The growth of Connecticut’s brewing scene, and the U.S. brewing scene in general, has been exponential. By last count there were more than 55 breweries in the state (a few more probably opened as I was writing this sentence). However, this isn’t the only Connecticut craft beverage to see success in recent years. The state’s much older wine industry is also seeing steady growth.
“There are over 40 wineries now in Connecticut with more starting up,” says Hilary Hopkins Criollo, president of Hopkins Vineyard in New Preston. Criollo’s family business is one of the oldest wineries in the state, having filed for a Connecticut Farm Winery permit in 1979, a year after Connecticut passed the Farm Winery Act.
Thanks to the ongoing locavore movement, many of these wineries are drawing large crowds, but the industry hasn’t expanded at the rate Connecticut breweries have, in large part because wineries, unlike breweries, are almost always tied to farming in Connecticut and elsewhere. Though there are a few farm breweries in the state, the majority of breweries import most of their ingredients from out of state, whereas to be a true Connecticut winery a large portion of the grapes used in each bottle must be grown within our borders.
This makes startup costs for the average winery far more expensive than for the average brewery, but also means that Connecticut wine is an agricultural product and helps preserve open space. A side benefit is that most wineries are idyllic spots to visit. Hopkins Vineyard sits amid Litchfield County’s rolling hills. It offers a panoramic view overlooking Lake Waramaug. Gouveia Vineyards in Wallingford offers spectacular sunsets. And there are dozens of other examples across the state of wineries with scenic and, in many cases, breathtaking farm views.
Despite a thriving wine industry, Criollo and other state wine enthusiasts say the state’s laws need to grow along with customers’ appreciation of wine.
“Why can breweries sell wine but wineries can’t sell beer?” Criollo wonders. Offering beer in wineries would allow couples to come and enjoy themselves even if one of them prefers beer. There are other laws that make it difficult to sell wine in the state, Criollo says. “Why can consumers purchase beer in Connecticut grocery stores but not wine? You can purchase wine in grocery stores in 40 states, but not Connecticut. The Wine Institute recently published a study that shows 70 percent of all millennials purchase their wine in grocery stores, and with wine not even being a choice in Connecticut, consumers are being conditioned toward beer and malt beverages and away from wine.”
But there are also many examples of where the wine and beer worlds are intersecting in fortuitous ways. For instance, Hopkins Vineyard is not far from Kent Falls Brewing, and if you have a designated driver they are fun to visit back-to-back.
Another example of the synchronicity sometimes found between the two industries is a recent “wine-grape beer” released by Two Roads Brewing Co. in Stratford. Called Sauvignon Blanc, the mildly sour beer is brewed with sauvignon blanc grapes and is a gose-style beer (pronounced “go-zuh”) that is refreshingly tart with tropical fruit and gooseberry flavors. Though certainly a beer, it is wine-like and something both beer lovers and wine lovers can toast.
The same can be said of the ongoing success of both the beer and wine industries. Whatever your beverage of choice, local businesses that create jobs, generate tourism and provide Connecticut flavor for people to enjoy are establishments worth drinking to.