My week’s vacation found me pretty much all over the New England/Northeastern map. A couple of days traversing the back roads of Connecticut, finishing up the Connecticut Wine Trail, a day in the Hudson River Valley in New York, and two days in Maine. And, of course, lunch and wine in Newport.
My first visit to Newport was last summer with my erstwhile wine-trail-buddy, Christy. Completely on a whim, we had hopped in the car and headed east one Saturday afternoon, planning on visiting the three wineries in the Newport area. Unfortunately the drive took slightly longer than planned and the crowds at Newport Vineyards slowed us down somewhat, so we were only able to fit in two of the three wineries that afternoon. And if I remember correctly, we squeaked in for the last tasting at Sakonnet Vineyards by the absolute skin of our teeth. I hadn’t intended to let an entire year pass before I made it back to the third and last winery in the area, Greenvale Vineyards.
But it has actually been a year, almost to the day, since Christy and I made that first trek out to Newport. I had returned to Newport in December to tour the “cottages” all decked out in their Christmas finery, but I was with my cousins and the schedule was tight as it was, so no side trips that day.
The day turned out to be picture-perfect. A leisurely two-hour drive from Hartford put me in Newport just about lunch-time. First, a stroll down America’s Cup avenue with beautiful views of the harbor and ocean on my right and the shops on my left… Then a stop at the Barking Crab for a wonderful lobster salad BLT for lunch, heavy on the lobster, light on the mayo – just the way I like it… Finally finished up with a quick stop in a few of the local shops on the way back to the car and it was time to head to the winery.
Greenvale Vineyards is about 6 miles slightly northeast of Newport in Portsmouth. The farm has been in the Parker family since 1863 operating primarily as a dairy farm until the later 20th century. Nancy Parker Wilson, Greenvale’s General Manager, is a 5th-generation Parker, and her mother, Nancy Knowles Parker is publisher of three local wine publications, the New England Wine Gazette, the Finger Lakes Wine Gazette, and the Virginia Wine Gazette.
The Parker estate sits along the banks of the Sakonnet River with vineyards running along the slopes up from the river banks. Greenvale planted their first vines in 1982 and now have 24 acres of grapes including Chardonnay, Pinot Gris, Vidal Blanc and Cayuga and Cabernet Franc, Merlot and Malbec. Yes, you read that right, Malbec. I was surprised as well, not imagining that Malbec would do well in the colder winters and shorter growing seasons of New England. However, the Newport area is blessed with a micro-climate that is similar to the fields of northern France, as Kristen, my lovely host for the afternoon, informed me. In addition to the Newport micro-climate, the terroir, slope and drainage of the Greenvale fields are also conducive to growing both Malbec and Merlot.
Speaking of my host, Kristen, she is one of the true gems of Greenvale. Relaxed, friendly and extremely knowledgeable about wines in general and Greenvale wines in particular, she really made the visit. As I pulled in another couple were just leaving, and so I had the winery – and Kristen – to myself. It wasn’t just that she was welcoming, it was more that she was completely comfortable with what she’s doing – she really loves her job and it shows. She didn’t just pour a tasting, she accompanied me throughout. We took some time to talk about each wine; she told me her thoughts and was genuinely interested in mine.
Greenvale's Tasting Room is a bright, open, airy space. Kristen, one of the highlights of my visit, is on the right.
Granted, I am often visiting wineries on weekends when things are busy, but so often the staff sort of parrots the tasting notes and then walks away, or doesn’t seem too interested in what you might be picking up in the wines. I can imagine it could be uncomfortable and awkward, particularly if you are the winemaker, to hear people talk about your wines. And everyone I’ve met has been very friendly and welcoming. It’s just that Kristen makes you feel like you’re sitting around talking to a buddy about wine, and that she’d be happy to sit there as long as you wanted to talk about wine – and it made for a very fun afternoon.
All of Greenvale’s wines are estate-grown. They rent tank space from Newport Vineyards a few miles down the road, but all the grapes are grown on the Greenvale farmland on the banks of the Sakonnet River. The Tasting Room is in a charming renovated horse stables set about 1/4 mile back from the main road, in the midst of the vineyards. The long driveway takes you through vineyards and pastures and past a beautiful large New England farmhouse currently occupied by Greenvale’s owner, Nancy Knowles Parker. At the time it was built, 1865, it was the largest home on the island. Even though it was later dwarfed by the palatial “cottages” of the Vanderbilts, Astors and others, it is a lovely house and a perfect centerpiece for the estate.
Greenvale currently produces seven wines, five whites and two reds. Two of the wines, the Rosecliff Pinot Gris and the Elms Meritage are named for two of the mansions owned by the Newport Historical Preservation Society and feature pictures of the homes on their labels. A portion of the proceeds of each wine goes to the Preservation Society to help with the upkeep of the historic mansions of Newport.
Greenvale is open year-round: April – December Monday-Saturday, 10:00 am – 5:00 pm and Sundays 12:00 pm – 5:00 pm. Winter hours (January-March) are Monday-Saturday 11:00 am – 4:00 pm and Sundays 12:00 pm – 4:00 pm. Public tours are offered every day at 2:00, and private tours can be arranged with advance notice. Greenvale often hosts live music and special events, and the site is available for private parties and rentals, check the website for details.
582 Wapping Road
Portsmouth, RI 02871
Coming Tuesday, September 24th: Greenvale’s wines…