Connecticut Wineries Widen Their Appeal
A dinner at Rosedale Farms & Vineyards.
Locally grown and produced wines can now be found at wineries in every corner of Connecticut.
But it might surprise some winery goers to know that it was only in 1978, with the passage of the Connecticut Farm Winery Act, that state wineries were afforded the right to conduct tastings and sell their wine to the public. That created a new opportunity here for farm owners and enterprising entrepreneurs looking for viable business options. The first winery opened to the public in ’78; today, there are 32 wineries statewide.
As their numbers have expanded, and competition among wineries has increased, vintners are on the lookout for new ways to entice customers — offering picnic areas and hiking trails, restaurants and farm dinners, concerts and yoga classes. In recent years many have become popular sites for outdoor weddings. In short, Connecticut wineries are fast evolving into go-to destinations for out-of-state tourists and Connecticut day-trippers alike.
A Natural Pairing
Food and wine is a natural pairing and more than a few Connecticut wineries are ready to serve. From pig roasts to formal dining, there’s a winery to suit most appetites. The Fireside Tavern at Sharpe Hill Vineyard in Pomfret offers filet mignon, Creole shrimp and wild salmon to pair with their Angelica Rosé and other award-winning wines; Chamard Vineyards in Clinton recently added a bistro where you can enjoy fine cuisine overlooking terraced vines. Dine al fresco at Rosedale Farms & Vineyards (pictured) in Simsbury this summer during the 5th Annual Max Chef to Farm Dinner Series, a collaboration between local farms and the popular Max Restaurant Group. These highly anticipated events include a wine tasting reception, tour of the farm and multicourse meal prepared from local ingredients in an outdoor kitchen; the dinner is served at on candlelit white linen clad tables and accompanied by live music. (Upcoming menus include local seafood and vegan dinners.)
If you’re looking for a more casual experience, many wineries invite you to spread a blanket and picnic on the grounds with a bottle of their wine. Be sure to check in advance to see which ones allow you to bring your own food (generally those without restaurants). Diners looking to sate a bigger appetite might stumble upon a pig roast such as the one recently put on by Haight-Brown Vineyards in Litchfield. For the culinary do-it-yourselfers, a few of the wineries have farm markets on the premises, such as the year-round one at Holmberg Orchards & Winery in Gales Ferry. Fussy about your fruit? Pick your own raspberries and blackberries from August through October at White Silo Farm & Winery in the foothills of Sherman or ride the Berry Ferry out to the picking fields at Jones Winery in Shelton in August to harvest your own blueberries. You might even take a cooking class at the winery’s Harvest Kitchen. In addition to classes on fruit and vegetable preserving, the current schedule (which runs through December) includes a Kids Summer Series. In winter (February or March), you can do some hands-on maple sugaring at McLaughlin Vineyards in Sandy Hook and take home a supply of maple syrup.
Art Among the Grapevines
Patrons of the arts can enjoy a cool glass of Cayuga while soaking in some local culture. More than a dozen Connecticut wineries now showcase live music with a variety of artists sure to please every taste. Celebrate under the stars with the Summer Nights Music Series on Thursday evenings at Jonathan Edwards Winery in North Stonington where on a given evening you’ll hear country music, jazz, folk or rock. At Sunset Meadow Vineyards in Goshen, you can soak up some sun along with the subtle stylings of acoustic artists on Sunday afternoons with Music on the Patio. At Priam Vineyards in Colchester, “UnWINED” to similar musical offerings on Friday evenings while enjoying fresh shucked oysters from Mystic Oyster Co. If music is playing, Dave the Oyster Man is shucking at Saltwater Farm Vineyard in Stonington. Stop by the tasting room for their Thursday Night Music Series featuring singer/guitarists. (A list of upcoming winery concerts can be found at ctwine.com or on winery websites.) Those with an eye for art can attend an opening reception in the gallery at Jerram Winery, located in an historic section of New Hartford, or stop by the gallery at White Silo Farm & Winery for monthly local-artist exhibitions. In August two monotype/collage artists and a sculptor will be featured. (Be sure to try a glass of their outstanding rhubarb wine while you’re there.) Theatergoers can take in a live performance by Shakesperience, a professional theater company in Waterbury that gives outdoor performances at several wineries in the area. Make plans to catch The Sword in the Stone on Aug. 3 at White Silo Farm & Winery and Much Ado About Nothing Aug. 24 at McLaughlin Vineyards.
Connecticut Wineries Are for the Birds
Very little can rival the natural beauty of rows and rows of grapevines flush with ripe fruit, especially at the beginning of the harvest season in August. But communing with nature at a Connecticut winery doesn’t have to end there. Several of our wineries give more than a passing nod to the wildlife that abounds on their grounds. McLaughlin Vineyards is home to a 50-acre wildlife and bald eagle sanctuary. Just a short hike through the woods from Shepaug Dam in Southbury, a popular spot for eagle sightings from December through March, McLaughlin provides visitors with an eagle viewing experience that includes a wine tasting and lunch. Converted from a World War II-era airplane hangar into a spectacular looking winery, Saltwater Farm Vineyard is set on a 108-acre nature preserve that is host to a variety of shore birds. Seek out the observation deck in the woods for some secluded birdwatching, or relax on a bench, perfectly perched to view the feathered sights while sipping a glass of Saltwater’s award-winning Estate Chardonnay. Priam Vineyards is located on a 40-acre farm that has been certified by the National Wildlife Federation as a natural bird and wildlife habitat. Taylor Brooke Winery in Woodstock welcomes bluebirds all summer. And bring along the family pooch— dogs are welcome on the grounds. Just not in the tasting room, please!
The Mind, Body, Spirit Connection
Although working your way through the Connecticut Wine Trail tasting rooms can be a sport unto itself, there are less sedentary activities to consider before sitting and sipping. Several of our wineries feed the mind and spirit as well as the body with yoga classes. Embrace your inner ohm with Vinyasa at the Vineyard offered at Hopkins Vineyard in New Preston. Join one of their upcoming classes on Aug. 9th and 30th, or book a private yoga class for a special girls night out and then hit the new tasting bar to celebrate a job well done with a glass of crisp and semisweet Westwind. You can release stress at Stonington Vineyards with “Yoga with the Winemaker,” for which winemaker Mike McAndrew doubles as a certified yoga instructor, or lay down your mat at Saltwater Farm Vineyard at a Wednesday “Yoga in the Vines” class. If you’re more the rugged outdoors type, you can hit the marked hiking trails at McLaughlin Vineyards or, later in the year when there’s snow on the ground, strap on some cross-country skis and take in the scenery across miles of both open and wooded property. There’s no access charge and the tasting room is open year round, so you don’t have to bring your own bottle, but you do need to bring your own skis. If you prefer to watch while other people knock themselves out, The Newtown Sandy Hook Vintage Base Ball Club plays some of their home games at the vineyard. Catch the action against the Elkton Eclipse on Aug. 11.
Happily Ever After…
If you’ve recently met the fellow wine lover of your dreams, consider saying your “I do”s amidst the grapevines with a winery wedding worthy of a fairy tale. Lots of state wineries are doing this now, and each offers its own special features. Pledge your undying love with views of wildlife-inhabited tidal marshes and Long Island Sound at Saltwater Farm Vineyard, near a picturesque pond with running fountain at Chamard Vineyards, or amongst the rolling lawns and English-style gardens at Jonathan Edwards Winery. Recite your vows on a lovely veranda beneath a gazebo overlooking the grapevines at Stonington Vineyards. Take your amble to the altar down Sugar Maple Lane at Priam Vineyards (especially stunning in autumn, of course), or enjoy a bird’s-eye views from the Bluebird Pasture at the top of the vineyard. The rustic stone walls and enchanting views of Lake Waramaug in the distance make Hopkins Vineyard an idyllic location for a wedding. After the nuptials, the two of you can continue your Connecticut wine journey together.