habits of their pets, and wished we hadn’t.  Then there was a group of women in their sixties, all divorced, some more than once loudly telling of their lives and loves.  Perhaps they feel safe here, there being no unattached men about.  It makes for great people watching.

Sociology aside, we love Savino for their antipasti platter.  So, the first order of business was checking to see which wine would go best with it.  In contrast with many Connecticut vineyards, Savino keeps it simple.  They produce a House White, a House Red, a Seyval Blanc, a Frontenac, a Cabernet Franc, a St. Croix, and a Merlot.  The Cabernet and the Frontenac are excellent, and compliment the platter nicely.  And do not forget to order a bottle of their olive oil, the owner has an olive grove in Italy, the oil is among the best we’ve had.

As far as places to go, you have all of New Haven, which boasts some really great restaurants.  Heading in the opposite direction, you have Zois’ Pizza and Pizzaro’s Pizza in Seymour, and Rich Farms Ice Cream in Oxford.  We can also recommend Jerry’s Market in Seymour, which makes great sausage and kielbasa, and I suppose that’s why the best way to end a trip to Savino is ultimately a dinner at home with the lovely Lara.  This time it was Asian style short ribs over rice with a salad and followed up with whole wheat brownies backed by your blogger.  THAT was a birthday.  Almost makes getting old palatable.

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5 May 2017- Opening Day

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It was an inauspicious beginning to our Wine Trail adventure, a steady, pouring rain that would last nearly the entire day.  I don’t know how many people were planning on hitting the Trail on Opening Day, but we didn’t see many people.  It was not a good day to sipping wine outside.  Actually, it called for a hot bowl of chili, appropriate for Cinco de Mayo, and a rich, hearty red.

Rather than head north, into Litchfield County, which would call for sitting outside, we decided to launch our enterprise by going west, into Fairfield County, starting with two vineyards we had never visited before.  It was a chance to test the map and directions feature of Lara’s Connecticut Wine Trail app

First up, DiGrazia Vineyards, in Brookfield.  I had remembered them for their Autumn Spice wines, which I had sampled some years before at the Connecticut Wine Festival in Goshen.  That was not on the tasting menu, which makes sense, as it is a distillation of the spices of Thanksgiving dinner, something to savor either before or after the big meal.

We were served by the founder’s granddaughter, who was training a new hire.  They offer a fair sampling of the wines you can readily find in Connecticut: Vidal Blanc and St. Croix.  What we liked the best, however, were their fruit wines.  The Birches is a port style pear wine.  It was surprisingly good.  The confusingly named Wild Blue and Wild Blue Too both feature blueberries, but that’s all they have in common.  Wild Blue is a blueberry port, rich, sweet, and a bit thick.  It would, I think, pair well with cheese.  Wild Blue Too is mixed with apples, and is much lighter and crisper, as befits an apple.  It works well either at room temperature or chilled.  Pair it with dark chocolate.

We then set off to find some chocolate.  Several people have raved about Bridgewater Chocolates, and their main factory is in Brookfield, not terribly far from DiGrazia.  Unfortunately, the facility is not well marked.  We stopped several times, and finally got there by driving around behind a loading dock.  After the darkness of DiGrazia’s tasting room, Bridgewater Chocolate’s showroom was bright, a clean white that almost minimizes the chocolate.

Now, we love nibbling chocolate with our wine.  One of our favorite stops is at Milk House Chocolates in Goshen, selecting what we want and then heading back across to Sunset Meadow Vineyards to sit out on their patio enjoying cheese, charcuterie, chocolate and wine.  In fact, had the day dawned bright and sunny, that is exactly what we would have done.

But in the spirit of trying something new, we stopped at Bridgewater.  The clean esthetic carried over to the entire experience.  Far from trays upon trays of chocolates to choose from, one glimpsed through the display cases sample boxes of pre-packaged chocolates, and expensive ones at that.  Quoth my wife: “We were told that they so much better, but I can buy chocolate like that at the supermarket, for a lot less.”

Dashing out back to our car in the pouring rain, we set our sights on White Silo Vineyards in Sherman.  The Wine Trail app functioned flawlessly in this regard.  We went over some back roads to get there, but we got there without trouble.  The big white silo that comes upon you as you approach is a dead give-away.  White Silo features several outdoor eating areas, scattered over a steep hillside.  I didn’t see any vines, which was unusual.

Ducking inside, after a mad dash from the car, we found large room in the basement of a barn.  We had the place to ourselves.  The far walls were covered with art work.  We were later told that the pieces were all the work of local artists and changed monthly.  We were then told about the upcoming annual asparagus festival.  Our hostess, Lisa, was most engaging, telling about the various special dinners held at the Vineyard.  If you order in advance, they will provide you with a gourmet boxed lunch.

The majority of their wine is made using fruits other than grapes.  Lara was preferential to the rhubarb wine, I liked the blackberry wine.  I suspect that this is traditional New England winemaking, using the local fruits.  The wines were light, and probably best in the summertime.

We didn’t buy a bottle, but we did take home a jar of their mustard. We’ll let you know how it tastes.

Lisa was an excellent host, and full of information about places to go in the area.  Suggested dining spots if you are not picking up one of the White Silo’ boxed lunches or bringing your own would be either the White Horse, an English-style pub in Marbledale, or the American Pie Company in Sherman itself.

We debated going to the White Horse, one of our favorites, but it was getting late, and we didn’t want to interfere with dinner, so we drove on straight to our last stop, Hopkins Vineyard in New Preston.  If DiGrazia grew out of a family tradition of making their own wines, and the White Silo is a gentleman’s farm, Hopkins is a last throw of the dice.  It has been continuously worked as a farm since it was built in 1787, but the traditional dairy farming was becoming a money losing proposition.  They turned to winemaking to keep going, converting the barn to the tasting room.

Hopkins’ has an eating area above the tasting room, and the serve teas and a nice cheese platter.  We added some really good local dried Italian sausage to our platter and looked out across Lake Waramaug, feeling sorry for anyone caught out in the rain.

Hopkins’ wine has often struck as uneven.  The last time we went, we liked Sachem’s Picnic, this time we didn’t.  The 2015 Duet was distinctive white, with a curious balance of mineral crispness and dry fruit.  We also really liked the Red Barn Red and the Cabernet Franc.

The vineyard is affiliated with an inn and restaurant next door, the Hopkins Inn, which offers German dining.  Lara remembers dining there as a girl with her grandparents, who liked to drive around the lake.  It is beautiful in the fall.  We will likely be back then to experience the schnitzel.

We headed for home, tired but happy.  It was a good opening day.  The wine trail app had worked well, getting us to our destinations, and Lara came up with some additional features to add.  We dined that night on steak and homemade macaroni and cheese, paired with a Sunset Meadow Vineyard’s 2014 Bourbon Barrel-Aged St. Croix.  Three down, thirty-five to go.