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Connecticut On The Vine

Karen Avitabile, Editor, AAA Journeys Magazine

When you think of wineries, Napa Valley and France probably come to mind. But wine trails are cropping up all around the country, and New England is gaining a reputation of its own for fine wine, with more than 70 vineyards from Connecticut to Maine.

In Connecticut alone, be part of the wine movement by visiting the vineyards and wineries of 15 properties marked by Connecticut Wine Trail blue signs that take visitors through some of the state’s most scenic and historic towns and biggest attractions.

Established in 1988, the Connecticut Wine Trail is a state approved winery and vineyard awareness program. Commercial wineries began in Connecticut after the passing of the Connecticut Winery Act in 1978. Litchfield’s Haight-Brown Vineyard is Connecticut’s first established winery. The vineyard planted the first Chardonnay and Riesling vines in Connecticut, on the slopes of Litchfield Hills three decades ago. Following the first crush (a machine that spits out the stems, crushes the grapes and transports them into another machine known as the press), Haight-Brown Vineyard earned the state’s first gold, best of class and silver medals for the Riesling and Chardonnay wines at the Eastern Wine Competition.

The art of winemaking is a mystery of sorts and can be affected by many things including weather conditions, rainwater, variety of grapes grown and how long they have fermented, soil content, how the wine is stored (stainless steel vats vs. oak barrels) and more. Contrary to popular belief, Connecticut’s moderate climate lends itself very well to the growing of grapes.

Grapes grown by Connecticut vineyards include Chardonnay, Cabernet Franc, Merlot, Vignoles, Riesling,

Seval Blanc, Vidal Blanc, Cayuga, Saint Croix and Foch.

Connecticut wineries boast varied styles of wines for all tastes ranging from dry, barrel fermented Chardonnays to fruitier sweeter whites and reds to late harvest Vidals and Vignoles. Sparkling wines, ciders and wines made from pears, apples, peaches, raspberries and other fruits are produced at some wineries too.

A number of Connecticut wineries have received medals in international wine competitions. Connecticut’s largest and most awarded winery, Sharpe Hill Vineyard in Pomfret, has received more than 185 medals since planting its first vines in 1992 and opening the winery in 1997. Its Ballet of Angels is the best-selling wine made in New England. The international award-winning wines of Priam Vineyards of Colchester are produced in the style of Northern France and Germany.

The Connecticut Wine Trail is divided geographically into two sections. In the western part of the state, seven wineries can be visited in the Connecticut Highlands area spanning from Shelton to New Hartford. They are: Haight-Brown Vineyard, Jones Winery, McLaughlin Vineyards, DiGrazia Vineyards, White Silo Winery, Hopkins Vineyard and Jerram Winery. The eastern trail along the Connecticut shoreline consists of eight wineries: Sharpe Hill Vineyard, Priam Vineyards, Bishop’s Orchards Winery, Chamard Vineyards, Stonington Vineyards, Jonathan Edwards Winery, Gouveia Vineyards and Heritage Trail Vineyards. John Edwards Winery and Stonington Vineyards are only minutes from Mystic Seaport.

Three additional vineyards in Connecticut where wine can be tasted are associate member wineries of the trail: Connecticut Valley Winery of New Hartford, Land of Nod Winery in East Canaan and Miranda Vineyard, Goshen.

With hillsides lined with vines and rows of fruit trees, wineries in Connecticut have become a labor of love for vintners and a growing attraction for travelers. Some wineries are an extension of other agricultural endeavors. Jones Winery in Shelton, for example, is continuing a more than 150-year-old family tradition with the tasting room in the center of its 400-acre farm. In Guilford, Bishop’s Orchards Winery has been growing farm products since 1871.

Several wineries offer lunch or light fare on a patio, deck or by the fire, hay wagon wine tours, hiking, picnicking, guided tours of the production area, lectures, entertainment, gift shops, roaming farm animals and more. So relax, enjoy breathtaking scenery, warm hospitality, the ancient art of winemaking and of course, a glass or bottle of good wine – there’s something to please everyone’s palate. Or, pick up a bottle or two to take home. Farm wineries in Connecticut are permitted to sell wine bottles on Sundays. No matter where you live in Connecticut, there are wineries within a 45-minute drive.

Winery Events

Below are some events featuring local wineries. Call (860) 267-1399 or visit www.ctwine.com for more information and additional events. Several wineries also have their own Web sites that can be linked from the Connecticut Wine Trail Web site.

  • July and August: Tuscan Wine Dinners at Priam Vineyards. Reservations are required.
  • Saturdays, July 6 to Oct. 5: Colchester Farmer’s Market at Priam Vineyards.
  • July 19 to 20, Sept. 20 to 21: Stonington Vineyards Wine & Food Festivals.
  • Aug. 16 to 17: Shoreline Wine Festival at Bishop’s Orchards Winery.

Take the Wine Tour

All of the wineries on the wine trail have tasting rooms for sampling wines produced or imported there. Some wineries may charge for a wine tasting. Others include a signature wine glass to take home as part of the wine tasting fee. At least one tour per day is given at all of the wineries. Call each winery for its schedule. In the fall, when the grapes are harvested, several wineries present an overview of the winemaking process. No reservations are needed.

  1.  Sharpe Hill Vineyard
    108 Wade Road, Pomfret
    (860) 974-3549

  2. Priam Vineyards
    11 Shailor Hill Road, Colchester
    (860) 267-8520
  3. Jonathan Edwards Winery
    74 Chester Maine Road
    North Stonington
    (860) 535-0202
  4. Stonington Vineyards
    523 Taugwonk Road, Stonington
    (860) 535-1222
  5. Chamard Vineyards
    115 Cow Hill Road, Clinton
    (860) 664-0299
  6.  Bishop’s Orchards Winery
    1355 Boston Post Road, Guilford
    1-866-2BISHOP
  7. Gouveia Vineyards
    1339 Whirlwind Hill Road, Wallingford
    (203) 265-5526
  8. Heritage Trail Vineyards
    291 N. Burnham Highway, Lisbon
    (860) 376-0659
  9. Hopkins Vineyard
    25 Hopkins Road, New Preston
    (860) 868-7954
  10. DiGrazia Vineyards
    131 Tower Road, Brookfield
    (203) 775-1616
  11. McLaughlin Vineyards
    Albert’s Hill Road, Sandy Hook
    (203) 426-1533
  12. Haight-Brown Vineyard
    Chestnut Hill, Litchfield
    (860) 567-4045
  13. Jones Winery
    660 Walnut Tree Hill Road, Shelton
    (203) 929-8425
  14. Jerram Winery
    535 Town Hill Road (Route 219), New Hartford
    (860) 379-8749
  15. White Solo Winery
    25 Hopkins Road, New Preston
    (860) 868-7954