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.

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!



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

A Vino Verve Milestone!

Marguerite Barrett
Contributing Writer

One Down, 49 To Go!


We here at Vino Verve are all about exploration – finding and celebrating the wines and wineries all around us.  To that end, I’ve been slowly making my way across the Northeast, and with my recent trip to Diamond Hill Vineyards, Vino Verve can now lay claim to having visited all the wineries in a single state.   I’ve sampled some great wines along the way, met some interesting people, and learned a lot about local wine culture, terroir and winemakers.

There are still many many wineries left to explore and experience, but I thought it worth taking a pause to celebrate a milestone 3 years in the making!

So join us as we raise a glass to the wineries of the “Ocean State”!

Langworthy Farm Winery, Westerly


Newport Vineyards, Middletown


Sakonnet Vineyards, Little Compton


Greenvale Vineyards, Portsmouth


Diamond Hill Vineyards, Cumberland



The Fruit Wines of Diamond Hill Vineyards

Marguerite Barrett
Contributing Writer

As I explore the vineyards and wineries of the Northeast, I’m finding I actually like fruit wines.  For years I, like so many of you, turned up my nose at fruit wines, thinking them too sweet, too thin, too whatever.   However, just as with grape wines, there are some very bad and some very good fruit wines out there.

On the afternoon I stopped by Diamond Hill (almost a month ago now…  apologies for the two week delay in getting this posted), there were three fruit wines available on the tasting menu.

Cranberry Apple First up was Diamond Hill’s most popular wine, the Cranberry Apple.  Made from New England grown fruit, including organically grown cranberries from Attleborough, Rhode Island.  A blend of 25% cranberry and 75% apple, the wine is delightfully sweet-tart.  The color is a delightful rosy-peach.  The nose has soft cranberry notes – not nearly as overpowering as I anticipated.  In the mouth the wine, as mentioned above, is charmingly sweet-tart with a lovely burst of cranberry on the tongue; the apple provides just enough sweetness to temper the tartness of the cranberry and keep the wine from being overpowering.  I really liked this wine and went home with two bottles.  It’s a great sipping wine, will pair well with poultry, and would make a bright, fun sangria as well.

Blueberry From the Cranberry Apple we moved on to the Blueberry.  Made with organically grown blueberries from Jonesport, Maine, the wine has strong notes of blueberry in both the nose and on the mouth, but is surprisingly light and clean.  Given the intensity of the blueberry, I half-expected the wine to be almost syrupy sweet, but it’s not.  There’s a very lightly bitter note at the end which balances the sweetness of the fruit and gives the wine a bit of character.   This is a very nice wine, although not as interesting as the Cranberry Apple to my mind.


Diamond Hill was sold out of their Blackberry and their Raspberry wines, so the last wine on the menu for the day was their Peach wine.  Diamond Hill crushes the whole fruit and the result is the sweetest of all their wines, one that I’d characterize as a dessert wine.  The nose is soft with notes of apricot as well as peach.  In the mouth, the wine is sweet, but not syrupy, with soft peach notes that linger on the palate, and a very light tartness on the palate.   Peach is not one of my favorite fruits or flavors, but this was one of the nicer peach wines I’ve sampled to date.

I left that day with six bottles under my arm, a list of wines to order for Gretchen and Kevin, and a Vino Verve milestone under my belt.  But more on that on Thursday…

Diamond Hill Vineyards ~ The Grape Wines

Marguerite Barrett
Contributing Writer

Diamond Hill produces 10 wines, five grape and five fruit, of which seven were available for tasting on Saturday.   The tasting moves from dry to sweet, which at Diamond Hill means we started with the Pinot Noir.

As I mentioned before I was quite surprised to find that they were able to successfully cultivate Pinot Noir vines, and truthfully I wasn’t expecting much.  Not that I expected it to be bad, but…


Pinot Noir 2005 Vintage It’s nice to be proved wrong once in a while.  This is a delightful wine.  The color is a lovely medium-garnet.  The nose is soft with lightly floral notes of cherry blossom.  In the mouth, the wine is soft and lightly fruity with subtle notes of cherry.  It wasn’t the stronger cherry notes I so often find in the cabernet francs, marechal fochs and st. croix wines across the Northeast – here the notes were more delicate; cherry blossom rather than cherry.  The wine is aged in French oak for one year which provides a delicate spiciness with just a hint of heat on the finish.   A really nice wine, and a really nice surprise to find in vineyards so far away from the tempering influence of the Sound.   Kudos to the Berntsons and Diamond Hill for producing a lovely New England Pinot Noir!

Scarlet Run A 100% Merlot wine made from Northeast  grapes, usually brought in from New York, Scarlet Run is not a typical Merlot.  This is a very fruit forward wine with, surprisingly, very discernible notes of strawberry.  I first picked up the strawberry in the nose – not overpowering, but very noticeable.  In the mouth, that first sip is quite a surprise.  Used to denser Merlots with flavors ranging from earthy to darker fruits, I was almost taken aback by the brightness and fruitiness of this wine.  But don’t confuse that with not liking it – I found the wine quite charming and immediately noted it down as a wine that would be going home with me that afternoon.  It’s just not what one expects from a Merlot.

Aged in stainless steel, the wine has a lovely smooth, rich finish, with very light tannins.  Interestingly I didn’t find myself missing the oaking, which I often do in red wines.  With the Scarlet Run, I found I really appreciated the clean finish.  This will pair will a wide variety of foods, particularly beef or lamb.

Steve also pointed out the label, which features a red greyhound silhouette on a black background, and is quite different from Diamond Hill’s other labels.  4 or 5 years ago, the Berntsons adopted a greyhound and now support the Twin River Greyound Adoption society by donating a portion of the proceeds from the sale of Scarlet Run.   If you do visit the winery, there’s a framed plaque in the room just off the tasting room which features a picture of the Berntson’s dog as well as the story of how they came to adopt her and associate Scarlet Run with greyhound adoption.

Pinot Noir Rosé This is a relatively recent addition to the Diamond Hill line-up.  In 2008, Allan Berntson, Diamond Hill’s winemaker, did a quick crush press of some of estate-grown Pinot Noir grape and produced the first vintage of the Rosé.   The result is a light semi-dry wine with lightly floral notes and a soft, clean finish.  I found the wine to be a bit light for my taste, but it will appeal to many.   The color is very interesting.  When first poured into the glass, it appeared to be a medium-gold color, however, when I held it up over the white counter, I started to see hints of pink, and found the color shifted back and forth between pink and gold depending on how you were holding the glass and how the wine was catching the light.  The nose has lovely floral notes, and in the mouth the wine is very lightly fruity – more fruit blossom than true fruit, I would say.  The wine is unoaked, and has a soft, clean finish with almost no tannins.

River Valley White A blend of Chardonnay and French Colombard, the River Valley White is a semi-dry table wine with lovely notes of buttery apricot.  The color falls in the medium-yellow range, slightly on the lighter side.  The nose is very soft with discreet notes of peach or peach blossom.   Like all of Diamond Hill’s other wines, with the exception of the Pinot Noir, the River Valley White is unoaked, and the result is a clean, crisp wine.  I picked up just a hint of cream along with notes of apricot and a light acid on the finish which balanced the fruit notes and kept the wine from coming across as overly sweet.   This wine will pair well with chicken or pork and would also be very nice on it’s own as an aperitif.

It was just about this point that two other visitors arrived for a tasting of the Pinot and the Merlot.  I used the distraction as an opportunity to take a quick break, looking around the tasting room and gift shop and giving my palate a brief rest before proceeding with the fruit wines.

Look for the Diamond Hill fruit wines on Tuesday, March 15th.


Diamond Hill Vineyards ~ Cumberland, Rhode Island

Marguerite Barrett
Contributing Writer

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.

Steve Rogers, member of Diamond Hill's second generation, in the tasting room and gift shop.

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
email: favorpro@favorlabel.com
website: http://www.favorlabel.com/wedding_favors/Winery.php