Connecticut Wine Trail Unveils State’s Best Kept Secret
Nestled in between two of America’s most influential and frequently visited cities, Boston and New York City, rests Connecticut, the country’s third smallest state. But other than Yale University, and being the home of the “Jerry Springer Show,” two polar opposite claims to fame, Connecticut is primarily known for being a three hour, traffic-nightmare, linking two of America’s most beloved cities. Recently, however, Connecticut has been making tremendous strides to stand out in one category in particular; the world of wine. Just about every “Best Things to do in Connecticut” list published today, has the “Connecticut Wine Trail” as a must-see, Connecticut highlight.
The idea for the Connecticut Wine Trail came from Sherman P. Haight, of Haight Vineyard, in Litchfield, Connecticut, in 1988. It wasn’t until 1992, however, that the state dedicated the trail, and five wineries became official members. As the years went on, more wineries and vineyards have joined the “trail of happiness”, and now the Connecticut Wine Trail is home to 25 unique wineries/vineyards.
So, why is the Connecticut Wine Trail so valuable to the state?
According to the University of Minnesota’s Status and Economic Contribution Report on Vineyards and Wineries in the New England States, in 2011 the economic contribution of the grape growing and winery industries in New England was 70.1 million dollars, including 3,260 jobs. According to the same report, 76% of responding vineyards and wineries were founded between the years of 2002-2012, indicating a substantial rise in the industry. Additionally, a whopping 91% of the wineries indicated that they plan on expanding within the next five years. In fact, Connecticut is becoming one of the fastest growing wine regions in the United States, and even in its earliest years was being compared to well established vineyards in California.
The 25 participating vineyards have also joined with a few other farm wineries in the region to form the “Connecticut Farm Wineries Passport Program.” Visitors to the wineries can obtain their passport at the beginning of May from any of the participating locations. As they visit each of the wineries, they get their passport stamped. At the end of the season, prizes will be awarded to those who have filled up at least 16 of the 33 possible stamps. Prizes include two two-week trips to Spain, a Cape Cod getaway, and gift certificates to all of the participating wineries. Last year, Jennifer Crews, and her fiance, Eddie, were one of the lucky winners, whose prize was an overnight stay at a local hotel. “We enjoyed the overnight experience, and I would be thrilled to win again this year” says Crews. “But Eddie has his sights set on that trip to Spain, so we are working hard to fill up the passport again.”
But, with New England weather being so temperamental, and wineries in the region having limited hours and dates of operation, not many wine lovers will be able to visit all 25 wineries in a season.
After four months of visiting beautiful wineries, and tasting all the delicious wines they have to offer, the following is an extensive list of the key players on the Connecticut Wine Trail with reasons why any wine lover needs to make them a high priority when visiting the wine trail. It was a terrible job, but somebody had to do it.
Upon arrival at each of the vineyards, visitors were approached and asked to share their opinions of the vineyard’s wines, atmosphere, and overall experience. Much like the Connecticut Passport format, they were asked to rank the vineyard on a 1-10 scale in each of the categories. If the visitor did not have a passport, they were given a small piece of paper that asked for the same information.
13 day and weekend trips, hundreds of glasses of wine, and countless new wino friends later, the people of the CT Wine Trail have spoken.
The five vineyards with the “Best Wine” on the Connecticut Wine Trail are as follows:
5. Jonathan Edwards Winery, North Stonington, CT
The wines at Jonathan Edwards Winery, in North Stonington, CT, are unique in the fact that the winery has a “Bi-Coastal” relationship with Napa Valley. Each year grapes are brought from Napa Valley, and made into delicious Jonathan Edwards Wine.
“Here at Jonathan Edwards, we have the opportunity to make wine from both the West and East coast, which helps to distinguish our wines from many of the other wines on the trail” says Daniele Brandt, tasting room operator at the winery.
“All of our wines are popular, says Brandt, but in the summer months, our Sauvignon Blanc is probably our biggest seller. It is light, crisp, refreshing, and cools you off on hot New England summer days.
4. Sharpe Hill Vineyard, Pomfret, CT
Receiving over 350 awards for their delicious wines, Sharpe Hill Vineyard has over 14 unique wines to choose from. Their ‘Ballet of Angels’, which is a fruity, semi-dry, refreshing white wine, was the biggest hit among poll takers. In addition to their extensive wine list, Sharpe Hill is also a fine dining establishment, and was included in Connecticut Magazine’s “50 Dishes to Try Before You Die” countdown.
3. Sunset Meadows Vineyards, Goshen, CT
Sunset Meadows Vineyards strives to make their wines enjoyable and memorable for both the wine connoisseur, as well as those with a more casual appreciation for wine. With many awards under their belt, and plenty of wines to choose from, Sunset Meadows Vineyards scored an impressive 9.6 on the combined surveys. Also a sign that their wines were fantastic, was the amount of empty bottles the group of ladies sitting next to me had on, and under, their table.
According to the poll takers, the Cayuga White, a crisp, clear, fruity wine, was by far the favorite wine from the vineyard.
2. Preston Ridge Vineyard, Preston, CT
Not only does Preston Ridge offer a unique array of delicious, well-balanced wines, but their tasting room was full of visitors asking for more. The Fieldstone White was mentioned by just about every visitor as being their favorite wine, and nearly every group had a bottle (or two) on their table. Whether you want a crisp white, a refreshing rosé, or a full bodied red, you will be able to find what you are looking for, and much more, at Preston Ridge.
1. Chamard Vineyards, Clinton, CT
Voters chose Chamard Vineyards as having the best wine on the Connecticut Wine Trail. Established in 1983, Chamard has the art of winemaking down to a science, and continues to make strides in the world of wine. Now open year round, Chamard Vineyards is the number one stop if you want to taste the best wines that Connecticut has to offer. Their five estate wines, particularly their Cabernet Sauvignon, are a perfect example of the potential that Connecticut has to become one of the leaders of wine making in the United States. If you are going to join any Connecticut wine club, make it Chamard.
The five vineyards that earned the voters choice as having the “Best Atmosphere” on the Connecticut Wine Trail are as follows.
5. Jones Winery, Shelton, CT
As their website claims, Jones Winery is a “true treasure for all Connecticut residents and visitors to cherish and enjoy” and voters agreed. Of the 12 people that took part in the poll, eight of them gave Jones Winery a “10” when it came to their scenic environment.
4. Miranda Vineyard , Goshen, CT
Their motto is “arrive as a visitor, return as a guest.” Voters in the poll agreed that they felt like a welcome guest, as Miranda Vineyards received the fourth best rating out of all 25 vineyards on the trail. While their tasting room may leave a little something to be desired, their outdoor deck overlooking the vineyards makes for a relaxing environment, and nearly every visitor spoke highly of their warm hospitality and pleasant staff.
3. Gouveia Vineyards, Wallingford, CT
“The view from outside the tasting room at Gouveia Vineyards” is breathtaking”, says John Andrews, Gouveia Vineyards visitor, and wine aficionado. “I have been to every vineyard on the trail, and hundreds of other vineyards around the country, and world, and you would be hard pressed to find many other vineyards with such a beautiful view as Gouveia” says Andrews.
2. Haight-Brown Vineyards, Litchfield, CT
The goal of Haight-Brown Vineyards is to “erase the intimidation factor of wine, and make it a drink that everyone can enjoy.” To help them in this feat, they have wine classes, rather than just tastings. Also, their staff is extremely helpful, educated, and friendly, and the seating at their tasting bar makes Haight-Brown almost feel like “a gathering with friends rather than strangers” according to one poll taker. Haight-Brown is basically the Cheers of the Connecticut Wine Trail; by the end of the tasting everybody will not only know your name, but also your favorite wine.
1. Saltwater Farm Vineyards, Stonington, CT
One of the newest vineyards on the trail, is also the most stunning of all the vineyards in Connecticut according to the poll. Beth Abbiati, tasting room manager at the vineyard, says
“We often have people come from hours away just to visit our winery, because they have heard such amazing things about our scenery. We also have been voted one of the “50 Most Romantic Wedding Venues” in the entire U.S. according to Brides Magazine.
The venue, which served as an old World War II era private airport, still looks like an old airport hangar from the outside. And beyond the hangar, the acres of perfectly attended land makes for an unforgettable visit to the most scenic vineyard in the state.
It should be noted, that of the 25 vineyards, only 2 received an overall score of less than 6.5, and seventeen vineyards/wineries had an overall score of 7.5 or better.
No matter whether you are a sommelier, or someone that is new to wine drinking and visiting vineyards, the Connecticut Wine Trail offers a unique blend of fine wines that should be savored, and drinkable wines that will have you out of your seat and getting in line for another glass (or bottle.)