Connecticut’s Newest Winery

Marguerite Barrett
Contributing Writer

Saturday found me heading south to Wallingford and Connecticut’s newest winery, Paradise Hills Vineyard.  Owned and operated by the Ruggerio family, the winery opened to the public on May 1st and has been doing a brisk business all season.

The Ruggerios have been in the wine business for more than 15 years, having started growing grapes in nearby Hamden, CT and purchasing the current property in Wallingford and planting the vineyards in 1997.    They grow Chardonnay, Chambourcin, Vidal Blanc, Seyval Blanc and Cayuga and because of the age of the vineyards, the vines are well established and produce high quality grapes.    For years, Paradise Hill sold their grapes to Jerram Winery in New Hartford, CT, and only recently decided to open their own winery.

Like many Connecticut wineries, Paradise Hills is truly a family affair, with multiple generations and branches of the family playing key roles in the winery and vineyards, including construction of the winery building itself.    I had the opportunity to spend a few minutes with Paradise Hill’s winemaker, Margaret Ruggerio, who in addition to giving me a bit of the history of the vineyards also discussed the construction of the winery building, which took three years to complete and was constructed primarily by family, friends, and employees of the winery.

A graduate of local Lyman Hall high school’s Vocational Agricultural program, Margaret Ruggerio, who also has college degrees in botany and wildlife conservation, is the winery’s principal winemaker, currently producing six wines, four white and two red, each of which, she is proud to point out, are distinct.  (More on the wines themselves when we get to the tasting on Thursday).   She and the family are committed to sustainable agricultural practices and even constructed the winery building to be as “green” as possible.

Which brings us to the winery itself – as mentioned above, construction began about three years ago and with the exception of the foundation, most of the construction was completed by family, friends and vineyard employees.   The building is Tuscan-inspired, a nod to the Ruggerio’s Italian heritage, but the clean lines and fresh non-fussily decorated interior provide a touch of New England charm.   The building is entirely geo-thermal, the air conditioning and heat are generated from the groundwater below the building.  The only traditional electricity that is used in the heating and cooling systems is that needed to run the air handlers to provide air circulation.   The family carried through this approach throughout the building, using natural materials as much as possible, and even using hand-harvested cedar trees from the property for the fence posts and rails that line the entrance and walkway.

The Tasting Room is a bright, airy, welcoming space, with light green walls, a lovely slate tile floor, and a charming copper-topped bar.    The Ruggerios put a lot of thought into the space planning and have incorporated not only space for 16-20 people to stand comfortably at the bar, but enough room behind the bar for the family to move easily as they welcome guests and pour tastings.    It’s one of the best planned spaces I’ve seen yet in any winery, with plenty of counter space, a large wine cooler, and depth of room behind the bar so four or five people can move easily around each other.   The result is a much more relaxed experience for the customer (at least in my experience), because they appeared less cramped and harried behind the bar, I felt more relaxed in front of it.  In addition to the bar, there are also about a dozen bar-height tables and chairs in the main room, and a long covered porch overlooking the Chardonnay vineyard with additional seating.   Quite a few people ordered a bottle of wine after their tasting and settled in to enjoy the gorgeous weather – and gorgeous views – from the porch.

While no one gets into (or stays in) this business without loving it, it’s obvious after spending even a few minutes with them that winemaking is a real passion and joy for the Ruggerios.    Each tasting is accompanied by lots details of the wine, local history, and family stories.   I overheard several people comment that it was one of the more detailed and fun tastings they had experienced – and I concur.

Coming Thursday – the wines of Paradise Hills and how the Ruggerios are helping to support the next generation.

Paradise Hills Vineyard
15 Windswept Hill Road
Wallingford, CT 06492

Congratulations to the 2011 Big E Winners!

Marguerite Barrett
Contributing Writer

The “Big E,” held every September, is a joint state fair for the six New England states.   As part of the agricultural competitions, each June the Big E hosts an annual wine competition for wines produced in New England and New York.  This is the premier wine competition here in New England, and our local wineries proudly display the medals won by their wines each year.

While New York, not surprisingly, dominates the winner lists, more than 60 Connecticut wines won medals in 2011, including some of my favorites:

  • Hopkins Vineyard  2007 Vidal Blanc Ice Wine – Gold Medal
  • Bishop’s Orchards New England Style Hard Cider – Silver Medal
  • Sharpe Hill Vineyards 2007 St. Croix – Silver Medal
  • Connecticut Valley Winery Chianti (2010) – Silver Medal (the 2007, 2008 and 2009 vintages won Bronze Medals)
  • Jerram Winery S’il Vous Plait – Bronze Medal
  • Jonathan Edwards Winery 2010 Pinot Gris – Bronze Medal
  • Miranda Vineyards Goshen Farmhouse Red – Bronze Medal

Some of my favorites from my Rhode Island visits also earned medals: Sakonnet Vineyards 2009 Vidal Blanc, a Gold Medal winner and Newport Vineyards 2010 Riesling, a Silver Medal Winner.

A complete list of the 2011 Results can be found on The Big E website, and you can track Vino Verve’s experiences on the Connecticut and Rhode Island wine trails by clicking on the “Win(e)ding Roads” tab above.

If you haven’t yet had a chance to sample some of the great local wines the Northeast has to offer – this list is a great place to start.  Happy Trails!



Locapour Badge of Honor

Marguerite Barrett
Contributing Writer

“Quite the discerning wine palate. Let the tannins settle and savor the flavor profile – vanilla, butterscotch, used-chimney. Enjoy your next pinot, you oenophile you.”

Yep, that’s right – yesterday afternoon I unlocked FourSquare’s newest badge, “Wino.”

For those unfamiliar with FourSquare it’s the latest social media thing – part social network, part game where you earn points by checking into venues that you visit.    Similar to other social networks, you can friend other FourSquare users, see where they check in, share tips, compete for points, and earn badges for visiting specific places or types of venues a certain number of times.   Businesses have also gotten into the game – providing special deals and discounts to users who check into their venues.  To date, I’ve scored several freebies or discounts at area restaurants and businesses – not bad!

Which brings us to yesterday’s accomplishment, the unlocking of the Wino badge, earned by checking into five venues tagged as wineries or wine bars, and which I unlocked with my check-in at Connecticut’s newest winery, Paradise Hills in Wallingford  (more to come on that on Tuesday).

So show your Locapour spirit – hit those wine trails, help spread the word about your local wineries by checking in and leaving tips, and proudly display that Wino badge!


Exploring America One Winery At a Time

Harvest Hosts logo from program website (

Marguerite Barrett
Contributing Writer

So, returning back briefly to my afternoon at Hardwick Winery…

In addition to a B&B, Hardwick is also a participating member in Harvest Hosts, a program I was introduced to for the first time that afternoon.

Harvest Hosts pairs RVers with local farms and wineries.   The farms and wineries allow self-contained RVers (i.e. no plumbing or electrical hookups required) to stay for up to 24 hours on their property free of charge.   The RVers avoid camping fees, and the farms and wineries get increased traffic and exposure.

The network of host sites is extensive with sites in most states in the continental US as well as Eastern and Western Canada and the Baja peninsula.   For a full list of host sites and details interested RVers need to become program members (there’s a $30 annual fee to become a program member), but the maps available on the public website show easily more than 100 hosts.

Personally I think the idea is brilliant.  I only wish I had an RV – and the summer off work – I’d be out there right now exploring America one winery at a time.


All Roads Lead to Virginia

Marguerite Barrett
Contributing Writer

To be honest, Gretchen, I hadn’t even started thinking about my route yet.  But since you’ve asked…

Like you I have a couple of different options, both of which hover around 9 hours of driving time (that’s NOT counting New York/New Jersey/DC traffic) – definitely do-able in a single day, but I will likely split up the drive both days for some stops along the way.

The first and most direct route is I-95 which, after skirting Manhattan, will take me down through Jersey, past Philadephia,  through “Baltimore and DC now” (hmm… are you hearing Martha and the Vandellas, too – “don’t forget the Motor City…”  Oh wait, that’s the previous weekend), and then a quick jog west to Charlottesville.

This route takes me through the southern New Jersey wine country which is home to 17 wineries in the area south and east of Philly, four of which appear close to I-95 according to the Garden State Winegrowers Association map.


The alternate route bypasses Philadelphia and DC, cutting west across New Jersey on I78 to Pennsyvlania and then picking up I81 to head south into Charlottesville.   The attraction to this route (other than missing the Jersey and DC traffic)?  Gettysburg.  Not only have I never visited the battlefield, but what better tie in with the War and Wine series I hope to kick off with this trip?   And there are also two wineries in close proximity to the park.

I still need to build out an actual itinerary, but right now I’m trending towards the I78/I81 route on the way down with a stop in Gettysburg the first day to visit the local wineries as well as the park.  The park itself is open until 10 pm, so if I time it right, I should be able to make it to the area in time for lunch, visit the wineries and then make my way over to the park before the visitor’s center and museum closes and still have some time to drive around the battlefield in the evening.  The next morning would then be a leisurely 3-hour drive to Charlottesville.

Then I’m thinking it’s the I95 route home; hopefully if I leave early enough I’d miss the worst of the DC traffic.   My thoughts right now are to stop outside of Philly, spend the afternoon touring some of southern Jersey’s local wineries, then dinner and a relaxing evening in Philadelphia, before heading home the next morning.

Those are pretty full agendas, so I need to do some work on the itineraries – this is supposed to be a vacation after all, not an endurance test!


The Wines of Hardwick Vineyard & Winery

Marguerite Barrett
Contributing Writer

Hardwick uses no oak, fermenting all their wines, including the reds, in stainless steel.   The result is a menu of lighter-bodied, crisper wines that are clean, refreshing and quite charming.

The menu kicks off with the

Giles E. Warner White Like all the Hardwick wines the Giles E. Warner is made from locally grown grapes, in this wine Seyval Blanc.   The color is a medium-straw that has a bit of sparkle when the light hits it, which happened often that afternoon as the bar is well positioned in front of a wall of large open windows which let in a lot of natural light that afternoon.   It was one of the few tasting rooms where I felt I the light was ample enough to allow me to get a true sense of the color of the wine.   But I digress; back to the wine.   The Giles E. Warner is the driest of all the Hardwick wines.   The nose is very subtle with just a hint of citrus.   In the mouth the wine is crisp with light notes of pink grapefruit.  The finish is very smooth and doesn’t linger on the palate.   This would pair well with seafood and lighter chicken dishes, or work well as a sipping wine on its own.

Yankee Boy White The second wine is a blend of Cayuga and Niagara grapes and the result is a smooth and somewhat sweeter wine than the Giles E. Warner.  The color is pale/medium yellow.  The nose is soft but not sweet with light floral notes and as a result I was not fully prepared for the fruitiness of the wine in the mouth.   The mouth feel is very smooth and silky.  The predominant notes are pear and a hint of sweet apple, although both are subtle and hit in the middle of the tongue, rather than at the front where I expected them.  Because of this the wine comes across as more complex than it might otherwise do so; it develops through the mouth, starting out very quietly in the front and opening up as it progresses.   Described in the tasting notes as being in a “riesling-style” this wine should appeal to many people and would pair well with a wide range of foods.

Yankee Girl Blush The first thing you notice about the Yankee Girl is the color, an absolutely gorgeous golden-orange.  Not honey, not deep gold, a true orange.  I think my first reaction when it was poured was “Wow!”   A blend of Seyval Blanc, Niagara and Pink Catawba grapes, this is a departure from what I normally think of as a “blush” in more ways than the color.   The nose is soft and fruity with notes of nectarine and strawberry.  In the mouth the wine is drier and crisper than I anticipated, given the color, the sweet fruitiness of the nose, and my general expectations of blush wines.  In the mouth the wine is lightly sweet with notes of strawberry and peach, but it also has a bit of a bite, particularly on the finish, with just a hint of citrus to balance out the sweetness in the front of the wine.   A charming wine, and I wasn’t at all surprised to hear this was one of Hardwick’s more popular wines.

Massets Cranberry One could also call the Massets Cranberry a blush wine – the color certainly is more what I anticipate from a blush wine with a lovely pinky-cranberry color.   A blend of 90% Seyval Blanc and 10% locally grown cranberries from a neighboring farm, the wine is crisp and lightly tart.  I personally found myself more charmed by this wine than the Yankee Girl Blush, I think because of the tartness – as much as I have a sweet tooth (and trust me, I do), I will always gravitate toward the savory and definitely prefer tart, more acidic flavors.    The cranberry provides a nice complement to the citrus of the Seyval; the sweet-tartness of the fruit softening the citrus acidity of the grape.  Described during the tasting as a nice Fall wine, there’s no doubt this would be a very nice complement to a Thanksgiving dinner.  However, I found myself thinking it would make a really interesting sangria, chilled on a warm summer afternoon.   Definitely worth a try…

Hardwick Red I was excited to see that Hardwick’s red was a Marechal Foch, a grape which regular readers of Vino Verve know is one I’ve grown to really like since I started on the New England win(e)ding roads.  Lighter-bodied than a number of the Marechal Fochs I’ve sampled across Connecticut, no doubt a result of the stainless steel fermentation, the wine is smoother and feels more “mature” than many of the other wines I’ve tried.  Marechal Foch tends to be very sharp and the resulting wine can come across as very young – in fact the first few times I tasted Marechal Foch that was impression – these were young wines that needed more aging to “soften the bite.”

The Hardwick Red, however, doesn’t have that “in your face punch.”  It still has a very dry finish with the tart bite on the end which is a hallmark of the grape, but the wine is smoother and feels more finished.  Fruit forward – another hallmark of the grape – the predominant notes are dark berry and plum, both of which are somewhat subdued so they tease the palate rather than overwhelming it.   You can probably tell from my description that I really liked this wine, and I think it will appeal to quite a few people.   Even if you’ve tried Marechal Foch wines elsewhere and haven’t been a fan, give Hardwick’s a try.

Quabbin Native The last of the six Hardwick wines, the Quabbin native is described as a dessert wine.  100% Pink Catawba, the color is a lovely pinky/peach rose color.  The nose is lightly sweet with soft raspberry notes.  In the mouth the wine is sweet and juicy, although not as sweet or satiny as the vidal dessert wines.  The sweet fruitiness of the wine is lightly floral in the front; I picked up hints of strawberry and melon but strawberry blossom rather than full-on strawberry.  The wine finishes with a slight bite and a hint of raspberry which balances the initial sweetness of the wine.   I’m told the wine also responds well to mulling, and I’ll definitely have to give a try come the holidays.

I found myself hard-pressed to choose which wines would come home with me – I’ve pretty much run out of room to store wine, so I either need to stop buying wine or throw a party.  I’m thinking the latter…  In the meantime, I limited myself to three bottles, the Giles E. Warner white, the Yankee Boy White and the Hardwick Red.

I also made a note to return in December when the restored, historic mansion is decked out for the holidays.

Hardwick Vineyard & Winery ~ Ware, Massachusetts

Marguerite Barrett
Contributing Writer

The weather for my kickoff weekend exploring the wineries of Massachusetts couldn’t have been any more perfect along with my choice for the inaugural winery.

Hardwick Vineyard and Winery is located in the central portion of the state, an easy day trip from either Hartford or Boston.   The vineyards and winery are owned by the Samek family, who are only the fourth owners of the  Federal-Era mansion built in 1775 by Giles E. Warner, a prosperous Yankee farmer .  The house had never been modernized, i.e. no electricity or modern plumbing, and over the years the house had fallen into disrepair, and by the time the Samek’s bought it in the mid-1990s, the house required extensive restoration.

In 1998, they planted their first grapes and today grow 8 varieties of grapes on 7 acres, including Seyval Blanc, Niagara, Pink Catawba and Marechal Foch, which were the central grapes in the wines I tasted on Saturday.

The Giles E. Warner mansion

Located just outside the town of Ware, the approach to Hardwick takes you along a long, gently curving country road, lined with a charming mix of older farmhouses and newer family homes.   And just when you think you’ve gone too far and have missed the winery, you come out of a long curve to find vineyards on your right and the house and winery in front of you.

For a first-timer like me, you don’t realize your initial view is of the side of the house, not the front.   When the Samek’s chose to restore the main house to it’s original condition without modernizing it, they also built an extension with electricity, modern plumbing and other amenities of 20th-century living.   Built in a style that mirrors that of the original house and featuring a barn-red “front” door that undoubtedly serves  as the home’s main entrance, it includes a full modern kitchen, living space, and additional bedrooms which the Samek’s have now opened up as a B&B.  The extension was carefully planned so that  from the exterior it flows seamlessly from the main house and feels very organic, as if it was always part of the house.  A large 5,000 square foot barn was built on the back of the extension (to the right of the house as you approach from the road) to house the winery and tasting room.   It wasn’t until much later in my visit that I realized the original house fronted the street, and I had, in fact, come up on the side.

The winery and tasting room is charming and inviting with plenty of room to accomodate large groups or events.   The three story building is built into the side of a slight incline, with the winery and barrel rooms on the “ground” floor sheltered from the sun, providing some natural temperature control.

There is ample parking out back, and a short walk up the dirt and gravel drive brings you to the main entrance which leads you into the second floor, a space set up for large parties or events.    The entrance to the newest addition to the winery, a large wooden deck which runs the entire length of the building, is off to your right, just past the stairs leading to the third floor tasting room.   The tasting room is a wonderful space, large windows along the front wall admit abundant sunshine into the open loft-style space.  A large L-shaped tasting bar occupies the space in front of the windows, and there is ample room to serve a good 15-20 people comfortably.   Across the room from the bar is a small media center with a TV/DVD set up so visitors can watch the HGTV Restoration America segment on the home’s restoration.  There’s plenty of space to spread out and mingle, and visitors are encouraged to linger and chat with their hosts or each other.

Hardwick currently produces six wines, two whites, two blushes, and two reds, one dry and one sweeter dessert wine.   All the wines feature locally grown grapes, although they do bring in grapes from the Finger Lakes region to supplement their crop.   Tours of the restored mansion, which used to be available year-round, are now limited to the December holiday period, but a corner of the Tasting Room has been set up so visitors can watch the HGTV’s Restore America’s segment on the restoration.   The video is fairly short – 8-10 minute max – and is fascinating.  Not only is the story compelling, but it’s fun to know you are sitting in a piece of history.  I strongly encourage you to make time to check out the video if and when you stop by the winery.

The winery is open from March – December, Fridays-Mondays.  Tastings are $5 and include all six wines as well as a logo glass.  Throughout the summer, the winery hosts live Jazz on the first Sunday of each month, and particularly with the new deck, the winery is a great place to just hang out, relax and enjoy a gorgeous summer afternoon.

On Father’s Day, June 19th, Hardwick will be hosting a tractor show from 10-5, with live music at 11:00 and 2:00.

Hardwick Vineyard & Winery
3305 Greenwich Road
Ware, Massachusetts 01082

Coming Thursday: The Wines of Hardwick Vineyard & Winery

This Summer Is All About Massachusetts

Marguerite Barrett
Contributing Writer

Well, it’s finally summer here in the Northeast, and long past time I returned to the win(e)ding roads.  I learned my lesson in years past and avoided the local wine trails over the Memorial Day weekend; I don’t “do” crowds well in the best of circumstances, and a gorgeous, hot, holiday weekend does not make for the best of circumstances.

So my summer wine trail adventures officially kick off this coming weekend, as I head north to the wineries of the Bay State.   Massachusetts is home to between 20 and 30 wineries; it’s tough to pinpoint an exact count as different sources cite different numbers.   According to the Massachusetts Department of Agriculture website, the state has 29 wineries – although the most recent numbers are from 2007.

A more accurate source may be the Massachusetts Wine & Cheese Trails brochure which lists 22 wineries and vineyards organized around five “trails” across the state: Western Massachusetts with 4 wineries, Central Massachusetts with 3, Greater Boston with 1, North of Boston and Greater Merrimack Valley with 4, Cape Cod and Nantucket 3, and South of Boston which has the highest number of wineries with a grand total of 7.

In addition to the Massachusetts Wine & Cheese Trails, the Coastal Wine Trail of Southeastern New England also runs along the southern shoreline and up into Cape Cod and includes five Massachusetts wineries, Coastal Vineyards, Running Brook, Trevessia, Truro and Westport Rivers.   The state is home to two AVAs, the Southeastern New England AVA (est. 1984) which extends from south of Boston through Rhode Island and into the southeastern corner of Connecticut, and the Martha’s Vineyard AVA (est. 1985).   Wineries outside of either of those AVAs are classified under the state appellation.

So, this summer is all about Massachusetts, beginning Saturday afternoon which will find me in Ware, MA sampling the wines of Hardwick Vineyard & Winery.  See you there!



Make Locapour Part of Your Pick Five

Marguerite Barrett
Contributing Writer

In honor of the 41st Earth Day, the EPA has launched a new campaign, “Pick Five,” a “Do One Thing” on steroids if you will.   The campaign acknowledges that “environmental action can mean doing different things in different places,” but posits that if everyone commits to five things that they can do in their own locales, together we can make a huge impact on the environment.

We here at Vino Verve certainly agree, and we encourage everyone to consider making a Locapour commitment one of your “Pick Five.”

Local wineries and breweries exist in every state, and the trend is growing with new vineyards, wineries and breweries being established every day.  Many states’ tourism websites include lists of local wineries, and many now have established wine trails and local wine organizations that provide trail maps and links to the wineries’ websites.  And don’t assume there’s nothing close to you – when Gretchen and I first started down this “win(e)ding road,” we both naively assumed there would be at best a handful of wineries in our areas – and yet, we’ve found a treasure trove of great wine and charming wineries across New England and along the shores of Lake Michigan.

Locapour is a commitment, though.  For the casual, “I just pop into my local liquor or grocery store when I need something,” buyer, it can be difficult to become a Locapour.  Most local wineries don’t produce the volume necessary for distribution across major markets, and many liquor stores, particularly smaller ones, may not even have a local wine section.  But it never hurts to ask, and the more people ask for something the more likely the proprietor will be to try and provide it in the future.

Locapour also means stretching beyond your comfort zone.  You are not going to find big, bold California-style wines produced in most of the rest of the country.   Here in New England, for example, you’ll be hard pressed to find a local vineyard or winery that produces Cabernet Sauvignon – it’s just not a grape that knows how to appreciate long, cold winters.  But you’ll find quite a few local wineries producing Cabernet Franc – a charming cousin that produces rich, fruity reds that are eminently drinkable and not as heavy as the Sauvignon.  And for all of you out there who avoid reds altogether because you find them too heavy, too dry, too whatever, your local wines may change your mind, as many are fruitier and lighter than the “big” wines you find coming from the major wine regions.

As John Lennon once sang, “Turn off your mind, relax, and float downstream…”  Let go of preconceived ideas of what wine should taste like.  Forget that you “don’t like fruit wines” or that “red wine gives me a headache.”  Don’t assume local = amateur. And most importantly let go of the idea that to be great, or even good, a wine must be made from one of the commercially common grapes: cabernet sauvignon, merlot, syrah, zinfandel, chardonnay, pinot.

So, in honor of Earth Day, join us in making the Locapour commitment.  And to help you get started, below are weblinks to state wine associations or information on local wineries in your state.   Salut!

Alabama Alaska Arizona
Arkansas California Colorado
Connecticut Delaware Florida
Georgia Hawaii Idaho
Illinois Indiana Iowa
Kansas Kentucky Louisiana
Maine Maryland Massachusetts
Michigan Minnesota Mississippi
Missouri Montana Nebraska
Nevada New Hampshire New Jersey
New Mexico New York North Carolina
North Dakota Ohio Oklahoma
Oregon Pennsylvania Rhode Island
South Carolina South Dakota Tennessee
Texas Utah Vermont
Virginia Washington West Virginia
Wisconsin Wyoming

War and Wine

Marguerite Barrett
Contributing Writer

Today is the 150th anniversary of the beginning of the American Civil War.  In South Carolina, the commemorations, like the war, kick off in the pre-dawn hours as Civil War re-enactors fire upon Fort Sumter.   Here in Connecticut (birthplace of both Harriet Beecher Stowe and John Brown), commemorations begin at 8:00 am with a ceremonial firing of cannons on the lawns of the state capitol.

Reading about the plans for four years worth of commemorations led me to wonder about the history of local wines in the 19th century.  An obvious question is whether or not (or to what extent) the war influenced wine production or consumption.

A quick internet search turned up not much – not surprising, I suppose.  Prohibition was such a game-changer for American wine production; it took decades to re-establish local wine cultures in many states.  As a result, when you go looking for information on the history of American wine, most of the stories begin in the late 60s or early 70s.

But there’s information out there in a handful of books and articles, and I found the charming “Civil War Wine Reviews” in Benito’s Wine Reviews.   There’s undoubtedly more to be found in local histories and historical societies, so as I gear up for the trip to Virginia this summer for the Wine Blogger’s Conference, what a better time to stretch my long-unused research muscles and start a new occasional series, “Wine and War.”