The Wines of Northwinds

Marguerite Barrett
Contributing Writer

The tasting kicked off that afternoon with the Traminette, altogether a very lovely wine and my favorite of the afternoon.  The nose is very aromatic, with strong floral notes – very pretty.   The wine is crisp and refreshing, with very light notes of sweetness from subtle fruit flavors, maybe a hint of peach, that blend well with the floral notes in the nose.  The finish is crisp with a nice balance of acid.  This is a great sipping wine as well as a wine that should pair well with a wide range of foods.  I liked it so much I actually went home with two bottles – unusual for me.

Next up was the Zephyr.  Because this is the one Northwinds wine that uses non-estate grown grapes, this wine must be labeled differently from the others.  What I loved about Northwinds is that they really embraced that regulation, producing a bottle and label that was not only distinct from their other wines, but distinctive in and of itself.  The wine is a blend of their estate-grown Traminette and Sauvignon Blanc brought in from off-site.  The nose still has the pretty, floral characteristics of the Traminette, but it’s tempered by the Sauvignon Blanc, and as a result is not quite as aromatic as the Traminette.  In the mouth the wine is smooth and refreshing, although not as crisp as the Traminette.  There are also some grassy notes in this one which temper the floral notes.  It’s not a bad wine, and a lot of people, including many around me that afternoon who will like this wine very much.  But I found myself definitely preferring the crisper, more aromatic Traminette.

Last up for the whites was the Vidal Blanc.  Darker in color than the previous two which were more of a pale yellow, the Vidal Blanc is more of a light gold color.  The nose is lovely with sweet floral notes of orange blossom and peach.  In the mouth, the Vidal Blanc, like the previous two, tends more towards the floral rather than the fruity, although the flavors are more subtle in the mouth than in the nose.  I definitely picked up the orange of the orange blossom as well as some light grassiness which provided a bit of depth and kept the wine from being sweet.  The finish is fairly smooth with just a light touch of acid.  Not as crisp as the Traminette, I’d be more likely to drink this wine with food rather than on it’s own.  Still, overall a nice wine, and for those who like their whites tending toward the sweet rather than the dry, this is a nice find.

With that we moved on to the single Rosé.  The most distinctive thing about the Rosé is its color, a beautiful amber gold color.  A color one associates more often with late harvest dessert wines, not Rosés, a comment which I blurted out as soon as I saw the wine.  The Rosé is a blend of three table grapes, the Himrod, Vanessa and Jupiter grapes.  The result is not your typical Rosé, and for those, like me, who often shy away from Rosés finding them too light-bodied and, often, too sweet, this one is definitely worth a try.  the nose is soft and fruity, almost like a late harvest nose.   That combined with the unconsciously led me to expect a much sweeter wine than the one I found.  In the mouth, the wine is much drier than I expected, although until I noted my surprise I hadn’t realized the extent to which I was expecting a sweet wine.  There is a light sweetness, but as with the other Northwinds wines, the overall notes are floral rather than fruity, including a hint of peach blossom.  The finish has a pleasant bite of acid, although overall the wine is smooth and rich in the mouth.  Definitely not what I was expecting from a Rosé.

From the Rosê the tasting proceeded to the first of Northwinds two reds, Boreas a blend of Cabernet Franc (85%) and St. Croix (15%), both estate-grown.   Garnet colored, with a dry, dusky nose with subtle notes of black cherry.  In the mouth, the wine echoes the subtle notes of black cherry found in the nose, with a slight smoke from the Hungarian and American oak barrels.  On the lighter side of medium-bodied, I found the wine didn’t really open up in the mouth, although subsequent sips did provide some layering of flavors and smoke.  The wine should pair well with chicken and lighter meats, such as grilled pork, but I don’t feel it’s robust enough to stand up to the heavier meats such as beef, lamb or veal.  I was somewhat disappointed with this wine, really wanting it to open up more in the mouth.

And last, but not least, the tasting concluded with the St. Croix. Dark garnet, with a really nice soft, rich dusky nose with the faintest hints of fruit.  The wine is medium-bodied, smooth and richer than the Boreas, with interesting notes of grass and earth as well as leather from the oaking.  As with the nose, there are  faint notes of dar berries, but the predominant notes are grass and earth.  I definitely preferred this over the Boreas.  This should pair well with a variety of foods.

I went home that afternoon with two bottles of the Traminette – unusual for me to go home only with whites, and with two bottles of anything.  A 1oz sip, while giving you a sense of the wine, isn’t really enough to truly understand the wine.   I really don’t know if I am going to love something until I have the opportunity to linger over a whole glass as well as pair the wine with food.   Therefore, my standard practice is to bring home a single bottle of wines that intrigued me during the tasting.  Depending on the wine, I’ll either put in the cellar (makes that dark back corner of my basement sound so grand to call it a cellar) to sit for a few months up to a year, or put it in the rack to be opened soon.   This gives me the opportunity to better explore the wine before deciding it’s something I want to invest in having on hand.  It’s this practice that turned me into a Cabernet Franc lover.  The first couple times I tried Cab Franc here in Connecticut, I really wasn’t sure, often feeling upon first sip that the wines were pale versions of their more robust Cabernet Sauvignon cousins.   But there was something there that intrigued me, so I brought home a bottle from one or two wineries.  Let them breathe for a good 20-30 minutes after opening, paired them with food, and found a whole new wine to love.  So to go home with two bottles was a definite departure from routine for me, but I really liked that Traminette.

I’ll have to make a mental note to head back in late September to try the Riesling.

Northwinds Vineyard ~ Watertown, Connecticut

Marguerite Barrett
Contributing Writer

This past Saturday marked the start of a week-long vacation.  As I had gone to Quebec over the Fourth of July weekend and as I wasn’t in the mood to think about packing or, worse, getting on a plane, I decided to make this week’s vacation a Win(e)ding Roads adventure.  I have just a few wineries left on the Connecticut Wine Trail, have the pass I purchased for the Hudson Valley wine trail, and have been wanting to move a bit further afield – maybe Cape Cod or Maine – just to see a bit more of New England.  A week’s worth of wineries sounded very appealing.

I kicked off the week in leisurely fashion, sleeping in, meeting my friend Christy (who’s staying off the wine trail for a while) for lunch, and then heading to Watertown and Northwinds Vineyard, one of the last four Connecticut wineries on my list.

Northwinds is a charming winery in the hills just above Lake Winnemaug, not to be confused with Lake Warramaug (as I did), the home of Hopkins Vineyards, further west.  No wonder my GPS had so much trouble finding the place, probably would have helped if I had typed in the right name…   The main house and winery is a large newer-construction home with a charming front brick entrance-cum-porch.  The garage appears to have been converted into the winery, and signs direct you around the house to the Tasting Room in the back, a large open-air patio with a gazebo roof and canvas “walls” that roll down during inclement weather.   The staff is welcoming and, despite the steady influx of newcomers, well able to keep the tastings moving along so no one was forced to wait long to begin their tasting.

Only a few years old, Northwinds has approximately 3,600 vines, St. Croix, Cabernet Franc, Vignoles, Riesling, Vidal Blanc and Traminette, on five acres of prime Connecticut farmland soil.  Prior to planting grapes, the farm had produced corn and hay for more than 50 years, which left the soil rich in minerals particularly suited for the grapes.   Northwinds also takes a sustainable, organic approach with the cultivation and maintenance of their vineyards, and their pest control process utilizes only materials listed with the Organic Materials Register Institute.

Almost all of their wines are estate grown, the one exception being their Zephyr wine, which blends their locally-grown Traminette with Seyval Blanc brought in from off-site.   For $5, the tasting menu includes six of their eight wines: three whites, the Traminette, Zephyr, and Vidal Blanc, Northwinds’ Rosé, and two reds, the Boreas and the St. Croix.  As you find in many wineries, the dessert wine, the Late Harvest Vignoles is not available for tasting, and the final wine, the Riesling, is available in the Fall.  Northwinds swaps out the Riesling and the Rosé on the tasting menu, featuring the Rosé in the Spring and the Riesling in the late Summer/early Fall.

The winery is open for tastings on Saturdays only from 11:00 – 5:00 between June and just before Thanksgiving.  In addition to their wines, Northwinds also has gift baskets which can be ordered by calling or stopping by the winery.  They also are open to the public the Saturday before Christmas for wine sales and gift basket pick-ups only.

Northwinds Vineyard
471 Lake Winnemaug Road
Watertown, CT 06795