Spring has been a bit “off” this year in New England with sharp weather mood swings from cold and rainy to hot-more-like-summer weather. I’m not sure yet how or even if that will affect this year’s grape harvest, but it’s kept me off the wine trail for much of the last couple months. As much as I like exploring new regions and discovering new wineries, contemplating a long drive through dreary, drizzly countryside has been somewhat demotivating.
Despite all that, the hallmarks of late spring/early summer have finally arrived ~ the days are warm and the nights pleasant, the grass, trees and hills are awash in rich, vibrant shades of green; the birds are driving the cat mad, taunting her from the trees and bushes right outside the kitchen window, and my neighbors have the air conditioner on. Go figure…
With the improvement in weather also comes an improvement in my mood – and my motivation to hit the open road in search of new wine experiences – which led me to New Hartford and the Connecticut Valley Winery on a recent gloriously sunny Saturday afternoon.
This was actually my third visit to Connecticut Valley Winery. I had stopped there shortly after Christmas, and returned a few weeks later with my Sisters of the Connecticut Wine Trail, Cheryl, Deb, Jean and Melissa. My notes, however, stayed in a pile on my desk, waiting patiently for me to sit down and write them up. By the time I finally unearthed them, I decided it was probably better that I make a third trip – just to refresh my memory, of course. The fact that I had finished the last of the bottles that I had picked up on the previous trip did not play into my decision at all…
Connecticut Valley Winery is owned and operated by Anthony and Judith Ferraro with the full-time assistance of their son, Jason. The winery was named Best Small Winery at the 2009 Big E Northeast Gold Wine Competition, at which they also won a record 10 medals for their wines, making it the most awarded Connecticut winery in Big E history. In addition to the Big E competition, Connecticut Valley wines have won medals at the Finger Lakes and Grand Harvest wine competitions.
The Ferraros turned to winemaking upon their retirement, a story heard often from the region’s winemakers. Their wines are produced from 15 varieties of grapes including Cabernet Franc, Chambourcin, Chardonnay, Seyval and Cayuga, many of which are grown locally. They use very few sulfites and chemicals in their wines, relying primarily on what’s found naturally in the grapes and the yeast. As a result their wines are smoother, with less acidity than in many other wines. They specialize in dry wines, although they do have some lovely specialty fruit-infused wines which are far more interesting than I expected.
From the outside the winery is unprepossessing; a large barn painted in primer gray sits on a slight rise a few hundred yards back from the road. Grape vines line either side of the dirt and gravel drive and the vines are planted right up to the main road and continue around and behind the winery. The front of the winery features a slight wrap-around deck with room to sit perhaps 10 people comfortably. However, don’t let the barn’s exterior simplicity put you off – inside the tasting room is a charming, cozy and eminently comfortable space.
As with most tasting rooms the room’s centerpiece is the bar – a cornered-U-shape bar in the center of the room. As you enter, you will likely be greeted by Judith, a permanent fixture behind the bar. Judith is one of the highlights of a visit to Connecticut Valley – friendly, always willing to stop for a chat, she makes it easy to relax into your surroundings. She keeps her tasting notes to a minimum for those who aren’t interested in more than basic details, but will answer any and all questions you may have about the wine and winery.
While there are no bar stools around the tasting bar, there are a few tables surrounding the fireplace, and guests who wish to linger are encouraged to do so. On my second visit with my SOTS buddies, we brought a light lunch of cheese and crackers, tapenade (handmade by Cheryl) and a few other nibblers and settled in next to a roaring fire for a lovely hour of wine, food and company.
The tasting room itself is not large, but the Ferraros use space in the fermentation and barrel rooms which are located just off the tasting room for large groups. On my most recent trip, I had brought a book and was settled on the patio with a glass of wine when a large tour bus showed up. This was actually the first bus I’ve seen during all my Connecticut Wine Trail travels, and I wasn’t sure how they were going to manage the tastings – until I saw them head into the barrel room.
In addition to the normal tasting room offerings, Connecticut Valley also hosts periodic wine/food dinners, inviting a local chef to prepare a sumptuous 5-course meal that they pair with their wines. Costs are quite reasonable at about $125 per person, and they can accommodate 25-30 people at a dinner.
The tasting room is open year round on Saturdays and Sundays from 12-5. The tasting menu includes all 11 wines, although on my first two visits in December and January, they were sold out of a couple of wines. A tasting will run you $6, and you can purchase glasses of wine for $6 or include cheese and crackers for an additional $2.
Connecticut Valley Winery
1480 Litchfield Turnpike
New Hartford, CT 06057