WBC’11 Speed Blogging – Decibel Wines

Marguerite Barrett

Very first release from winemaker Daniel Brennan who moved from Philadephia to Hops Bay New Zealand (north island) and began producing wines.

Style is described as being more like a white bordeaux.

Nose: subtle, with notes of citrus – grapefruit and lemon.

Palate: crisp and refreshing, with bright notes of citrus, particularly lemon on the mouth.    This hold ups well over time, and Daniel feels confident continuing to pour this in the years to come.

Price Point: $16.00 and currently available in Pennsylvania, New Jersey and New York and hopefully soon South Carolina.

Also produces a single vineyard Malbec and a Pinot Noir coming out later this year.   Believe the Malbec is the first Malbec imported out of New Zealand.

The wine is very nice and I’ll be looking for it next time I’m in New York.

WBC’11 Speed Blogging – Rodney Strong Vineyards

Marguerite Barrett

2008 Reserve Chardonnay

Region: Russian River Valley

Winemaker: Rick Sayer – has been with the winery over 30 years; consulting winemaker is David Rainey.

Nose: vanilla, hint of tropical fruits – maybe papaya.

Palate: Rich and lush, with strong notes of vanilla and apricot/peach with notes of lemon on the finish that provide a nice balance.

Limited production – under 1,000 cases; primarily sold on premises, although there is some distribution.   It can be ordered through the website.   Price point $30-$35 depending on the distribution area.


WBC’11 Speed Blogging ~ Chateau Le Gay

Marguerite Barrett

Festival Rose 2009

Appellation: Bordeaux Rose

Blend: Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc

Nose: Floral, with notes of strawberries

Palate: crisp, light and refreshing – subtle notes of strawberry and a slight bitterness on the finish.   Although it may also be that my palate has been a little too influenced by the previous wines which had much stronger citrus notes.

WBC’11 Speed Blogging – Veritas Vineyard and Winery

Marguerite Barrett

2010 Sauvignon Blanc Reserve. Region: Monticello AVA

Blend: 87% Clone 1 – Sauvignon Blanc, and 13% Musque – Sauvignon Blanc / 100% estate grown.

Nose: subtle and clean with just a hint of honey citrus

Palate: Very clean wine, notes of grapefruit, but for me the predominant note is lime which I find extremely refreshing.    The musque blend provides smoothness on the finish.

Really nice wine.

WBC’11 Speed Blogging ~ Shindig White

Marguerite Barrett

From Sommelier Andrew Stover (founder of Vino50: The Grape American Road Trip).

Blend 90% Vidal Blanc from Doyle Vineyards and 10% Riesling Doyle Vineyards and Anthony Roads Vineyards – both from the Finger Lakes region.

Next year, they are making a “bubbly” version of this wine.

Nose is crisp and citrus – with notes of lemon/lime.

Palate: Crisp and clean with really nice lemon/lime notes from the Vidal Blanc, but a touch of sweetness on the finish which balances the citrus.

Available in Washington DC, Virginia, Maryland and New York (all five boroughs) – and available from the winery or from Brooklyn-Oenology (twitter: @bklynoenology) who also contributed to the making of this wine.


WBC’11 Speed Blogging – Artesa Chardonnay

Marguerite Barrett

Contributing Writer

The last session of the first day is a Live Wine Blogging event featuring whites and roses.     Our first wine…


Artesa Winery – in Napa.   Cooler climate.

Winemaker: Mark Beringer

60% of grapes are estate vineyards; 40% from neighbors.   60% in oak; 40% stainless.

Nose: Light citrus, slight melon

Palate: Soft and velvety in the mouth; grapefruit hits mid-mouth and finishes with a touch of acidity that gives the wine a hint of crispness and clean finish.

Distribution across the US – price in the $15.00 range.

Other wines include Pinot Noir, Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Blanc, Tempranillo and Alvarino – the Pinot Noir and Chardonnay are available widely; the other wines are available direct through the winery, and can be ordered through the website.

WBC ’11

Marguerite Barrett
Contributing Writer

We’ve arrived!   Both Gretchen and I pulled into Charlottesville yesterday evening – Gretchen with a bit more drama behind her than I, but I’ll leave those stories for her.

While the conference officially kicks off in a couple hours, there was a pre-conference International Wine Tasting event last night.  I was too tired to try all the wines being poured, but of the ones I did try, the standout for me was a White Bordeaux, a 60/40 Sauvignon Blanc/Semillon blend that I loved.  Unfortunately I didn’t write down any of the details from the label, so will be spending part of this weekend hunting down that information so I can be sure to pick up some bottles for my cellar.  If anyone knows – please let me know!

Being rather exhausted – and not having seen each other for some time – we didn’t do a lot of mingling last night, leaving that for the next few days.    Everything kicks off this morning with registration and a chance to meet the sponsors at 10:00.    The rest of the day is packed with great events, and I’m particularly looking forward to the Opening Keynote by Jancis Robinson, the Drink Local panel discussion featuring Lenn Thompson of the New York Cork Report (which is also up for a Wine Bloggers Award this year), and the Wine Reception at Monticello.    And tomorrow?   Trips to local Virginia wineries – for once Gretchen and I are visiting the same places, so it’ll be interesting to see how our perceptions differ.  Watch for those posts over the next few weeks.

But to be honest what I’m really most excited about is the chance to meet in person some of my fellow bloggers who I’ve only connected with via Twitter, Facebook, Snooth or other social media venues to date:

  • Douglas Traspasso – Chicago Pinot 2.0 – he and Gretchen have known each other for a few years, but Douglas and I have only emailed.   We did try to meet when he was in Connecticut earlier this year, but unfortunately schedules didn’t permit.
  • Lenn Thompson – New York Cork Report – Lenn and the team at NYCR have one of my “must read” blogs; it’ll be great to finaly meet in person.
  • Gregory del Paiz – Snooth – Greg and I sat across from each other at a wine seminar at the Mohegan Sun Wine Fest a few years ago, although I had no idea at the time.  It wasn’t until a few weeks later when I posted my impressions of the wines tasted that day that he made the connection.  I’ve been a member of Snooth for several years, and have tried to make it down to New York a couple of times for the wine dinners, but it turns out we had to come to Virginia to finally meet.
  • Megan Kenney – Wannabe Wino – I’ve enjoyed her blog for a couple years now…
  • Tom Wark – Fermentation: The Daily Wine Blog – another person I have “virtually met” through Gretchen, and someone she’s been wanting me to meet for a few years.

There are many other people that Gretchen’s met at previous conferences, so I expect to come home with a much longer list of people to keep in touch with throughout the year.

Look for random posts throughout the weekend about the conference itself – and follow us on Twitter (me: @mtbarrett; gretchen: @mamandesfilles) for conference updates.   And beginning next week, I’ll be publishing my posts from the wineries – including two wineries I stopped at yesterday in Pennsylvania.



Holmberg Orchards ~ The Wines & Ciders

Marguerite Barrett
Contributing Writer

Holmberg currently produces 4 wines. all fruit wines, and three hard ciders.  The wines are interesting, and definitely worth tasting, but for me the real stand-outs were the ciders.

Pearfection Pear Wine Made from Bartlett Pears, the result is a soft, lightly sweet wine with mild notes of pear which hit, interestingly, at mid-palate.   I was joined in my tasting by two couples who arrived shortly after I did, and this was one of their overall favorites.   For me, I found the wine to be too soft – I wanted a bit of acid or something on the finish to provide crispness.

Three Sheets Apple Wine Aged in French Oak for three months, this wine has the flavor of crisp tart apples – not green apples, the gorgeous crisp New England apples of Fall.    There was a slight smokiness on the finish from the oaking which was interesting.  The slight tartness of the apples and the smoke from the oaking gave the wine a bit of depth, and I found myself liking this wine more than the Pearfection as a result.

World Peach This is one Holmberg Orchards’ most popular wines.  Peach must be a really popular flavor because usually if a winery produces fruit wines and has a peach wine on their menu, inevitably I hear, “this is our most popular wine.”   After tasting I wasn’t surprised this was one of Holmberg’s best sellers.  The nose is very subtle and light – a hint more of peach blossom than peach.  In the mouth the wine is very smooth and is the sweetest of the three wines tasted so far.    The notes of peach are distinct but soft – the peach doesn’t overwhelm the palate – and there’s a light tartness on the finish.   The wine would pair well with spicy foods as well as be good on its own, served well chilled.

Bluephoria Blueberry Wine Aged for one year in oak barrels, this was a more laid back wine than I expected.  So often blueberry is an overpowering flavor, but this wine captures the essence without smacking you in the face with the aroma or flavor.   A dry wine with a slightly tart finish, the notes of blueberry hit on the front of the palate and slowly dissipate as the wine moves through to the back.   It’s an interesting wine, likely not sweet enough to appeal to many, but interesting.

With that, we rinsed out our glasses and prepared to taste the ciders.   Holmberg Orchards makes all their ciders in the English tradition, light, crisp and very fruit forward.

Russet Hard Cider Russet Apples were first introduced to New England by the 17th century English settlers who brought them with them from the mother country.   Very dry,  the cider has a lovely apple nose, and the taste of a crisp apple on a Fall day.  It’s also a very clean cider with little aftertaste and will pair well with a variety of foods.

Cortland Hard Cider Interestingly, this was by far the preferred cider among the couples who were doing the tasting with me, but it was my least favorite.   More subtle overall than either the Russet of the McIntosh (which we tasted next), I found the result to be a bit bland when compared with the other two.   It was also slightly sweeter, having a more “typical” apple flavor – and that may explain the difference in preferences.  While I love apples – one of my favorite fruits – I tend to prefer the crisper, slightly tart apples, over the juicier, sweeter Red Delicious apples.  Many people would say the opposite.

Macintosh Hard Cider Hands-down my favorite of everything Holmberg Orchards had on the menu that day.    This is very reminiscent of a traditional English cider.   Smooth and rich with strong, but not overpowering, notes of crisp apples, this is a really nice cider – and I went home with three bottles that afternoon!

When you next find yourself on the Eastern Connecticut Wine Trail, don’t skip a visit to Holmberg Orchards, even if you aren’t a fan of fruit wines.  While they may not convert you to true “fan-dom” (“fan-hood?”), the wines are all interesting and the cider, in my humble opinion, are among the best Connecticut has to offer.

And with that, I’m packing up and heading off to WBC11!  Look for random posts from the conference throughout the weekend as well as details about visits to local wineries both in Pennsylvania (where I’m heading first), and then Virginia – host of this year’s conference.

Holmberg Orchards Winery ~ Gales Ferry, Connecticut

Holmberg Orchards Winery Wine Barn

Marguerite Barrett
Contributing Writer

As I’m closing in on my goal of visiting, at least once, every winery in Connecticut, I stopped recently at Holmberg Orchards in Gales Ferry to sample their fruit wines and ciders.

A fourth-generation family-owned working farm, Holmberg Orchards has been around since 1896, first as a vegetable farm, and then in the latter half of the 20th century moving to Orchards and fruit.   The winery opened in 2007 producing fruit wines and ciders.  The winery has done so well that the family planted their first grape vines in 2010 to expand their wine menu and harvested their first crop of Pinot Blanc in 2011.

In addition to the winery, Holmberg Orchards has pick-you-own fruit orchards, a bakery and a small retail shop that sits directly on the main road at the foot of a small hill leading back to the wine barn, a small small wooden cabin-like structure that sits at the front of the orchards.

The interior of the barn is cool and uncluttered – the space is dominated by a U-shaped tasting bar which occupies the middle of the room.    There’s space around the edges of the room for people to move around each other, but not much space for mingling – on busy days, I imagine the overfill simply forms a line out the door.   While there are no tables and chairs set up inside the wine barn, there’s a deck off to one side of the structure and plenty of open space on the lawns for those who want to bring a picnic lunch, grab a bottle of wine or cider, and spend a relaxing afternoon in the shade of the Orchards.

And if you didn’t bring a picnic lunch, a short drive or walk back down the gravel-lined lane brings you back to the farm store which has a great selection of vegetables, sandwiches, and other foodstuffs, much of it made or grown locally either by Holmberg Orchards or local farmers.    While I didn’t stay for the entire afternoon, I did stop at the farm store, picking up some fresh locally-grown sweet corn and a freshly made tomato-spinach-feta quiche which was melt-in-your-mouth good ~ one of the best quiches I’ve ever had in my life.

The winery is open from May 1st through the first weekend in November, Saturdays and Sundays 12-5.    Tastings are $6 and include the entire wine menu: four wines and three ciders served in a souvenir wine glass.   Gales Ferry is only minutes away from the two casinos, Mohegan Sun and Foxwoods, and close to the Mystic/Stonington area and the wineries in the southeast corner of the state.

Holmberg Orchards Winery
12 Orchards Lane
Gales Ferry, CT

The Wines of Paradise Hills Vineyard

Marguerite Barrett
Contributing Writer

When I first arrived at Paradise Hills Saturday afternoon, the place was hopping – the bar was full of people at various stages of their tasting and a few others were milling around admiring the building and the grounds while waiting for a spot at the bar.   Being in no rush, I just hung back watching the action and listening to the stories being told by the members of the Ruggerio family as they poured the tastings.

But this also gave me the chance to spend a few minutes with Paradise Hills’ winemaker, Margaret Ruggerio, something which I don’t often get a chance to do because I so often visit wineries on the weekend, and the traffic levels usually preclude a leisurely conversation.  But whether I called attention to myself by taking pictures or furiously scribbling notes or whether if not pouring, the family just mingles through the room greeting guests, the end result was a very pleasant 10 minutes chatting with Margaret Ruggerio while waiting for space to open up at the bar.

In addition to talking about the history of the vineyards and the winery as well as her own background, Margaret also talked about her approach to winemaking – in particular her focus on making each of the wines distinct.   I’ll admit I was a bit skeptical of this claim; I’ve heard this from other wineries and winemakers, and while wines each have their own character, so often you’ll find a winery producing several wines using the same base grape, and so while there are distinctions, I wouldn’t have said they were distinct.   But with Paradise Hills’ wines, Margaret Ruggerio was not exaggerating.  Each of the wines was quite distinct, beginning with the

Vino Blanco del Paradiso – a crisp, refreshing white table wine that is a blend of Trebbiana grapes imported from Italy and estate-grown Cayuga White.   The nose is very delicate with lightly floral notes of apple blossom and a hint of crisp green apples.   In the mouth the wine is very light on the palate with a subtle grassiness on the front developing into stronger, but not overpowering, notes of grapefruit at the back, and a touch of green apple tart-sweetness on the finish.   The balance is really interesting – the grassy earthiness offset by the fruitiness were a pleasant combination.   This wine definitely benefits from being served chilled, and while I enjoyed the tasting, I think this would be even more interesting when paired with food – say grilled shrimp with just a splash of lemon…

Washington Trail White – named for the “Washington Trail” a historic area of the state through which General Washington and the Continental Army traveled to pick up supplies – and gunpowder – from nearby Durham during the Revolution.  Parts of the trail run directly through the Ruggerio’s property, and they’ve found a number of late Colonial/Revolutionary War-era artifacts which they are will be displaying in the winery.

The wine is a blend of Chardonnay brought in from California and estate-grown Seyval Blanc grapes.   The result is a very smooth, fruit-forward wine with soft notes of pear on the front and brighter notes of citrus on the finish.   The citrus builds as the wine moves to the back of the mouth and then softens on the finish.   Not surprisingly, it was suggested that the wine would pair very well with spicy foods.  Overall a really nice wine, but my favorite among the whites was the estate-grown

Chardonnay – 100% estate grown Chardonnay from the vineyards right outside the winery’s front door, this is a really lovely wine.   Like all of Paradise Hills other wines, the Chardonnay is fermented and aged in stainless steel with any oaking being introduced through chips or staves.    The nose on this wine is gorgeous, rich, soft and fruity with lovely notes of sweet pineapple.   In the mouth the wine is rich and soft with notes of melon on the front and butterscotch on the finish.   One of the things that I found particularly charming was how the butterscotch builds and develops as the warm wines in your mouth – it pulls the wine through palate.    This wine would be great for sipping on its own or paired with a wide variety of food.   As soon as I tasted it, I knew I was going home with a bottle, and I’m looking forward to experiencing it more fully sometime soon.

The last of the four whites, the Cayuga White, is currently sold out, so not available tasting.   So we switched glasses before moving to the Reds.   Yep, you read that right, we switched glasses…  Paradise Hills serves their tastings in “real” wine glasses, not their souvenir glass (which they do have available for purchase for anyone who wants one).  The whites are served in a Bordeaux style glass and the reds in a Pinot Noir style glass – by using these glasses rather than the much smaller-bowled glasses of the typical souvenir wine glass, it’s better for the wine and only enhances the tasting.

The Chardonnay vineyards

Washington Trail Red – a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon from California, Merlot from Washington and estate-grown Chambourcin, this is an interesting example of the influence of terroir.   While there are few places here in New England that successfully grow Merlot or Cabernet Sauvignon, when they are grown locally I’ve found the result to be very fruity.   But the California and Washington grapes bring more earthy elements – still fruity with notes of cherry and blackberry, particularly from the Chambourcin, the wine is not as fruit-forward as the more typical New England red.   The nose is subdued with slightly floral notes of cherry blossom.  Medium-bodied, in the mouth the wine has, as mentioned above, discernible notes of cherry and blackberry tempered by a subtle earthiness and a smooth richness that softens the “bite” of the Chambourcin.   A very interesting wine; one I think a lot of people will like.

The last wine of the tasting is the President’s Choice.  Using a recipe that has been passed down for several generations in the Ruggerio family, this was the star of the show for me as well as the couple next to me.   The Chardonnay is described as the winery’s “signature wine” – but the President’s Choice is the family wine.   A full-bodied red, the wine is smooth, rich and very satisfying.   The nose has lovely notes of dark berries and a light earthiness.  Well-balanced, the wine has notes of blackberry at the front developing to notes of mocha on the finish.   One of the most interesting characteristics of the wine is that I found it to linger in the middle of the palate, rather than the back – as if the wine gravitates to that intersection point where the fruit begins to give way to the chocolate…

Unfortunately this wine is not currently available for sale – the Ruggerios kept their first vintages small, producing only 1200 cases of all their wines combined, waiting to see how the wines would be received before committing to larger production.   President’s Choice, not surprisingly, has been exceptionally well-received and they’ve already sold out – and they’ve only been open two months.  They have enough bottles to continue to include the wine in the tasting menu, and they anticipate having the second vintage available in September, at which time they’ll resume sales.   There were several of us at the bar that afternoon who were making notes in our calendars to come back in September!

Jean & Cheryl take note – we definitely need to include this on our next SOTS outing!


Keeping with their philosophy of promoting local agriculture and husbandry, the Ruggerios help foster the next generation by providing a scholoarship to a graduating senior from the Lyman Hall Agricultural program who is going on to study agriculture or wildlife conservation.   To help fund the scholarship, the family agreed that all tips received from winery guests will be added to the scholarship fund – so if you get a chance to stop by help develop the next generation by leaving a generous tip in the jar!


Congratulations to the Ruggerio family – Paradise Hills is a great addition to the Connecticut Wine scene, and I look forward to many return visits, as well as enjoying the bottles of Washington Trail White, the Washington Trail Red and the Chardonnay I brought home with me that afternoon.