Win(e)ding Roads: The Connecticut Wine Trail

By: Marguerite Barrett, Contributing Writer

Hello to VinoVerve fans! As an extended member of the Neuman clan, affectionately referred to as “Aunt Maggie,” and a recent émigré to New England (after 24 years in Chicago), I’ve promised Gretchen that I would contribute articles to VinoVerve about my wine adventures throughout New England.

Imagine my surprise after moving in 2007, to find that Connecticut not only had wineries but a full “wine trail!” Somehow Connecticut and Wine never ran together in my head. But a thriving local industry it is – with many award-winning wines and wineries in the bunch.

Over the next several months, I plan on visiting as many of the wineries as possible, and as promised, will provide regular updates to Vino Verve of my progress. But I thought it worth beginning with the trail itself, since I believe its existence is relatively unknown outside of Southern New England.

The Connecticut Wine Trail was established in 1988 and is comprised of 15 vineyards divided between the western and eastern half of the states. The western wine trail is located in the area known as the Connecticut Highlands – the hills of Litchfield and Fairfield counties. The Eastern trail lies in the area known as the Connecticut Shoreline, running between New Haven (home to Yale University) and Mystic/Stonington (home of Mystic Pizza – and yes there is a real Mystic Pizza).

Both wine trails will take you through miles of gorgeous scenery and quaint New England towns, and if you’re an architecture or history buff, you’ll find colonial farmhouses, 18th century churches and New England stone fences all along both trails.

As the sun is now starting to burn off the morning fog, I’m off to check out the first winery on my list: Heritage Trail which is part of the Eastern Wine Trail and located on Route 169, a National Scenic Highway, in Lisbon, CT.

Getting Naked for Jesus!

I know, I know… you are wondering how that phrase relates to wine…. But it does, really.

See, back in 2003, Kevin and I, along with our friends Richard and Charles and Maggie made a trip to Napa to celebrate Richard’s 40th Birthday. We hired a driver, Grant, who made wine in his garage and he drove us around to the lesser known vineyards that he enjoyed. Around lunchtime, we stopped at a local market picked up some food and then headed up Howell Mountain.

When we got to our destination, we were at the Summit Lake Winery. There we were met by Sue Brakesman one of the owners of this vineyard. Sue sat us down at her dining room table and while we ate she talked to us about her wine, her winery and her family… because really all three were tied together.

See, the deed to the vineyard was given to Sue in her birthday card… from her husband Bob. So the next available weekend they went up look at their new vineyard. The plan was that it would be a romantic getaway and Sue dressed for it… The problem was that it snowed, and the house had no heat and Sue’s heels were deep in the mud. That was the beginning of the great adventure that only ended with Sue’s sudden death a couple of years ago.

Over the years, Bob and Sue cleared the weeds and poison oak from the abandoned (during prohibition) zinfandel vines and started producing wine… and a family. One day while trying to get her grand daughters bathed, one questioned why they needed to take a bath… Sue tried to explain that cleanliness was next to godliness… to which her grand daughter exclaimed, “We’re getting naked for Jesus!” According to Sue, this was a phrase that inspired her to liven up the talks that she increasingly gave to potential buyers of her wine. While off-putting, it was a way to shake up the way to think about wine.

Family was important to Sue and she loved being a grandmother. In fact their best vintages were named for her grand daughters… Emily Kestrel… a very tasty wine and then every one’s favorite. Clair Riley… Maybe it is just the story. But then that was the thing with Sue, she saw the humour in everything… When asking Sue whether she would have a wine named after her, Clair Riley, misinterpreted the answer… instead of being Clair Riley Private Reserve, she squealed in delight and shrieked in that toddler screech, “PIRATE RESERVE?!”

Well, what is a grandma to do? Naturally, the label was changed to Pirate Reserve. That wine is several years old now… and we are still waiting for an event exciting enough to enjoy it.

But that is the thing with wine. It makes us remember the time and place where we first enjoyed it. Making us wish to return to the past but still enjoying the future.

Niagara Regurgitated

I know, I know… you are getting sick of my description of this trip. Well, I don’t usually travel so far and get to drink new wines, so please bear with me…

Freedom Run was named for its proximity to Canada which meant freedom for slaves escaping the south via the Underground Railroad. Indeed many of the older homes in the nearby towns and villages have hidden rooms in their basements for the purpose of aiding the escape of slaves. This stop on the tour was unique. There was a huge pack of cousins there and the winery was owned by a friend of my cousin, John (Buddy). So we got the VIP treatment.

Freedom Run was by far the most visitor friendly (if you are over 12), having a spacious and comfortable tasting room. Complete with leathers sofas and chairs and bars decorated with blown glass flowers in the style of Dale Chihuly (made by winery co-owner, Sean Manning).

We however, because we had such a large group were escorted into the wine making facility which is visible but separated from the tasting room. We learned about the individual wines while catching up with cousins. Our tour was led by two of the co-owners of the winery, Larry and Sandra Manning. The wines we tasted were:

  • Cabernet Franc
  • Cabernet Sauvignon
  • Catawba
  • Chardonnay
  • Manning Manor Blanc
  • Manning Manor Reserve (a dry Niagara aged in oak… most unusual)
  • Manning Manor Rose
  • Merlot
  • Niagara
  • Riesling
  • Semi dry Riesling

As we finish the tasting we were then treated to a tour of the wine making facility. We learned how the grapes are crushed and de-stemmed, how the juice is extracted, the need to turn the juice and fruit to extract the highest amount of flavor from the grapes (we even got to participate in the process…), how in larger fermenting vessels the fruit along the top of the barrel may be so strong that it can support the weight of a person, learned about the fermentation process as well as barrel aging.

The camaraderie and family feeling made me enjoy this winery more than all the others on the tour. The Manning’s are planning on restoring a barn on the property to be turned into a champagne house and also for use for community dances and other events. I wish them the best of luck in their endeavors and look forward to ordering more wine from them in the future!

And of course, thanks to my Mom for keeping the Angel and Imelda out of our hair so we could enjoy our tour…

Niagara Revisited

Not to be confused with Brideshead Revisited, since there will be drinking but no palatial English Manor or dottie aristocrats… Instead this is the continuing story of our journey through the Niagara Escarpment AVA.

The next winery that we visited was Warm Lakes Estate. This winery was unusual in that they specialize in pinot noir wines. Their personnel were extremely knowledgeable about how the various elevations, microclimates and geology impacted the vineyard. They were also well informed as to the varieties of food that would accompany their wines, going so far as to supply samples of a spicy barbeque chicken to be tasted with the wine. Additionally vineyard employees brought in grapes fresh from the vines to demonstrate the intrinsic sugar in the fruit.
The wines available at Warm Lakes include:

  • 2004 Warm Lake Estate Niagara Escarpment
  • 2006 Warm Lake Estate Pinot Noir Futures (which can be pre-ordered now for November release)
  • 2004 Mountain Road Niagara Escarpment Pinot
  • 2004 Glace Noir Niagara Escarpment

There were also a small number of older vintages which maybe sold out as of now. These wines demonstrated how changes in soil horizons and microclimate could impact their wines.

After heading down the escarpment, we traveled along the road until we reached Eveningside Vineyard. This was the smallest of the wineries that we visited during the day. They produced only 800 total cases of their assorted wines. Of the wines available for purchase, the Reserve Chardonnay was my favorite. A cabernet franc had previously been available, but was currently sold out. The 2006 was not yet available.

Other wines available included:

  • Chardonnay 2006, unoaked
  • Reserve Chardonnay 2006
  • Vidal Blanc 2006
  • Riesling 2006
  • Mountain Rosé
  • Claret 2004
  • Crofton Blush

The last non-family was further afield… All the way off to Gasport, NY which is where my father grew up. Naturally, it was a must see for us. Vizcarra Vineyards at Becker Farms was unlike any winery that we saw on this tour. The winemaker married into a farming family that owns a prosperous farm stand. And by farmstand, I mean the kind that has pumpkin patches and hayrides all autumn long. So this place was PACKED. Ok, most of the people tasting were probably trying to escape toddlers waiting for pony rides after the train ride around the grounds and that we had to watch for buses as we crossed on the grounds, but we don’t hold their success against them.

This winery had a large assortment of non-grape wines. The tastings were conducted at three separate tasting bars. Being this crowded, we didn’t really get to chat with the employees, but they did provide relevant points about each of the wines and moved the scores of people through efficiently. The wines available included:

  • Berry Patch Pink
  • Becker Blue
  • Perfect Plum
  • Rhuberry
  • Red Creek Raspberry
  • Spiced Apple
  • Apple Cranny
  • Emperor Cherry
  • Joyce’s Joy (Strawberry Rhubarb and Diamond wine)
  • Paso Fino (Cabernet Sauvingon)
  • Quaker Red Rougon
  • Falls Fusion (Vidal Blanc)
  • Rusty’s Riesling
  • Erie Canal Catawba
  • Barrelled Over Niagara
  • Dusty’s Diamond
  • Concord

Whew… how is that for brief tour of that AVA? Ooops… Still one more to go! Proof that a love of wine is a family thing! Stay tuned for our exciting conclusion.

Niagara Redux

How many wineries did Kevin and I (and my Dad) manage to hit before we had to join up with the family?

Two, you say? HA! As if!

Four?

How about 5 and then the family wine tour as well.

Now you are probably thinking that we were driving like crazy people throughout the back roads of Western New York high on merlot…. but you would be wrong. The fact is that most of these wineries were fairly close together and the tastings rooms professionally operated which meant that we never got more than a tasting pour.

Which wineries did we visit?

Honeymoon Trail was the first stop of our tour…And the location where we signed up for the best deal we got the entire weekend… See, the members of the Niagara Wine Trail were celebrating their Harvest Festival. This meant that for the weekend you could purchase a special wristband for $10.oo, get a free tasting glass and then free tastings at the memeber wineries. Naturally we thought this was great!

Honeymoon Trail is a winery that has operated for about a decade. They produce a number of types of grape wines as well as fruit wines as well (Frankly, I view them all as fruit wines as grapes are fruit, but I have heard enough complaints from friends and relatives to stop making this claim… sort of ). One of the wines that we purchased was their dandelion wine which is produced from the flowers of the plant. Having been a girl who often walked around picking dandelions for my mother and offered as gifts at religions shrines I couldn’t resist trying this wine. The taste was unusual but reminded me of summer sunshine.

Other wines that were available at the winery include:

  • Apple
  • Baco Noir
  • Cabernet Franc
  • Cayuga White
  • Chancellor
  • Chardonnay
  • Cherry
  • Concord (Honeymoon’s Over)
  • Coyote
  • Dandelion
  • Diamond
  • Full Moon
  • Honeymoon Sweet
  • Mighty Niagara
  • Peach
  • Pink Catawba
  • Pinot
  • Raspberry
  • Razzleberry
  • Riesling
  • Seyval Blanc
  • Strawberry
  • Vignoles
  • White Lace

The next winery that we visited was the Niagara Landing Wine Cellars. This winery was somewhat smaller than the previous winery and also supports itself as a Welch’s contract grower.

They produce:

  • Chardonnay-semi dry
  • Riesling-semi dry
  • Vidal Blanc-semi dry
  • Cayuga White-semi dry
  • NL House White
  • Siegfried
  • Boxer Blush
  • Misty Niagara
  • Rosebud White
  • Rosebud Peach
  • Merlot
  • Cabernet Sauvignon
  • 2005 Dry Steuben
  • 2005 NL House Red
  • 2005 NL House Rosé
  • Captain’s Choice
  • Red Rooster
  • Stearman Steuben
  • Sweet Captain
  • Rosebud Rosé
  • Raspberry Rosebud
  • Port
  • Cranberry Wine
  • Blueberry Wine
  • Cherry Wine
  • Pear Wine (Currently sold out)


Which wineries did we see next? Stay tuned until tomorrow!

Fox Valley Winery


A couple of weeks a go, Kevin and I visited several wineries…

This is the second in the series.

Fox Valley Winery was the most commercially viable winery that we saw on our little outing. The vineyard is not open to the public except on certain occasions, but there are three tasting rooms. One in Oswego which also contains the winery and a tasting room, and other tasting rooms in Sandwich and Geneva.

Kevin and I went to the Geneva tasting room which is in an auspicious location on 3rd Street. This is auspicious since the town of Geneva seems populated with couples waiting to get rid of their unwanted visitors so that they can make use of his application of Cialis. The town bans skateboarders and unaccompanied minors (as near as I could tell) which meant that the shop operated at a peaceful hum.

The woman behind the counter was clever and knowledgeable and full of the family lore that would accompany a family business… We particularly enjoyed the story of a wine called Grandmas Blush… It turns out that the family’s grandmothers enjoyed a regular white zinfandel but were told that a redder wine was better for their health… As a result the family came up with a wine with a white zinfandel-type wine with more color and body. Ahhhh.. suddenly Grandma, physician and family are all happy.

Fox Valley also produces another 24 wines that range from dry to sweet and include:

  • Chardonel
  • Seyval Blanc
  • Vidal Blanc
  • Deux Blanc
  • George’s Red
  • 2004 Chambourcin
  • 2005 Traminette
  • 2004 Traminette
  • Riesling
  • Grandma’s Blush
  • 2004 Vignoles
  • Niagara
  • White Cin
  • Old Glory Red
  • Old Glory White
  • Old Glory Blue (not available at the time of our tasting)
  • 2005 Chambourcin – (not available at the time of our tasting)
  • 2003 R.A. Faltz Vintner Reserve
  • 2004 R.A. Faltz Vintner Reserve
  • 2005 R.A. Faltz Vintner Reserve – (not available at the time of our tasting)
  • Reserve Chardonel
  • 2005 Reserve Vignoles
  • Ruby Zin
  • 2005 Chardonnay Reserve
  • 2006 Chardonnay Reserve

Fox Valley Winery:

5600 Route 34
Oswego, Illinois 60543
1-630-554-0404

120 South Main Street
Sandwich, Illinois 60548
1-815-786-3124

33 S. 3rd Street
Geneva, Illinois 60134
1-630-845-0404

New Wineries Everywhere!


It turns out that I can’t go anywhere without running into a new winery. The next up on my list to visit is Freedom Run Winery. Its location? Lockport, NY. My hometown.

Not surprisingly there was always wine being grown in that area. My dad even made wine when I was a girl… Hmmm, who would have guessed how that would have influenced me. It turns out that Freedom Run is one of about five wineries clustered in the Lockport/Cambria area.

So now, when I head out east for my grandmother’s centennial celebration, I will be able to explore more Win(e)ding Roads!

Bedell Cellars/Corey Creek

Yes, this entry is from a trip we took a while ago, (within the last month though). It sure would have been nice to go to wineries in both New York and Illinois this weekend. Talk about your labor day! Work, work, work.. that is all I do! (Yes, I know that I am tasting wine which is no particular hardship for me… I am just teasing)

Kevin and I discovered Bedell and Corey Creek Vineyards years ago when trapped on one of my father-in-law’s infamous “Drives”. During these scenarios we are all trapped in a van with insufficient air conditioning or safety harnesses while we traversed the east end of Long Island looking at the houses of every person my father-in-law has ever met or heard of. That being said, the wineries were one of the few treasures of these trips.

These days, we tend to go by ourselves without chainsmokers or children in tow to be able to linger and listen to the stories from the vintners as they tell their grapish tales. Ahhh, this is the life, right? Darn tootin’ it is!

Inevitably, Corey Creek and Bedell are among our favorite wineries out east. Located about 15 miles east of Riverhead, NY the vineyards and tasting rooms are located along Route 25. Wines from both vineyards are available at either tasting room.

Our favorites from the Bedell Cellars include the 2005 Taste Red, blend of Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, and Syrah and 2005 Reserve Merlot. Other selections available include:

  • 2006 Taste White
  • 2005 Bedell Gallery
  • 2005 Merlot
  • Main Road Red
  • Main Road White

The Corey Creek wine that I can’t live without is the Domaine CC Rosé. Made in the style of a Provençale rosé, it is dry and fruity and light, which I find perfect for summer. This year there has been increased attention give to rosé wines and unfortunately for me, this has meant decreased supplies of my favorite (Perhaps next year the crowds will move back to Chardonnay). Kevin’s favorite is the Late Harvest Riesling which is sweeter and more fruity and perfect for the ending of nice dinner. Other Corey Creek Options include:

  • 2005 Reserve Chardonnay
  • 2005 Chardonnay
  • 2005 Cabernet Franc
  • Raspberry
  • 2006 Gewürztraminer (sadly, sold out)


As members of their wine club, at least we won’t have to wait all year to get another taste!

Sycamore Winery

I visited the Sycamore Winery store in downtown Sycamore, Illinois as part of our first Illinois wine tour. About 69 miles outside of Chicago, the store houses not only wines made from local gapes, but a panoply of winemaking and beer making supplies and ingredients. I did not taste any wine on this leg of the tour as the room did not seem to be set up for tastings. After looking again at the website, I realized I could have done a tasting if I had asked. This seemed a bit confusing though. I did pick-up a few bottles, including a Bergamais and Liebfraumilch which we will be tasting at a later date. Other selections available included:


  • Chardonnay Semillon
  • Cruisin Showcase Piesporter
  • Lowdock Mezza Luna White
  • Musette
  • Colonial White Soave
  • Split Personality Sauvignon Blanc
  • Wild Stallion Australian Murray
  • Bourgeron Rouge
  • Undiscovered Fields Montepoliciano
  • Bay View Zinfandel
  • A Barrel for Two Shiraz
  • Fisherman’s Red Pinot Noir
  • Lost Civilization Chianti
  • Old Time Travel Blackberry
  • Berries Galore Cranberry
  • Lowrider Black Raspberry
  • Train Depot Peach
  • Old School Athletics Tropical
  • Somonauk St. Mango
  • New Beginnings Blueberry
  • Town Square Wildberry

According to the website, Sycamore Winery is locally owned and operated by Sheri and Scott Prutton. Sheri and Scott have been making wine and beer both personally and professionally for years and have won numerous awards. Additionally Scott has received formal training at the Siebel Institute in Chicago. The store is open Tuesday to Thursday Noon till 6PM, Friday Noon till 7PM Saturday 10AM till 4PM, and Sundays, June till September will find them at the French Market in Sycamore.

Sycamore Winery
322 W State Street
Sycamore, IL 60178
815-899-2920

Win(e)ding Roads

When most people think of wine, they think mostly of the ancient vineyards of Italy or France.

In America they think of Napa or Sonoma first. Maybe they consider Washington or Oregon or even New York.

But what about Connecticut? or Illinois, Georgia or Maryland?

The truth is that every state in the nation has at least one bonded winery. While most American wine is made in California, it isn’t the only game in town. Local wineries are springing up all over the country.

As wine lovers, aren’t we obligated to explore them; to try their products and encourage their production?

I think so.

To that end, I am beginning a quest. To travel America’s Win(e)ding Roads… and taste the wines at small, local wineries!

If you have tried the products at a small winery and want to tell everyone about it, feel free to send me a description of your experience, with pictures or video if you have them and we will post as many of them here as we can.

Please submit your entries to:

Vinoverve
@mamandesfilles@gmail.com

Now get out there and start exploring!

Kevin and I will be… This weekend in fact!