A Locapour Thanksgiving

Marguerite Barrett
Contributing Writer

Each year since moving to Connecticut, I’ve made the trek down to New Jersey to spend Thanksgiving with my cousins, the Garlicks. Under normal circumstances (i.e. the drive home in the evening), the trip takes just over two hours.  Driving down on Thanksgiving morning, though, is like “traveling through another dimension… you’ve just entered the Twilight Zone.”

The first year, 2007, my friend and occasional wine trail buddy, Maree Prendergast, also joined us for Thanksgiving, so my first stop was Jersey City where she lives. The drive down the Merritt Parkway in Connecticut was both lovely and a breeze, until I hit the Bronx and the parkway became a parking lot. After 45 minutes of almost total inertia, I decided it was time to move – and by this point didn’t really care which direction I headed in.  So I hopped off the parkway and made my way over to the Queensboro Bridge, figuring crosstown traffic on Thanksgiving afternoon couldn’t be that bad. Whoops – forgot there was that little thing called the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade (which in my defense had finished hours before), forcing me and everyone else in Manhattan to head downtown and cut across the impossibly narrow streets of the Village and Soho to that traffic nightmare more commonly known as the Holland Tunnel.

Needless to say, we were several hours late…

Last year, 2008, Maree skipped Thanksgiving at the Garlicks in favor of spending the holiday with her parents who were visiting from Sydney, Australia, so I decided to cut across Connecticut and drop down into New Jersey from the north – thus avoiding Manhattan altogether. Great plan until I hit a 15-mile backup caused by an accident on the Tappan Zee Bridge, forcing me to detour down to I95 and that traffic nightmare more commonly known as the George Washington Bridge.

Needless to say, I was several hours late…

This year, I informed my cousin Andrew before Easter not to expect me for Thanksgiving.   Instead, I’m spending the day close to home with my friends David & Deirdre, their three kids, and the various and sundry people that come for the weekend or just wander in off the street. In some ways David & Deirdre remind me of my own family – they collect people, all kinds of people, and have the most interesting dinner table conversations.  I anticipate a lively Thanksgiving and a 20 minute commute.

I called Deirdre several weeks ago to ask her what I could bring.  We actually have a bit of a routine: if one is hosting dinner the other calls and says “what can I bring,” only to be answered with “nothing…  except maybe a bottle of wine.”  But this being Thanksgiving, and Deirdre now having three children (the youngest born a scant 2 1/2 months ago), I figured if I nagged her every few days like one of her children (what can I bring, what can I bring, what can I bring…) she would break down and tell me something – anything – to get me to stop calling her.

It appears her children broke her first, because I had barely gotten the words out of my mouth when she laughed and said “I was just going to ask if you’d mind bringing dessert?”  I just about fell off my chair.  Good thing I wasn’t asking just to be polite.  :)  We settled on my bringing a Cranberry Upside Down Cake and a Chocolate-Espresso Volcano Cake, which when joined by the Deirdre’s pumpkin bread pudding and David’s childhood favorite strawberry and pretzel dessert will make a nice dessert buffet for the roughly 20 people coming for Thanksgiving.

And what better to go with a dessert buffet than a selection of local dessert wines, especially if they are seasonal wines that evoke that lusciousness of Thanksgiving?  So along with the desserts, I’m pulling a few bottles of Connecticut wines from the cellar:

Digrazia Autumn Spice I can only describe this as “pumpkin pie in a glass.”  White wine fermented with sugar pumpkins, honey and spices (including nutmeg and cinnamon).  Yum!

Land of Nod Chocolate-Raspberry Wine I first tasted this in August of ’07, just before it was released and loved it so much I went back and bought a case last Thanksgiving to share with friends (and hoard for myself).  Not too sweet and the chocolate and the raspberry are perfectly balanced.

And to round out the mix, I’ll bring a more traditional dessert wine, but am still trying to choose between Hopkins Vineyard’s Night Owl, a lovely late-harvest Vidal Blanc, and their Ice Wine, one of the best non-Niagara region/non-German Ice Wines I’ve found.  Decisions, decisions…

Of course I can always have the one I didn’t choose chilling at home for a late-night Thanksgiving toast in front of the fire…

Start a New Locapour Holiday Tradition

Marguerite Barrett
Contributing Writer

Shortly after I heard about the New Jersey Thanksgiving Wine Trail weekend, I received an email from Haight-Brown Winery in Connecticut announcing their participation in the

1st Annual Litchfield Hills Winter Wine Trail

The winter wine trail is comprised of six participating wineries all clustered around Litchfield, Connecticut.  Visit any of the wineries between December 1st and March 15th and pick up a Winter Wine Trail registration card.  Get your card stamped at all six wineries by March 15th, and you’ll be eligible for the grand prize drawing of an overnight stay at a Litchfield County Bed & Breakfast with second and third prizes being a a family 4-pack of passes for Ski Sundown and dinner at a Litchfield County Restaurant.

The participating wineries include:

CT Valley Winery ~ New Hartford, CT
Jerram Winery ~ New Hartford, CT       **Vino Verve Visited**
Haight-Brown Vineyard ~ Litchfield, CT     **Vino Verve Visited**
Hopkins Vineyard ~ New Preston, CT     **Vino Verve Visited**
Miranda Vineyard ~ Goshen, CT       **Vino Verve Visited**
Sunset Meadow Vineyards ~ Goshen, CT      **Vino Verve Visited**

The Litchfield Hills are lovely any time of the year and the towns scattered throughout the region often feature charming 18th and 19th century farmhouses and Queen Annes (or newer houses styled like more historic buildings), local farms and vineyards with a wide area of fresh produce and wines  and picturesque town squares (particularly in the town of Litchfied).  Decked out for Christmas, especially if there’s snow on the ground, the area is practically a Currier & Ives lithograph come to life.

Combine all that with the chance to win some great prizes, and you’ve got a new Locapour Holiday Tradition.

I’ll be hitting the trail on Saturday December 5th with three of my newest wine-trail buddies, Cheryl Grayson and sisters Deb Shaw-Esteves and Melissa Shaw.   It will also give me the chance to check off one more winery in my quest to complete the entire Connecticut Wine Trail.   Hope to see you there!

Win(e)ding Trails: Continuing Adventures on the Connecticut Wine Trail

Hopkins Vineyard

The Sweet Wines
Marguerite Barrett
Contributing Writer
The normal tasting menu at Hopkins includes one sweet wine, the Night Owl Vidal Blanc.   However for an additional $2.50 you can also include a tasting of the Ice Wine.
Because Hopkins only has two wines in this category, I normally would have grouped these with the Semi-Sweet wines and covered both categories in one post.  However, both Christy and I agreed, hands-down these are the two best wines at Hopkins, and as such deserve their own post.
Night Owl 2007 Vidal Blanc Estate Bottled  This is a Late Harvest dessert wine.  Late Harvest refers to grapes that have been left on the vine longer than normal, being allowed to dehydrate on the vine.  The result is a grape with more concentrated sugars, thus producing sweeter wines.   The Night Owl is a smooth, full-bodied wine that dances across the tongue.  The nose is mellow with hints of apricot, and the wine itself has subtle notes of apricot and hazelnut.   It would pair nicely with a fruit and cheese platter, light desserts, or even serve as the finish to a meal all by itself.
Ice Wine 2006 Estate Bottled  Also made from Vidal Blanc grapes, Ice Wine differs from Late Harvest in that the grapes are allowed to freeze on the vine before harvesting, and harvesting is usually done at night or in the very early morning to ensure the grapes remain frozen.  On the day Christy and I stopped by they were getting ready to harvest this year’s crop of Ice Wine grapes starting at 4:00 am the next morning.
Hopkins’s Ice Wine is hands-down my favorite wine not just from Hopkins but on the wine trail to date.  The bouquet is gorgeous, rich, fruity, decadent…  The color is a lovely golden yellow, and, to borrow a phrase from the tasting notes, the wine is “fantastically sweet.”  This wine just melts in your mouth.  It is a beautiful blend of fruit with just a touch of honey.  Absolutely gorgeous. 
Since first being introduced to Ice Wine a number of years ago during a wine trip to the Niagara region in Canada, I’ve been a big fan.  However, not many wine stores carry Ice Wine, and those that do often have a limited selection.  I’ve tried those Ice Wines that I could find with mixed results – all are sweet, but not all have the same body and depth – and in general, have found that I greatly preferred those from the Niagara region.  That is, until Hopkins…  In my opinion, Hopkins’s Ice Wine can hold its own against any of the Niagara wines any day.
Even if you’re not a fan of sweet wines, if you do get to New Preston, CT, don’t pass up the Hopkins Late Harvest or Ice Wine – those two alone are worth the trip!

Win(e)ding Trails: Continuing Adventures on the Connecticut Wine Trail

Hopkins Vineyard

The Semi-Sweet Wines
Marguerite Barrett
Contributing Writer
After finishing with the dry wines, the tasting moved on to the Semi-Sweet wines.  This category included one cider, one white, one red, and one fruit wine.
Cider  Hopkins Vineyard’s Cider is made from locally grown apples using a traditional English cider yeast.  It’s a good example of a traditional cider – strong notes of apple both in the nose and the taste, and that slightly bitter after-taste that comes with yeast drinks.   The notes of apple are nicely balanced and not overpowering.  This will pair well with hearty food – pub food, if you will – omelettes, sausages, meat pies…   The Cider won a Silver Medal in the International Eastern Wine Competition and a Bronze Medal in the Finger Lakes International Wine Competition.
Westwind 2007 Estate Bottled This is a semi-sweet white made from estate-grown Cayuga White grapes.  Cayuga White is native to the northeast, hailing from the New York Finger Lakes area.  The grapes were originally developed in the 50s and first grown commercially in upstate New York in the 1970s.  The Westwind is a nice, light, semi-sweet wine with notes of citrus.  Sipping it, it struck me as a good summer wine – chilled and perfect for lazy summer evenings – and would stand up well to most summer dishes.  Westwind was awarded a Silver Medal in the Big E Wine Competition and the National Women’s Wine Competition and a Bronze Medal in the International Eastern Wine Competition.
Sachem’s Picnic This is a semi-sweet red wine, with a strong, fruity bouquet.  The wine itself is a light-bodied wine, and not one of my favorites.  Our hosts recommended that this be served chilled, and I would agree.  I didn’t find a lot of depth to this wine, and I think chilling it brings out the lightness and fruitiness.  I think it’s well named – this is a good picnic wine for a hot summer afternoon.
Peach Wine  This is a fruit wine made from locally grown peaches.  It has a very light bouquet with a subtle peach aroma that tantalizes rather than overwhelms.  The flavor is delicate and it dances in the mouth.  It has a smooth and mellow finish.  As with the Westwind and Sachem’s Picnic, I think this is a spring/summer wine – it’s too light to stand up to the heartier fare of the autumn/winter seasons.  But, despite not generally being a fan of fruit wines, the Peach Wine was my top pick among the Semi-Sweet wines.

Next up – and next post – we finish with the Sweet Wines!

Win(e)ding Trails: Continuing Adventures on the Connecticut Wine Trail

Hopkins Vineyard
The Dry Wines: Whites & Reds
Marguerite Barrett
Contributing Writer
On the day we stopped by, the Hopkins Vineyard (HV) tasting selection consisted of 10 wines beginning with five dry wines: three white and two red, four of which are estate bottled.
A note about “Estate Bottled”: Estate Bottled indicates that 100% of the grapes used in the wine were either grown in the winery’s vineyard or in vineyards controlled by the winery. The wine must also be vinified and bottled at that winery. The authors of the Tablas Creek Blog put it best: “it means the winery controls the product from beginning to end.”
The Whites

Chardonnay 2007 Estate Bottled This is a nice Chardonnay, light, fruity, but not too sweet. It would pair nicely with seafood, salads, light pasta dishes… and would also be lovely chilled with fruit and cheese on a summer afternoon. According to the tasting notes, this wine is estate grown and 100% aged in French and American oak barrels. The Chardonnay is a Bronze Medal Winner at both the Finger Lakes International Wine Competition and the Amenti Del Vino International Wine Competition.
Duet 2007 Estate Bottled The tasting notes indicate “You asked for a low-oak Chardonnay – and here it is!” The Duet is a blend of Chardonnay and Vidal Blanc grapes. The nose is crisp with hints of apple. The wine itself is a crisp, dry white wine with notes of tart apple and a touch of sweetness. It’s a more full-bodied wine than the Chardonnay, and I can see it pairing nicely with Fall dishes – roast chicken and even beef. It would also pair nicely with stronger cheeses. I found this to be a very interesting wine, and my personal favorite among the whites. Duet is a Silver Medal Winner in the Big E Competition and the Tasters Guild International, and a Bronze Medal Winner in the National Women’s Wine Competition.
Vineyard Reserve 2007 Estate Bottled The whites ended with the Vineyard Reserve, a blend of Seyval Blanc and Vidal Blanc grapes. The bouquet is lovely with strong fruit overtones. The wine is a dry white wine, clean with a really nice finish. I detected strong notes of berries and – maybe – peach. The tasting notes indicate it would pair well with spicier foods such as Thai or Indian. The Vineyard Reserve was awarded a Bronze Medal from the American Wine Society.
The Reds

Cabernet Franc 2006 Estate Bottled This is a medium- to full-bodied wine, dry, with a strong sense of minerals and “earthiness.” I also detected hints of pepper at the end. It’s an interesting wine, and one that I think will grow more interesting if left to sit for a year or so. The wine is punch-cap fermented and aged in Oak Barrels. The Tasting Notes indicate that the Cabernet Franc is one of Hopkins’ signature wines; it is a Silver Medal Winner in the Big E Competition and the Amenti Del Vino International Wine Competition and was awarded a Bronze Medal from the Tasters Guild International and the Tasters Guild Wine Lovers Competition. Despite it’s awards and reputation, I found I wasn’t fond of this wine; the earthiness was too strong perhaps, and it was a bit too dry – even for my taste. It might be worth picking up a bottle, though, and letting it sit for another 12-15 months just to see if it becomes a little mellower with age.
Red Barn Red Hands-down this was my favorite of all the wines in the “dry” category, and Christy and I both marked big stars next to it on our tasting sheets. It’s a medium-bodied red that is rich, smooth, mellow, and has a great finish. It has a nice nose with a deep rich fruit aroma. The Tasting Notes indicate Black Currant, and I while I must admit I don’t think I’ve ever smelled a black currant, I know it’s a “heavier” fruit, and you get that in this wine. The wine is made from what the vintner refers to as a “farm blend” of French-American hybrid grapes and is barrel aged. The Red Barn Red was awarded a Bronze Medal from both the Tasters Guild International and the American Wine Society.
With that we sat back, cleansed our palates and prepared to move on to the Semi-Sweet Wines.

Win(e)ding Trails: Continuing Adventures on the Connecticut Wine Trail

Hopkins Vineyard
Marguerite Barrett
Contributing Writer

Hopkins Vineyard, located in New Preston, CT, sits on the north shore of Lake Waramaug, a short 20 minute drive from Litchfield and the nearby wineries: Haight Brown, Miranda or Sunset Meadow Vineyards.

Even in winter the drive is pretty as you pass through the scenic Litchfield Hills and surrounding farmland on your approach to Lake Waramaug. The lake is named for a Wyantenock Indian Chief, who with his tribe, “made Lake Waramaug their summer residence.”  The lake itself is quite large, and there’s a state park on the Kent, CT side of the lake with areas for camping, boating, and hiking.   Source: CT Department of Environmental Protection, Lake Waramaug State Park

The winery sits slightly off the main road, just behind the Hopkins Inn. The Inn dates back to 1847 and, with 11 guest rooms and 2 apartments all with great views and lake access, it can be a great jumping off point for a weekend on the CT Wine Trail.  
Hopkins Vineyards is part of a family-owned farm founded in 1787 when Elijah Hopkins “returning from the Revolutionary War” began farming on the shores of Lake Waramaug. This is one of Connecticut’s few remaining “Century” farms: farms that have been in the same family for more than 200 years.  The family planted their first vines in 1979 and have been producing wines for the last 30 years.  
The winery is housed in a 19th century barn and is comprised of two floors. On the first floor, the main entrance leads directly into the tasting area; a retail area sits in a large room off to the right. The tasting area is fairly small – there’s a small counter with no stools or chairs that can hold probably 6 people at a time comfortably.  On the day we stopped by one other couple came in shortly after us, and while we weren’t crowded, we would have been hard-pressed to fit more than a few other people at the bar with us.  In the summer, I imagine it can get pretty crowded, and you may be better off heading upstairs to The Hayloft, the first winery-wine bar in Connecticut, to grab a glass or a bottle, relax and enjoy the views.
The retail area features 3-foot high wine racks spreading out along the walls and forming an island in the center of the room. The wines are all carefully organized and arranged, and it’s easy to find the wines you’re looking for.
The winery is available for private parties and also offers vineyard tours.   But we were on a mission – the tasting – and so we quickly settled into the tasting room.  Our hosts that afternoon appeared to be college-age, and while pleasant, they didn’t know much more about the wines than what was listed on the tasting notes, which was a bit of a disappointment. 
On the day we stopped by, the tasting menu included 10 wines separated into three categories: Dry (3 Whites, 2 Reds); Semi-Sweet (4); and Sweet (1).  The tasting was $6.00 and included a Hopkins Vineyard logo glass that you could take with you at the end of the tasting.  For an additional $2.50 we were able to include Hopkins’ Ice Wine as part of the tasting.  Ice Wine is a particular favorite of mine, so we didn’t even hesitate. 
First up – and next post – the Dry Wines.