Winter 2011 has been a rough one here in the Northeast. Connecticut, where I live, received 2-3 times our normal snowfall; at one point most of it was piled up in my front yard. So when the weather forecast called for temperatures in the 50s on Saturday, I decided it was time to come out of hibernation and hit the wine trail again. I didn’t even care that the forecast also called for cloudy with the possibility of rain – the chance to get out of the house and hit the open road was too good to pass up.
So Saturday afternoon found me heading east to Cumberland, Rhode Island, just outside Providence, and the Diamond Hill Vineyards. Established in 1976 by Peter & Claire Berntson, Diamond Hill is now a second-generation winery run by the Berntson’s daughter, Chantelle, and son-in-law Stephen Rogers, and their son, Allan Berntson, who is also Diamond Hill’s winemaker.
Earlier in their lives the Berntson’s had lived for a few years in France and decided that one day they would own their own vineyards and winery. In 1976 they realized this dream when they planted their first vines, Pinot Noir, in Cumberland, Rhode Island. Yes, you read that correctly – Pinot Noir – a bold move considering the Northeast climate is not generally conducive to vinifera such as Pinot Noir, and the northern-Rhode Island location also precludes any climate-moderating benefits gained from proximity to the Sound.
But the Berntsons perservered. They replanted many of their vines in 1981, and keep them low to the ground to help the vines survive the cold New England winters. The vines have thrived, and today their estate-grown Pinot Noir wines are made from those 30-year old vines.
The Berntsons have also created a charming and welcoming tasting room. Set back from the main road, at the end of a winding dirt road, the tasting room is located in an old farmhouse. The front of the house faces a grassy field beyond which lie the vineyards. The porch runs the length of the house and the Berntsons have set up clusters of bistro tables and chairs. Despite the 50+ degrees on Saturday, the air was still a bit too raw for sitting outside, but I made a mental note to bring Cheryl, Deb and Jean back with me in the Spring – that porch will be a great place to enjoy a picnic lunch, a glass or bottle of wine, and a weekend afternoon.
Inside, the Berntsons have kept the original footprint and much of the charm of the original house. To the left as you enter is a small parlor set out with tables and chairs for guests who wish to linger indoors. To the right is lies the Tasting room. Both of the rooms have a welcoming, cozy feel to them. The ceilings and floors are wood, and the original moldings and fireplace appear to be intact. The decor has an eclectic, lived-in feel which adds to the warmth and coziness.
Tastings are served at the small bar in the back of the main room. This is not a winery that is set up for large crowds; at most you could get 4-5 comfortably at the bar, and that would be a tight fit. Stephen Rogers, my host that afternoon, mentioned that there were a few weekends last year when it was so crowded people were lined up outside the door waiting for tastings. Most weekends, however, the crowds do not get that bad. While no winery – or winemaker – would ever bemoan the extra business, the Berntsons and Rogers, like many local winemakers, get the most enjoyment out of sharing their wines, having the chance to chat with people and the time to enjoy the sense of community they are building. Truthfully, it’s what I enjoy most about my win(e)ding road adventures as well. On Saturday, in addition to meeting Steve, who was tending bar that afternoon, I also had a chance to meet his wife, Chantelle, as well as one of the winery’s original owners, Claire Berntson. It was clear that they all love what they do, and they love the chance to relax and chat with their guests – it made for a great afternoon.
Diamond Hill offers free tastings of all of their wines, and glasses of wine average $5/$6, although the Pinot Noir will be slightly more expensive. They produce 10 wine, five grape and five fruit wines, ranging from dry table wines to sweet dessert wines. 3 of the wines are currently sold out, but I had the opportunity of tasting the other 7, including Diamond Hill’s estate-grown, Pinot Noir. More to come on that on Thursday, but I can tell you it was lovely and definitely worth the $25 price tag / bottle. I brought a bottle home with me this trip, and will definitely be heading back for more later in the Spring.
Diamond Hill is open year-round, Thursday-Sunday noon-5pm. In addition to their wines, Diamond Hill also specializes in custom and personalized wine labels. They will ship wines to many states, and if you aren’t able to stop by, you can order wines directly from their website. While all their wines are good, I highly recommend the estate-grown Pinot Noir.
Diamond Hill Vineyards
3145 Diamond Hill Road
Cumberland, Rhode Island 02864
401-333-2751 or 1-800-752-2505