The winery is a restored WWII-vintage airplane hangar
I left Langworthy Farm Winery around 12:30 and decided to stop for lunch in Westerly before heading back across the border to Stonington and Saltwater Farm Vineyard. In hindsight that probably wasn’t the best decision. I made the mistake of sitting in the sun on the deck at Langworthy, and while not a really hot day, the sun was stronger than I had counted on. Combine that with a not-so-great sandwich for lunch and the end result is I was feeling a bit off by the time I headed into Stonington.
Stonington is as far southeast as you can get in Connecticut, sitting pretty much right on the border of Rhode Island. There are 6 Connecticut wineries all within 20 minutes of Stonington, and as I mentioned last week, Westerley and Langworthy Farms is just 10-15 minutes down the road. Last summer I made it to what I thought were all the wineries in the area, including the newest winery, Dalice Elizabeth, but somehow had missed Saltwater Farms. For those looking for a great day-long itinerary, you can’t beat this area. You can easily stop at between 3 and 5 wineries in a single afternoon depending on how early you start and how long you stay at each winery, and finish the day with dinner in either Mystic or Stonington.
But this is about my itinerary that day, which originally was designed to start at Langworthy Farm and then pick up Saltwater Farm Vineyard and then Holmberg Orchards on my way back to central Connecticut. Unfortunately, by the time I left Saltwater, I was really feeling off, and so left Holmberg Orchards for another day.
The best advice I can given anyone heading out to Saltwater Farms is believe your directions (or your GPS). When the directions say “take a sharp right onto Elm Street, and you will arrive at your destination,” they aren’t kidding. The entrance is immediately, and I mean immediately, on your left after you make that turn. It doesn’t help that the winery’s sign is set back from the road among trees and brush and faces away from the direction most people will be coming. Needless to say I drove right past it, and even when I turned around and drove slowly back, almost missed it again.
Once you find the entrance, you’ll proceed down a narrow, gravel lane about 1/3 of a mile. As you travel down the road, the area opens up into a large open area of farmland replete with grapevines and a long rectangular aluminum structure dominating the vista. Park in front, and if there are no open spots, don’t make the mistake I did and drive around back. Despite the signage and landscaping which makes it seem like there might be parking available in the back, the back is reserved for winery and catering equipment. As soon as I pulled into the back area, someone came out and told me to move my car and go back and park up front. I’m still not sure where they put their overflow parking, but I did luck out and didn’t have to wait too long for someone to leave so I could take their spot. That being said, there is quite a bit of parking, and if you are visiting early in the day or on a weekday, you shouldn’t have any problems parking. I, however, arrived about 2:00 on a Saturday afternoon. I was also starting to feel the effects of too much sun and lunch, and so wasn’t in the best of humors when the guy told me to turn around and go back to the front.
My general irritation was quickly eased by the the zen garden Saltwater has set up immediately outside the winery’s main entrance. It’s lovely, and completely unexpected. But it’s also a perfect counterpoint to the very spare, industrial look of the winery itself. The building is really intriguing – aluminum, rather than wood or wood-clad as is typical of New England barns, with a low curved room, rather than the normal pointed roofs, and much larger than a typical barn. I found myself wondering if Saltwater Farms owners had built it expressly for the winery, as I just couldn’t imagine anyone would build a barn this way. It wasn’t until I was well into my tasting that I learned originally it was an airplane hangar. Taking a look again as I was leaving, and looking at the pictures I took that afternoon, I can’t imagine how I didn’t see it when I first drove up, or at the very least why I struggled so hard to figure out what kind of a barn it might have been. Personally, I’m putting it down to the effects of the sun and just going with “I was off my game” that afternoon.
A few benches line the perimeter of the garden, giving visitors a place to rela
Inside the space is airy and has a loft-like feel. The interior is pretty much all wood and very modern in design. The dark wood provides a cozy, yet cool feel, and as most of the space has been left open with little ornamentation or clutter, the result is a serene, almost meditative space. Wine racks flank either side of the entrance way displaying Saltwater Farm’s wines, and a rectangular bar housing gifts and t-shirts, sits just underneath the stairs. The stairs are a perfect example of the overall aesthetic of the space – made of the same dark wood that lines the walls and is used in the wine racks and the bars, they are designed as open and floating, curving around and up, leading to the upper deck which houses the Tasting Room. Throughout the space, the wood provides a rustic feeling while the clean lines and open airy floorplans give the space a modern, almost Zen feel. And suddenly the garden seems much less anachronistic.
The Tasting Room loft area is laid out very nicely. A long bar made of wood sits at one end of the space facing a full wall of floor-to-ceiling windows. Wine barrels are used as tables throughout the room, and doors lead out onto an outside deck which is a seamless extension of the inside space. The views from the deck, and the windows, is gorgeous, overlooking a large flat expanse full of rows upon rows of grapevines. As the day was not too hot, many people had taken their wine out to the deck to enjoy the views and the breeze, however inside was still hopping, and I had a 5-10 minute wait before a space at the bar opened up.
Despite the level of activity that afternoon, the staff behind the bar was more than willing to stop briefly from time-to-time to give all of us a bit of the history of the winery. Beginning with the building itself which, it turns out, is not a renovated barn at all but a WWII-vintage airplane hangar. The vineyards, which encompass about 15 acres, are planted on the original air strip – explaining the almost perfect flat-ness of the space, something which, when I first saw it, felt more Midwestern than New England to me. As you stand on the outside terrace overlooking the vineyards, you can see faint echoes of the original airstrip running left to right parallel to the building. The building has been beautifully restored and the original wood trusses and features have not only been preserved, but were obviously used as inspiration for the overall interior. The result is one of the most striking wineries I’ve visited to date, whether here in Connecticut or elsewhere.
Saltwater Farms has been operating as a winery only for a few years. All of their wines are estate-grown, and they produce about 20,000 bottles a year. They currently produce five wines: 3 whites and 2 reds, and all five are included on the tasting menu. In addition to wine tastings, the winery also hosts events, including “Sunday Music in the Tasting Room” featuring live music from 3:00 – 5:00 on most Sundays in July and August.
The winery is also available for private events, and they’ve adjusted their Tasting Room hours to accomodate that, closing at 3:00 on Fridays and Saturdays in the summer.
Saltwater Farm Vineyard
349 Elm Street
Stonington, CT 06378
Open April – December: Wednesday, Thursday & Sunday 11:00 – 5:00; Friday & Saturday 11:00 – 3:00.
Times may vary depending on holidays or private events, so check the website or call ahead to confirm tasting room hours.