“Who knew Connecticut had a Wine Trail?” This note of surprise in a Facebook post by friends during a recent visit to Preston, CT, is the unanimous refrain I hear when I share the good news. Yes, there are wineries in Connecticut. Forty of them to be exact!
You may have thought of Connecticut as just a bedroom community for New York City, or a really cool place to get great pizza. But wait! The tiny little state of Connecticut (3rd smallest) has more than 10% active farmland! Broadleaf tobacco and greenhouse produce industries have new competition from wine grapes. In Connecticut, “farm wineries” are the focus of the wine industry. Licensed farm wineries are required to include at least 25% Connecticut-grown grapes in their finished wine, and a new voluntary program sets the bar higher at 51% locally grown grapes.
Connecticut was among the first seven territories to be granted statehood in 1776. Bringing a taste for wine with them to the New World, early settlers tried making wine from native grapes. Frankly, it wasn’t very good. About 100 years later, a few pioneers tried to revive viticulture as other states further west gained success, but it was another century passed by before a wine industry began to take root in Connecticut.
In 1978, the Connecticut legislature passed the Farm Winery Act permitting winery owners to sell their products wholesale and to the public. That same year, Litchfield’s Haight-Brown Vineyard (est. 1975) became the first commercial winery in Connecticut. It wasn’t long before new wineries developed throughout Connecticut and began to grow grapes on a large scale.
Connecticut Wine Trail
The Connecticut Wine Trail, inaugurated in 1988 by the CT Vineyard and Winery Association, today includes 24 of the 40 licensed farm wineries that produce wine. Each year in mid-July, the Association sponsors a wine festival at the fairgrounds in Goshen, a small farming community in Northeastern CT.
The Connecticut Farm Wine Development Council and the Connecticut Department of Agriculture co-sponsor a program called Passport to CT Farm Wineries. From May through early November, visitors are encouraged to pick up a passport from any winery — it looks just like a real American passport! — and get about visiting all of the wineries to collect a stamp. For the top stamp collectors, prizes are as elaborate as a two-week trip to Spain, and as fun as a wine backpack for picnics.
When you visit…grab your wine passport and go!
During the July 2019 Wine Festival, a pair of beastly-hot days thinned both winery and visitor participation. But this sampling of wineries made it clear that Connecticut’s vineyards are producing interesting wines worthy of a visit on your next trip to the Nutmeg State. Choose your own passport itinerary, but here are a few highlights of noteworthy wines and wineries (not all from winegrapes — hear me out!):
- Starting with the #1 surprise: sparkling “Strawberry Serenade” from Jones Winery!! One sip took me back to my childhood days on a farm in Indiana when I helped pick fresh strawberries from my grandparents’ “truck patch.” I was prepared to dislike this wine; I was not prepared to love it! Made from strawberries grown at Jones Family Farm, it evoked wonderful memories of summer desserts. If you visit Jones Family Farm in June, you too can flashback to childhood memories. (And enjoy 18 other styles of wine!!)
- The Land of Nod winery, set in the foothills of the Berkshire Mountains, also makes an array of sweet fruit wines. But its estate-grown Marquette is a deliciously light, tart, refreshing red wine, perfect for summer sipping. Marquette is a hybrid grape developed by University of Minnesota (2006) to add to the cluster of cold-climate grapes suitable for growing in the United States.
- Priam Vineyards on the Salmon River in Colchester, CT, makes quite a range including two dry wines, one each white and red. The off-dry white is a blend of Chardonnay and Riesling, aptly described as lemony with white flowers and honey. The red wine is a blend of familiar Cabernet Sauvignon and the hybrid grape St. Croix (also U. of Minnesota), which will taste varietally familiar to Cabernet fans. Priam is a sophisticated “completely sustainable vineyard and solar-powered winery, creating estate-grown, vegan certified, international award winning wines” that also offers a venue for weddings and other events.
- Like many wineries in Connecticut and elsewhere in the United States, Hopkins Vineyard offers more sweet wines than dry. After 40 years in the winery business, Hopkins has started to branch out producing sparkling wines. The Hopkins family grows eleven grape varieties on a 225-year-old “bicentennial farm” that planted vineyards in 1979. One of the interesting dry wines is “Duet,” a blend of Chardonnay and Vidal Blanc (a hybrid white grape better known for Icewine in Canada and upstate New York).
For more articles by Vino Ventures on the United States of Wine, click here to read about Kentucky, Colorado, Wyoming, Arizona, and Texas.