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9 October 2017: Frustration

Columbus Day dawned grey and gloomy, with the promise of heavy rain throughout the day.  Our itinerary was set by those vineyards choosing to open that day to take advantage of leaf peepers.  Thus far, autumn has been warm and dry, so there has not been much in the way of foliage to view.  We had visions of harvest festivals and food trucks, and hoped that the lack of color and the rain would keep crowds down.

We crossed the Connecticut at Middletown and headed to Arrigoni Vineyards in East Hampton.   Arrigoni got its start as a country store selling decorative items.  Somehow, they made the decision to enter the world of wine, and you can see some of their vines out behind their buildings along Route 66.  We were the only visitors, so the staff gave us full attention.  We learned about the different grapes that went into each wine, and what food might pair with them.  They finished off the tasting with samples of their wine slushees.

While we were there, we learned of yet another vineyard not on the Wine Trail, Chateau le Gari, in nearby Marlboro, started by a former owner of our next stop, Priam Vineyards.  We talked about stopping by after our last scheduled stop for a stamp.

From there, it was a short drive down Route 66 to Colchester and Priam Vineyards.  We were hoping to combine it with a stop at Cato Corner for some cheese from their cheese cave.  Unfortunately they are closed on Mondays.  Priam at least advertised cheese and fresh-baked bread available to purchase on site, so we were hopeful of getting some Cato Corner cheese anyway.

The entrance to the tasting room was not well marked.  I suspect that with the inclement weather they had buttoned things up, as they have an outdoor patio area under some cover.  Once inside only the immediate tasting bar area was lit up.  They had recently remodeled and expanded their tasting room, but we didn’t get a good look at things.  Once again, we were the only visitors.  They seemed to have fewer selections than the last time we were there.

Our server was a self-proclaimed Hungarian Wine Gypsy.  His dream is travelling the world working at vineyards, doing whatever is needed and drinking lots of great wine.  It sounds like a nice job, if your passport is in order.  The wines were good, but nothing spectacular.  We liked the Salmon River Red, which had blueberry notes.  The Essence of St. Croix was a unique take on St. Croix, in Port form.

We reached the point where we wanted something to eat.  Our server showed us a list of recommended pairings with Cato Corner cheeses.  We made our selections when he then informed us that they did not have any Cato Corner cheese.  They had some packaged cheeses and some crackers to purchase, but that was it.  I didn’t bother asking about the bread.  We left in search of some place to eat.

We would be disappointed.  Most places were closed on Monday, holiday or not.  We drove past a couple of hopeful spots to find they were not open.  We slowly worked our way through the remote vastness of east central Connecticut, past homes and farms in the increasing drizzle.

It was raining in full by the time we pulled up to Staehley’s Farm Winery.  Like Bishop’s, Holmberg, and Rosedale, they started as a farmstand, unique, only in that they also sell Christmas trees in season.  Like Bishop’s they confine their efforts to fruit wine, chiefly apple wines.  They offer three apple wines featuring the exact same blend of apples in dry, sweet, and semi-sweet.  The semi-sweet was the best.  We tried a blueberry wine, Midnight Blueberry, but found it weak.  DiGrazia’s are better.  The Spiced Apple was similarly anemic.  We were told they had cut down on the spice this year.  We finished the wines with their claim to fame, Pomodoro- a tomato wine.  It tasted like V-8.  We weren’t really sure what it paired with, but bought a bottle for shock value—don’t tell my in-laws!  The tasting concluded with their newest addition, a line of ciders.  The one we had was balanced, and lacking in bite.

Staeley’s had announced that they were to have food trucks on site for a harvest celebration.  But that was before the rain.  That morning we read that the trucks were cancelled due to the inclement weather.  We would need to look elsewhere.

We finished hungrier than ever.  I eyed the apple cider donuts, but not a meal would those make.  We had seen a place nearby that seemed to be open, Two Wrasslin’ Cats.  Eagerly, we hastened there, only to discover that they were primarily a take-out place.  The only seating was outside, in the rain.

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Growing more desperate by the minute, we continued southward into Haddam.  I knew there was Five Guys in Middletown.  Surely they would be open.  However, Lara was not keen on fast food or chains.  Google is your friend.  I found a couple of choices and we settled on the Celtic Cavern in Middletown.

It was dark, and vaguely industrial.  The menu was what we were expecting, except for an impressive charcuterie selection.  We can recommend the duck prosciutto. The charcuterie is expensive, however.  The meal was far more than expensive than it warranted.  But we were hungry, and they were open.

Since we were close enough, we made yet another effort to visit Sunset Hill Vineyard.  Once again we got nowhere, as I reached an answering machine, but we at least got some definite hours when they were open- Saturday and Sunday, 12-6.  Maybe next weekend.

All in all, it was a frustrating day.  We got three stamps for our efforts, but that felt like all we got.  The trail has become a marathon.  Five more to go.  We can do this, I think.

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29 September 2017: What Is Open?

The leaves are falling, and we have a little more than a month left to complete the Connecticut Wine Trail. This time out, we ventured forth to far southeastern Connecticut on a Friday. We had hoped to hit four vineyards, but fell short, we think. The vagaries of schedules came into play.

Our decision to take a day off of work was determined by the posted tasting room hours of Saltwater Farm Vineyards. They are open on Saturdays, but given the number of events going on, you need a reservation. With church taking up the first half of Sunday, that day is not an option, so we chose to try a Friday.

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Saltwater Farm is centered around a 1930’s vintage airplane hangar. The farm contains 108 acres, though it’s not clear how much acreage is dedicated to growing grapes. When we arrived, a bridal party was posing for photographs. A man in a white polo and pastel shorts came over to us, shook my hand, welcomed us, and informed us that the tasting room on the upper floor was open. We think it as the owner, and we appreciated the consideration. The large hanger was busy with people setting up for the wedding. Compared to the overall size of the facility, the tasting bar are is quite small.

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In the past, when we’ve been there for a tasting and they were busy, Saltwater Farm looks and feels like something out of The Great Gatsby. It is one of the few vineyards I have been to with an aesthetic feel. Its owner and founder was senior partner with Skadden Arps. The look and feel continues with their wine bar in nearby Mystic, the M Bar.

You have two options for tastings. You can do three reds, or two whites, a rose and a red. We split. I took the fuller list. The Sauvignon Blanc is unusual, with hint of apple and minerality that would go well with soft cheeses. The Estate “Gold Arc” Chardonnay had a slight oaky taste. The Cabernet Rose was clean, clear, and crisp. The Pinot Noir featured a smoky berry taste. The Cabernet Franc-Merlot blend had a strange aroma that thankfully did not carry over to the taste. We finished with a Merlot that was smooth with some plum flavor.

From there we made a short drive to Stonington Vineyards. What we remembered of them from our last visit was that they were the only vineyard that featured a cat. Stonington Vineyards is celebrating their 30th anniversary this year. They have revamped the tasting room and the cat was nowhere to be seen. Like every vineyard we visited that day, they sourced some of their grapes from other places, however, unlike the others, their source vineyards are nearby in Connecticut and Rhode Island.

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By going on a Friday, we avoided the crowds, and the tasting proceeded at a leisurely pace. We engaged another couple beside us at the tasting bar, who were talking with the proprietor about their plans to visit other vineyards along the southeastern coastal wine trail. This piqued our interest, and we soon had a brochure in hand, and both the couple and the proprietor were telling us about several of the vineyards along this trail that runs from Connecticut to the Cape.

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But back to the wines. We tried three whites, a rose and a Cabernet Franc. The Sheer Chardonnay was unusual, slightly effervescent, without either an oak or mineral taste as one would expect. But it did have the taste of green apple we usually associate with Cayuga- well worth checking out. The Riesling had a pineapple taste with a floral bouquet and a crisp finish. Their Seaport White blend was also effervescent with a slight floral note, and very food-friendly. The Triad Rose was a nice balance of Chardonnay, Vidal Blanc, and Cabernet Franc. It’s very dry with a slight note of spice. Lastly, their Cabernet Franc was smooth, blending pepper, tobacco and berry.

From there, we proceeded to Jonathan Edwards in North Stonington. They are unique in having one foot squarely in California wine country, and one foot here in Connecticut. Upon purchasing the vineyard, owner Jonathan Edwards had to strip it down and rebuild it, taking the time to install a drainage system to combat the normally wet conditions prevalent in Connecticut.

Mr. Edwards spent some time in California where he has lined up long term contracts with vineyards there to supply him with grapes of his choice. Not unsurprisingly, the best wines we sampled that weekend came from Jonathan Edwards, and the best of Edwards’ wine came from California. They take the curious approach of having all of his grapes initially processed in California, even the grapes grown here in Connecticut.

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Their tasting list changes every two weeks, and they have a large selection of wines to choose from. The seven we tried were the Sauvignon Blanc, the Pinot Gris, the Chardonnay, the Stone Table White, the Cabernet Franc, the Merlot, and a Cabernet Sauvignon. The Sauvignon Blanc was unlike any we’ve ever had, with a smooth cucumber-melon taste. They recommend decanting it. The Chardonnay featured both oak and minerality with a nice finish. Their Stone Table white blend is not usually available, and we found it a soft, vibrant wine, very food-friendly. The Cabernet Franc had hints of pepper and cinnamon. The Cabernet Sauvignon has a slight grit to it. But it was the Merlot that took our breaths away. It’s very smooth, as you would expect, but with notes of sandalwood, pepper, with a slight acid touch. It is not a glass you will put away quietly. We quickly chose a bottle to have with our lunch.

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We lingered long over lunch, soaking in the beautiful day and reflecting on the multiple Chardonnays and Cabernet Francs we had tasted.

There was one more stop we hoped to make, Sunset Hill Vineyard in Old Lyme, but here a question arose. Were they open? We turned to the Connecticut Wine Trail Companion for answers. They claim that the tastings are by appointment only, but also that they are open until six on the weekend. Was Friday part of the weekend? Could we make it by six? We weren’t sure. Most places will not take new tastings half an hour before closing. We decided to pass.

As it turned out, Lara’s sister went to Sunset Hill the next day, and they were open. Some clarity in their actual hours of opening would be helpful. Recalling once again our conversation with Tim Tabor at Heartstone, foot traffic is key to building your vineyard.
We did at least reduce the number of stops remaining to eight, and there’s roughly a month to go. We are finding the pace exhausting, however. We will definitely celebrate our last stop, and spend the rest of the year on a victory lap of sorts, returning to some of our favorites. Till next time, “Salut!”

24 September 2017: A Sabbath Rest

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Last weekend, we decided to keep things local.  We spent Saturday cleaning the house and met my parents for brunch on Sunday.  Afterwards, we decided to return to Savino Vineyards to sip some wine and enjoy the late September sunshine.  For next two hours we sipped and nibbled and talked.  This is what hitting the wine trail is all about!

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16 September 2017: Detours

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Last weekend was the most uneven set of tastings we have yet experienced this year on the Wine Trail.  We had hoped, once again, to obtain at least three stamps, but walked away with only two, and three bottles of bourbon.  May the fellow traveler take heed.

As mentioned last time, we were planning on attending the Fall Harvest Festival at Sunset Meadow Vineyards in Goshen.  They offered a hayride tour of the vineyard to talk about their harvest prospects for each type of grape they grow.  We thought we would not have enough time to enjoy a tasting, eat lunch, and hit our other stops, but I’m sure it would have been fun and informative.  Since Hurricane Jose steered more eastward than previously predicted, they should obtain a good harvest.

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We really like Sunset Meadow, and we are apparently not alone in this.  The Daily Meal named Sunset Meadow one of the top One Hundred One Vineyards in the country this year, and it’s not hard to see why.  The setting is beautiful, located atop a hill in the southern Berkshires, you can look out across the rows of grapes to see the hills and valleys beyond.  In a few weeks the trees will in all their glory.  They have ample parking and space for picnics and tables and chairs for those who did not bring their own.

The Tasting Room itself is spacious, and they smartly have a separate check out are for those looking to buy bottles or food.  Service is generally excellent.  They offer chocolates and truffles from Fascia’s in Waterbury, various crackers and a good selection of cheeses and sausages, including smoked items from Nodine’s Smokehouse.  Lara favors their smoked venison sausage.  We brought a homemade baguette to enjoy with our food to complete the meal.

Since we had the time, we started with the tasting.  We were saddened to discover that they were out of the Bourbon Barrel-Aged St. Croix– they told us it should be available again in mid to late October.  The blend of flavors in this wine is little short of amazing.  It’s perfect with steak or stews.  We are nursing our remaining bottles until next month.

We largely split our tastings to maximize the coverage of their selections.  Lara took the Chardonnay, which was clean for a Connecticut Chardonnay.  I chose their Cayuga, which offered a surprising crisp citrus taste.  I chose the Rose, which had a raspberry taste with a hint of tartness, while Lara headed into the reds with their St. Croix.  Smoky, peppery, spicy acidic notes reached our palates.  Their New Dawn was next, and while our previous tastings indicated that it was a sweet wine, this year it was not.  A complex set of flavors marrying the component Chambourcin, Merlot, and St. Croix greeted us.

Next was Twisted Red, our favorite pizza wine, a blend of Chambourcin, Lemberger and Cabernet Franc.  It’s the right balance of sweet and dry, tart and smooth to complement a good pie.  One of our local pizza places, Zois’s Pizza, must agree because they carry it.

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We went with the St. Croix for lunch and settled down to a leisurely repast, enjoying the view and the sunshine.

Once we had finished, it was another twenty minutes to the next vineyard tour hayride, so we decided to pass, missing a chance to see Churchill, the vineyard spokesdog.  Instead, we drove the half mile or so to Goshen’s other vineyard, Miranda Vineyard, which hosts the weekly Goshen Farmer’s Market.  Like the Gouveias, the Mirandas are of Portuguese descent, and make a few Portuguese style wines.  After looking through some of the vines in search of a photo of grapes, we went in the tasting room.  Some sort of bridal shower/party was going on.  The actual tasting bar was off in a corner, compared to large, spacious area filled with tables.  We managed to time it just right and slipped in to the bar between large groups.  They too offer meats and cheeses from Nodine’s, and a small collection of the usual wine-themes kitsch.  They also had pig charms, which drew Lara’s attention.  She likes pigs even more than goats.

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The wines were uneven.  Our favorites of their offerings were the Woodridge White and Red.  Good blends that were sufficiently dry and flavorful.  They were out of the Vinho Novo a unique peppery tasting white sparkling wine. The others made little impression on us.  I began to give thought to trying to head to Rosedale to get our stamp, we were making such good time.

But first, a stop at nearby Milkhouse Chocolates.  A subsidiary of Thorncrest Farms, Milkhouse Chocolates offers raw “creamline” milk and homemade chocolates for sale using the milk from their cows.  They apparently focus on breeding cows to produce milk for chocolate, and several of their offerings contain only the milk from a single cow.  The brainchild of owner Kim Thorn, visiting is a truly unique experience.  It seems every time we visit, they have a new cow.  This time there were two, one born in august, the other only hours before we arrived.

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As to the chocolates themselves, where to begin?  We chose two madras curry chocolates, to chocolate-chocolate ganache Brigadoons, an Irish Cream chocolate, a mocha cream…. You get the idea.  It was hard to resist the urge to open the box and eat one before we got home.  Somehow we prevailed, and enjoyed a tasty treat the next day!

From there, we set off of Connecticut’s oldest Vineyard, Haight-Brown.  I misread the sign pointing to the turnoff from State Route 218 and took a longish roundabout path.  We got there to discover that there was some sort of festival going on, for which they had blocked off part of the parking lot and we selling/collecting tickets as you pulled in.  This was unexpected, and we only wanted to pay for a tasting, which did not seem likely.  So we turned around and left, without getting our stamps.  Curiously, only the week before, the owner of Heartstone was sharing his belief that a Connecticut Vineyard needed the street traffic to grow.  Anytime you turn people away before they lack, or do not want a ticket to some event, you forfeit customers and goodwill.  One need only look at Sunset Meadow’s Harvest Festival, going on at the same time up the road to note the difference.

Somewhat adrift, we decided to drive to Connecticut’s only Bourbon distillery, Litchfield Distillery.  They have been open for three years now, selling Bourbon, Gin and Vodka.  The tour and tasting are free, and you get to follow the entire process, from the arrival of sacks of corn, rye, and malted barley, all the way to the final product.  They use corn and rye from Sharon, Connecticut, but the nearest malted barley comes from New York.  There are no malt houses in Connecticut.

The fascinating thing to me was the similarity between making Bourbon whisky and making bread.  Both involve water, grain and yeast, heated and fermentation.  Obviously, the ratio of grain to water and yeast differ.  Like bakers, they try for a cold fermentation, sheathing the fermentation tanks with cooling jackets.  The longer and cooler you can let the mash ferment, the better the taste.

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We then moved to the still, a fantastic looking object straight out of some old sci-fi story.  The distilled results, taking advantage of alcohol’s lower boiling point, feed into a tank, and the rest is removed, dehydrated and sold to local farmers.  The alcohol is then initially proofed, mixed with water to achieve the desired proofing and then poured into barrels.  We were allowed to taste the raw distilled product and then saw samples of bourbon at various points in the barrel-aging process.

The barrel is the key to bourbon, as it gives the spirit its color and flavor.  One of the few requirements for bourbon is that the barrel only be used once, leading to an extensive trade in used bourbon barrels, which are extensively used by Scotch and Irish distilleries, and a growing use in winemaking, such as Sunset Meadow’s Bourbon-Barrel-Aged St. Croix, made using barrels from Litchfield Distillery.

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Once we finished the tour, it was on to the tasting.  I’m not big on either gin or vodka, so I cannot report whether they are good or not.  The Cinnamon Bourbon was too heavy with cinnamon flavor. It was more like a red hot, which did not work well.  We loved the vanilla and coffee bourbons, which paired well, and the bourbon given additional aging in used port barrels was unique, tempering the harshness of the whisky with the sweetness of the port residue.

While a bit earlier than expected, we set off for dinner, heading to the White Horse in Marbledale.  The White Horse is a special place, a bit of England in the Litchfield hills.  The eclectic décor eclectic décor is worth exploring.  Set alongside a babbling brook, we sat outside to enjoy our dinner.  Timing is everything.  At peak times, service can be slow, but the food is worth the wait.  If you’re gluten-intolerant, or vegetarian, they have you covered.  Save room for dessert.  But we had other plans….

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Autumn brings two special regular flavors to Rich Farms Ice Cream, down the road from us in Oxford, Pumpkin Spice and Apple Caramel.  Think Pumpkin and Apple Pies in ice cream form.  We apparently weren’t the only ones with that idea.   Well worth the wait.  As a sigh there says, “Be patient.  In time grass becomes ice cream.  Yum!  It was a nice recovery for a rough day on the trail.

10 September 2017: A Pleasant Surprise

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We went round and round trying to decide which vineyards to visit this past weekend. With 15 left on the list (turns out we never got our stamp at Rosedale), and roughly two months left, we have a lot of work to do. We thought of trying to get three more stamps, stopping by Rosedale and two other vineyards, but were struggling with how to connect the dots.

In the end, we kept it simpler, but still visited three vineyards, but only got two stamps. We drove up to Vernon to collect sandwiches at Rein’s Deli, pick up my parents and continue on the short distance to Cassidy Hill Vineyards. It was a beautiful day, and a pleasant drive. Rein’s was packed, and we easily spent a half hour waiting.

The tasting bar at the log cabin Tasting Room at Cassidy Hill was packed, though those people wishing to sit at a table were taking advantage of the great weather to sit outside.
We bought a bottle of the Chambourcin Rose to enjoy with the sandwiches. It was a perfect pairing. We sat out by the grapes and admired the view. The rose was the perfect balance- light and refreshing, but also strong enough to stand up to food. It would be a good choice for those looking for a lighter wine for Thanksgiving.

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After lunch, and the crowd at the bar had cleared, we returned for our tastings. This was a bit disappointing, and many of our favorites were not included. They are out of the Catawba and the Riesling, and the Coventry Spice will not be available for at least another month.  The Coventry White is clean and crisp, but has an odd earthy smell. Jet’s White is also clean and crisp, with a melon taste. They did offer a decent Malbec, using Chilean grapes, and a curious Cabernet Sauvignon, with grapes from New York State, very dry with hints of cherries. Their newest wine, the Grandview was harsh and syrupy. The Rose was still the best. We would have purchased a bottle, but we know we’ll be back later in the year before they close for the season.

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From there, we dropped off my parents and wandered across the hinterland in search of Lebanon Green Vineyards. The GPS took us on a complicate route that eventually took us to US 6, which we could have accessed at the beginning of the drive if the GPS hadn’t sent us elsewhere. This is a shame, as I was hoping to stop off at Munson’s Chocolates in Bolton to see if they had any of the Connecticut Wine Trial Chocolates available to take with us to the next tasting. That experience will have to wait.

Lebanon Green Vineyards, as the name suggests, is off of Lebanon Green in the historic town of Lebanon, Connecticut. It is a true old fashioned green that belies its history as a common pasturage. Various old homes surround it as does a history museum. It served as the headquarters of Connecticut’s war efforts during the Revolution. It does not appear that anything else of particular significance has happened in Lebanon since, and thus it feels very much like stepping back in time.

The vineyard tasting area itself is situated in the back yard of a substantial old farmhouse. There is a little shed where you can purchase crackers and cheeses from Beltane Farm and Cato Corners in nearby Colchester. Otherwise, for now at least, it is tasting al fresco. At each table, they place a bowl of homemade crackers. Yum!

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Like Dalice Elizabeth, the pace is leisurely. Many tables were laden with food as people brought picnics and snacks with them to enjoy whilst they sipped. Many of the patrons appeared to be locals. We dearly would have loved to have enjoyed some cheese and crackers and a bottle of wine, but were still full from lunch.

The wines keep with a “revolutionary” theme and use local grapes as much as possible. The Patriot White, a blend of Cayuga, Riesling and Chardonnay, has an odd floral funk to it. The Liberty White (Chardonnay and Cayuga), however was refreshing and good minerality. It would be perfect with cheeses. The Freedom White features the same grapes, but in a different blend, and is also crisp with high minerality.

 

The Revolutionary Red, featuring St. Croix is smooth, but lacking the punch we’ve come to expect from St. Croix. The Wayland Blush was bland, and the new Louis d’Or was sweet, but not overpoweringly so. The War Office Red, another St. Croix blend was delightfully strong with hints of leather and tobacco. It was by far our favorite. We can easily see ourselves enjoying a bottle with some of the cheese.

On our way to Lebanon Green, we passed a sign for a vineyard, Heartstone. It did not appear on the Wine Trail passport. Could it be that we had stumbled upon one of the mysterious Connecticut wineries that was not part of the Trail? Lara quickly looked them up and saw that they were open until six, late for a Sunday night. If time allowed, once we finished at Lebanon Green, we would back track to check them out.  Despite the leisurely pace at Lebanon Green, we finished up before five, and so we hurried back to see what Heartstone Winery was all about.

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Heartstone Farm & Winery is brand new. They had been open for less than a month. They are still finishing the Tasting Room, but the bar is open for business. Heartstone is a labor of love for the Tabor family. For many years they ran a soapstone kitchen business, but wanted to take up farming in their retirement. They eventually hit upon growing grapes and making wine.

They have only eight acres of grapes, but they are making the most of it. Their Marquette was one of the best we’ve tried. We got to meet Rupert, their Australian Cattle Dog who appears on every bottle they sell. He came over to us to say hello. The winemaker stopped by to chat, and then disappeared to the cellar to work. He came back to offer a sample of a wine that will be available next spring. We have no idea what it is, but it may be the best Connecticut wine we’ve ever tasted.

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So ends another weekend on the Wine Trail. Where will be next weekend? For once that will be easy. We will be attending the Harvest Festival at Sunset Meadow Vineyards in Goshen. We can’t wait to share the experience with you.

1 September 2017: Resting From Our Labors

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The original plan for our next venture forth on to the Connecticut Wine Trail was to take the Friday before Labor Day off and hit the three southeasternmost vineyards. The particular impetus to this plan was the fact that one, Saltwater Farms does tastings by reservation only on Saturdays, so great is their event crowd on the weekends. The more we thought about it, however, the less we thought of this idea. Driving I-95 to the far eastern shore on the Friday before Labor Day would involve lots of traffic. Not the most relaxing start to a busy holiday weekend.
So, we revised our plans. There were still the two nearer shoreline vineyards, and one had a nice restaurant attached, dispensing with the need to prepare food. Thus we set off for Chamard Vineyards in Clinton, near the outlet mall. Once clear of New Haven, traffic bogged down, making clear we had chosen wisely. Chamard is set on beautiful grounds, surrounded by fields of growing grapes and a large pond with a fountain.

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For all the grapes we saw, most of the wines we had did not involve any Connecticut grapes. They procure grapes from Washington State, California, and Chile, amongst other places. Since the sections of grapevines were all carefully identified with signs, they do use Connecticut grapes, but not in most of the wines we tasted.

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The whites we had were fairly forgettable. I would have liked to be able to taste the difference between the Oaked and Un-oaked Chardonnay, but only the Oaked was available. The Riesling, from Washington State was thick and floraly, very different from the crisp cool Rieslings we had in the Finger Lakes. The Rose, made from Connecticut grapes was good, but the Chilean Malbec and the Californian Cabernet Sauvignon were that much better, rich, full, smoky glasses that excited the taste buds.
Service was slow. The recurring theme of our visit was apologies for the slow service. I think they may have misjudged in scheduling staff for the Friday before Labor Day, as it was very busy, and the two young men in the Tasting Room had to cover the tasting bars, the tables in the Tasting Room, as well at the tables on the patio outside, where many were enjoying the late summer sunshine.

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Food was available from the kitchen, and we can highly recommend it. The restaurant shares the entrance with the Tasting Room and obviously offers a fuller menu. While we would have loved to sit outside and eat, given the service in the tasting room, we decided to eat at the restaurant. Service was a little better, but still on the slow side. They, too, were fairly busy for a late lunch on a weekday.
The philosophy of Chamard is to use as many fresh local ingredients as possible. The cheeses are local, the meat is local whenever possible, as is the produce. We split a charcuterie platter and a side of their macaroni and cheese, for starters. Lara went with a burger, and I chose the grilled cheese. All were excellent, though I wish there was more cheese in my grilled cheese. If you’re around on a Tuesday night, they have a burger night which takes the humble hamburger to new heights.

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From there, we head back toward home, making a stop at Bishop’s Orchards in Guilford. Like Holmberg’s Bishop’s got its start selling native fruits, expanding to produce. There are no grapes to be seen, because there are no grapes. All of the wine produced by Bishop’s is fruit wine. There are no picnic facilities, as Bishop’s looks and feels more like a grocery store, albeit one with excellent groceries. They offer an extensive selection of cheese, chocolates, produce, herbs and fresh baked goods, with a small tasting bar at the back. We have enjoyed the produce, and cooked up the lamb sliders, paired with homemade macaroni and cheese, using some of the cheeses we picked up a Bishop’s. Yum!

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26 August 2017: Goats and More!

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With summer rapidly drawing to a close, we were determined to cover at least half of the vineyards on the trail before the high season ends.  We chose to hit three along the far northwestern end of the state, making the long trek to Canaan-land and the Land of Nod Vineyard.  As the most northwesterly vineyard in the state, it is remote.  As with a number of other vineyards its story is one of survival in the face of changing agricultural economics.  The Adam family has been farming the property since 1767.  Based on the barn that houses their plant and tasting room, I imagine that they raised dairy cows, fruit and vegetables once upon a time.  We passed several farms and farm stands on the drive up, offering everything from meat and eggs to fresh flowers.

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Making wine was a way for the family to keep the farm, and keep it profitable.  The look and feel is rustic.  You can buy woolen yarn from their sheep in the tasting room, and there were baskets of corn and massive cucumbers scattered throughout.  You were able to taste every wine on their menu.

They offer a mix of grape and fruit wines.  The Fly Fisher White is a light crisp wine, perfect for summer.  The Bianca has a honey taste that would go well with Indian food.  The Artisan Field Blend was smooth and light, with a finish neither of us could place.  Try the Blueberry Raspberry Medley with dark chocolate.  The Chocolate Raspberry Dessert wine is really good, too.

It was such a nice day that we decided to buy a bottle and sit outside to have our lunch, surrounded by flowers.  Halfway through, we had a guest.  Buttons the goat apparently got loose, and moseyed over for a visit.  Lara spend a few minutes petting him, before the owner came out and escorted Button back to his pen.  You never know what you’ll encounter on the Connecticut Wine Trail.

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From the Land of Nod, we drove eastward to New Hartford and Jerram Winery.  Like Land Of Nod, Jerram’s is an old farm converted to a winery.  Owner Jim Jerram was Connecticut Winemaker of the Year in 2015.  You get a taste of most of the wines on their menu.  Like Maugle Sierra, they have made a point of trying to use only Connecticut grapes in their reds.  They are the only Connecticut winery to feature a straight Marechal Foch, a dry earthy wine with a hint of cherry.  The S’il Vous Plait changed to a St. Croix this year, and it’s an acidic berry filled wine with a hint of pepper and smoke.

Jim Jerram explained the philosophy behind their blends.  One, the Nor’easter, aims for a consistent taste, and so the exact components vary from year to year.  It’s sweet and smoky  The other, the Highland Reserve, a field blend, uses the same grapes every year, in the same proportion, such that the taste is different from year to year.

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We also heard about some of the difficulties they were facing.  A bear has taken up residence nearby, and it likes grapes.  It has apparently trampled several vines and torn up some of the framework that supports the vines.  The bear has apparently destroyed $3,000 worth of grapes this year, and their calls to the State for assistance have thus far proved unavailing.

On the white side, we enjoyed the Gentle Shepherd, an Aurora blend, which was refreshing and fruity, but not tart.  On a hot day like this, it would make for a refreshing break.  They have a nice patio where we have enjoyed a leisurely glass in the past, but we were anxious to reach the last planned stop before closing, so off we went down the street to Connecticut Valley Winery.

When we first stopped there several years ago, we were impressed by their Black Tie Cabernet Franc, which has nice peppery notes perfect for a grilled steak.  Since then, their winemaker has adopted a sweeter taste profile, which we are not so keen on.  If you like sweet wines, they would be a good choice.

Their other notable claim is that due to a sulfite allergy in the family, their wines are all sulfite free.  This does mean that once purchased, they should be consumed within the next month or so to guarantee the fresh taste, though a bottle of Orange Seyval we purchased a year ago did not seem to have suffered too badly.

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Besides the main tasting bar, they open up their production space for large groups.  It makes for a scenic tasting.  They have food available, Platters Italiano!  Since we only made the last tasting of the day, we couldn’t tell you what they have.

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There must be a lot of wine-savvy bears in New Hartford.  Connecticut Valley’s port is named for the bear who took a fancy to the grape.  Since we also like the port, we think the bear has good taste.

So we cleared the halfway mark, and are heading into the most beautiful time of year here in Connecticut.  The grapes are turning colors, with the leaves to follow.  Time for a nice glass by a firepit.  See you soon!

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19 August 2017: Improving With Age

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This past Saturday evening, we had to be a Mystic Aquarium for my employer’s first ever summer picnic.  We decided to take advantage of having to be in the southeastern part of the state to hit a few vineyards before we got there.  The result was leisurely afternoon of pleasant surprises.  We had last hit this area about five years ago, and out stops this past weekend showed a work in progress.

Since we were hungry our first stop was the Holmberg Orchards Farm Stand on Route 12 in Gales Ferry.  The Holmberg family has been growing apples in the Thames valley since 1896.  Over the years, they have expanded their operations to cover a wide variety of produce.  The fruit of this, if you’ll pardon the pun, is available at their farm stand year round.  Lara strongly recommends their chicken salad.  The produce looked excellent and you have a full range of cheeses, breads, and chocolates to make a picnic of your trip.

Compared to our previous visit, Holmberg has reduced the number of wines available.  Three are taken from their Pinot Blanc grapes.  It does make for a curious contrast in the forms of winemaking that you can get three different tastes from the same grapes.  The Bubbly Blanc was much better than the sparkling wine we had last New Year’s Eve.  The other three offerings are fruit wines, a Pear, and Apple-Cranberry and an Apple Cider.  They are one of the few cideries in Connecticut that openly markets their product.  Its clean and crisp, and a pleasant change from wine.

Sustenance achieved, we then backtracked to Preston Ridge Vineyards.  We were last there a year or so after they opened.  At the time, my thinking was that they showed much promise, and it would be interesting to see what they would be like in a few years’ time.  The tasting room overlooks the vineyard and valley opposite.  I would imagine it makes for an impressive view in the Fall.  The place was full, with only the unshaded places on the outside deck available.  More people lounged about on the grounds.

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Alas, there were several large parties of women chattering away.  It was difficult to hear our pourer at times.  It was a relief when we finished out tasting and stepped out on the deck to enjoy a glass of the Cabernet Franc.

The tasting offers you a choice of five out of their ten available wines.  They wisely offer you option of keeping your glass, or not.  We departed from our usual practice of splitting the list.  Lara and I differed sharply on the whites.  I liked the tartness of the Fieldstone White, courtesy of its Cayuga grapes.  Lara preferred the oaked Chardonnay.  Likewise, I preferred the Zundell Farm Rose, again for its tartness, while my love preferred the Sunset Farm Dry Rose, which I found to be too dry.  We agreed on the Estate Cabernet Franc and the Melange, two delightfully dry reds with great flavor.  Our pourer was an enthusiastic supporter of both.

We then made the short trip to Dalice Elizabeth Winery.  What I remember from our previous stop was that the pours were very generous, the wine very awful, and the restroom was a port-o-potty.  The winery is in the middle of family property, hard by the large pond.  You have the option of taking your tasting outdoors, which was where most people were.  A guitarist was running through various covers under a canopy to the appreciation of patrons.  We settled ourselves under a tree to enjoy the shade and awaited our tastings.

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The pours were much smaller than we remembered, but the pace was delightfully leisurely.  We were able to sip our wine and compare notes.  The wines were very good.  They import most of their red grapes.  The Sangiovese would make a great pizza wine.  Their Cabernet Sauvignon had a curious floral taste.  The Sizzle Merlot was our favorite, combining wine, chili and chocolate.  It offered the right blend of smoke, spice and chocolate to make for a rewarding glass.  It has a date with a pot of chili.

Going for broke, we made one last stop before proceeding to the aquarium, Maugle Sierra Vineyards in Ledyard.  Set back from the road, they offer a beautiful tasting room that overlooks some hillside vines.  Uniquely, they have chosen to specialize in the St. Croix grape.  All of their reds feature it in one form or another.  The results were generally excellent.  Gone was the flowery smell and the odd taste of funk we recalled from our previous visit seven years ago.  Instead, the reds flowed with flavor, and we bought several.  Their straight St. Croix was perfect with the lamb chops we picked up at Young’s Longrange Farm several weeks ago.

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We also took advantage of some of their food offerings to enjoy with a glass of St. Croix.  They offer a selection of truffles from Hauser Chocolatier in nearby Westerly, RI, and cheeses from Sankow’s Beaver Brook Farm in Lyme.  The Pleasant Cow was excellent and made a perfect complement to the wine.  As we finished the last of our cheese, we remarked that it was the most relaxed day of tasting we’ve had since we started the Trail this year.  We were set to meet Juno, the Happy Beluga.

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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!