Taylor Brooke Winery ~ The Reds & Dessert Wines

Much of the art work in the Tasting Room is used in Taylor Brooke's wine labels.

Marguerite Barrett
Contributing Writer

If you’re a fan of Cabernet Franc, as I have become, or just interested in exploring a bit, and you’re in the southern New England area this season, I recommend making a trek over to Taylor Brooke Winery to check out their last vintage of Cabernet Franc.   After doing a full evaluation of their vineyards, they decided to take out the Cabernet Franc and replace it with Corot Noir, making this the last vintage they will be producing.

The reds section of the tasting menu kicks off with the Cabernet Franc.  Taylor Brooke produces their Cab Franc in the Pinot Noir style, medium bodied and fruity.   The color is a medium ruby.  The nose is lightly earthy with notes of plum.  In the mouth the wine has light cherry notes and a peppery finish.  Upon first taste, the wine feels both young and light, however it does open up with subsequent sips.  It’s not as robust as the Gouveia and Chamard Cabernet Francs, and fans of the more full-bodied reds of California and Oregon will likely not be won over to Connecticut Cabernet Francs here.  However, it’s a nice wine when given a chance, and I anticipate it will improve with a few years of cellaring.

I’m looking forward to Taylor Brooke’s Corot Noir, which they’ll begin producing once they finish the last of the Cabernet Franc.  I’ve not found many Corot Noir wines; Land of Nod is the only other winery that comes to mind that produces a Corot Noir wine; other wineries, I suspect use it primarily for blending.  It’s not a grape I know much about, and it will be interesting to see what Richard Augur does with it.  But more on that in a year or two.

Roseland Red After the Cabernet Franc we moved on to the Roseland Red, a meritage of Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Sauvignon/Merlot, and Cabernet Franc.   The Cabernet Franc is from the Taylor Brooke vineyards, and they bring in the Cabernet Sauvignon and the Cabernet Sauvignon/Merlot as juice from California and Oregon.  Made in the Bordeaux-style and aged in Hungarian Oak, this is a really nice wine and my favorite among the Taylor Brooke reds.   Also a medium ruby color, the nose is delicate and lightly fruity – an interesting change from the earthy/floral noses of the whites.   A light/medium bodied wine with both spice and cherry throughout.  The finish is peppery with a hint of smoke and leather from the oak.  The wine opens up over multiple tastings and would pair very well with grilled meats and heavier pasta dishes.

Woostock Valley Red The reds finish with Taylor Brooke’s 100% St. Croix wine.  While St. Croix is grown all over southern New England and is used by many vineyards in blending, this is only the second 100% St. Croix wine that I’ve found in Connecticut, the other being Maugle Sierra’s which I had tried earlier that morning.   If there are other predominately St. Croix wines, they were not called out as such during my tastings.   While fruity, Taylor Brooke’s St. Croix is not as fruity as Maugle Sierra’s; like many of their other wines, there are earthy notes that come through the fruit, possibly the differences in terroir between the northeastern hills and the southeastern shoreline.   The Woodstock Valley Red is garnet colored with a light nose with pleasantly earthy, grassy notes.  In the mouth the wine has bright notes of cherry, although it is not the rich “jammyness” that I found with Maugle Sierra’s.  The finish is slightly spicy; I found it hard to pinpoint what I was picking up.  It’s not pepper, although it has some of the sharpness of pepper.  Indian spices came to mind – perhaps a bit of curry?  Still not sure…  Also aged in Hungarian Oak, the finish is lightly smoky.

With the reds concluded, I rinsed my glass and prepared for the dessert wines.  As regular readers of Vino Verve know, I have a particular weakness for dessert wines.  I love that rich silkiness of a good late harvest or ice wine, and am always on the lookout for new wines to add to my collection.

First up was Taylor Brooke’s Late Harvest Riesling. A pale gold color, the nose is delicate with very discernible notes of apricot.  The mouth feel is silky and lush, and on the palate the wine is smooth and rich with notes of apricot with a honey finish.  There’s a touch of acid on the end which is interesting if unexpected.   During the tasting, Linda Augur serves this with chocolate, and the chocolate definitely smooths out that touch of acid, producing a more satisfying experience.

Chocolate Essence One of Taylor Brooke’s most popular wines, if not the most popular wine, they can’t keep this on the shelves.  From start to finish it takes a minimum of one year to produce Chocolate Essence, which given its popularity means Richard Augur always has this in production.  The wine is a chocolate-infused, port-style wine made from Merlot, which is brought in from Long Island.  They add 20 gallons of brandy to 100 gallons of Merlot and then add cocoa bean essence.  The result is heavenly…  A lovely ruby color which sparkles in the light, the nose has deep rich notes of chocolate, lighter notes of berries and a slight smokiness from the oaking.  In the mouth, the wine has bright cherry notes on the front and soft notes of chocolate throughout.  The chocolate deepens and is stronger on the finish leaving you with the sensation of just having eaten a really good chocolate covered cherry.   It would be excellent on its own, it would pair well with a variety of desserts: fruit and cheese or cheesecake immediately came to mind.  Linda Augur also recommends drizzling it over ice cream in place of chocolate sauce.  Yum!  Once opened it is good for 4-6 months, so you can savor a bottle all summer long.

That concluded the afternoon’s tasting.  I will be heading back soon, though, as the second of their seasonal wines was released last week: the St. Croix Rosé.

Taylor Brooke Winery ~ The Whites

Winery Co-Owner, Linda Augur in the Tasting Room

Marguerite Barrett
Contributing Writer

One of the great things about writing for Vino Verve, other than hitting the road and exploring new wineries, is that I find I’m inspiring others to do the same.  Often it starts with friends joining me on the wine trail and enjoying it so much that they then take others.  Less often, I’ll hear from someone who read one of the posts and said, “you know, I thought I’d give it a try.”  One of my SOTS (Sisters of the Connecticut Wine Trail) buddies, Jean Levesque, dragged her husband out on Memorial Day weekend as well, spending the afternoon at Sharpe Hill.  Tom, her husband, enjoyed himself so much that Jean should have no trouble dragging him out again – in between SOTS excursions, of course.

Taylor Brooke was first discovered by another wine trail buddy, Christy Mangle (formerly Christy Sherard), who with her husband, Jeff, headed over there late last Fall. Their reviews were so glowing that I immediately moved Taylor Brooke to the top of the list of remaining wineries.  Unfortunately, by the time I was able to get there (New Year’s weekend), they were closing down for the season and were really open only for wine sales.  Upon hearing that I had driven over from Hartford, in the snow no less, Linda Augur kindly offered to pour an abbreviated tasting menu for me that afternoon, and I promised to come back for the full experience once they opened again in the Spring.

Which is where I found myself on that beautiful Sunday afternoon over Memorial Day weekend.   Taylor Brooke produces 10 table and dessert wines and five seasonal wines.    The table wines include 4 whites, including one of their fruit-infused Rieslings; 3 reds, and 3 dessert wines.  Guests are invited to taste two wines on the house, and then can select either another six wines (for a total of 8 ) for $4 or the entire menu, including any of the available seasonal wines, for $6.  A logo glass may be purchased for an additional $3.  Never one to pass up an opportunity to sample new wines, I immediately opted for the full tasting menu for $6.

Woodstock Hill White The tasting kicks off with a lovely blend of estate grown Vignoles and Riesling and Connecticut-grown Cayuga White.  Although the Augurs have recently planted Cayuga White themselves, it will be another few years before those grapes are ready for production.  In the meantime, they partner with a nearby vineyard to obtain their Cayuga White grapes.  A pale straw color, the wine has a delicate floral nose with notes of orange blossom.  In the mouth, the wine is crisp but delicate, lightly sweet with floral notes, and just a touch of acid on the finish to provide balance.    This would pair nicely with seafood and summer pasta dishes.

Riesling Next up was the Riesling.  One of Taylor Brooke’s specialties is their Rieslings, producing a number that are infused with fruit essences.  This is a dry Riesling, and one of my favorites among the Taylor Brooke whites, second only to the Green Apple Riesling.  The color is a very light yellow. The nose is light and delicate with notes of grass, in particular that light, fresh early spring grassy smell when the grass is really starting to come up again after the winter.  In the mouth, the wine is soft and smooth with light notes of grass and maybe green pepper.  There’s a slight buttery finish, nothing overwhelming just enough to provide a touch of sweetness and a soft lingering finish.  Overall a very nice wine, and a nice change from the fruitier wines found elsewhere throughout Connecticut.

Traminette Taylor Brooke led by owner and winemaker Richard Augur were among the first to grow Traminette in Connecticut.  The grape is a hybrid of Gewurztraminer and Seyval Blanc, created by Cornell University in 1996.  While it has many of the characteristics of a Gewurztraminer, the Traminette is particularly suited for the shorter growing seasons and colder climates of the northeast and upper Midwest, and you’ll find Traminette grown in New York, Illinois, Michigan, and Pennsylvania, as well as New England.   Taylor Brooke’s Traminette is 100% estate grown.  A pale straw color, with a lovely, slightly earthy nose, the wine is very similar to a Gewurztraminer.  Sweeter than the previous two wines, with floral notes on the palate as well as light touches of peach and honey.  The peach notes really come through at the end and the wine finishes beautifully.  This would pair well with spicier, but not overly heavy food: Thai, for example, or even sushi.

Green Apple Riesling My favorite of the Taylor Brooke whites, this is one of their fruit-infused Rieslings.   Not a blend, the fruit-infused Rieslings are the result of incorporating natural fruit essence (similar in concept to vanilla extract) into 100% Riesling.  The results are very impressive producing wines with deeper, more distinctive fruit notes without creating overly sweet fruit wines.   The notes of Green Apple are distinct in the nose, but gentle – I expected the green apple to be much stronger than it actually was.  The earthy, slightly grassy notes of the Riesling were still present and blended beautifully with the slightly floral tart smell of green apple blossoms.  In the mouth, the wine has many of the hallmarks of the Riesling, drier with lightly grassy notes.  As with the nose, the green apple is distinct but not overwhelming, providing both a light sweetness and a crisp tartness reminiscent of that first bite into a crisp green apple.  The mouth feel is soft and silky and the wine has just enough acid on the finish to provide a nice balance and contrast.  Overall, a very nice wine.

Summer Peach The whites concluded with the first of Taylor Brooke’s seasonal wines, the Summer Peach.  Available May 1st each year, the Summer Peach is one of their more popular wines.  Like all the Rieslings, the color is a pale straw.  The nose is stronger than either the Riesling or the Green Apple Riesling, with very distinct notes of peach.  In the mouth the peach notes are strong, but not too sweet.  Like the Green Apple Riesling, the mouth feel is soft and silky, with a satisfying finish.  The acid provides a very slightly bitter finish which I found to be a bit off-putting; it’s almost as if the strength of the peach notes were leading me to expect more of a dessert wine with a smoother, richer finish.   Still, overall a very nice wine and one that will pair well with a wide variety of late spring/summer dishes, particularly grilled food, seafood and summer pastas.

As that finished the whites, I took a short break, rinsed my glass and prepared for the Reds…

Taylor Brooke Winery ~ Woodstock, Connecticut

Marguerite Barrett
Contributing Writer

For those of you following in my footsteps, or more accurately my tire treads, the best advice I can give you is to turn off the GPS when you start heading north.  The GPS directions will inevitably lead you to I-395 as the fastest route to the northeast corner of the state.  And while a lovely tree-lined drive that will save you approximately 12 minutes of travel time, as with all interstates you’ll bypass the most interesting parts of the journey.  Instead, head north on Route 169, one of the first designated National Scenic Byways in the United States.

32 miles long, running from Lisbon, Connecticut (just north of Maugle Sierra) to Woodstock, Route 169 dates back to the early 19th century, when it was established as the Norwich/Woodstock turnpike.  The whole area is teeming with history.  One of the things I love best is the historic architecture – there are almost 200 pre-1855 houses throughout the area, many of them colonial/early Republic farmhouses set behind stone fences.  Historic churches stand at the center of the various small towns you’ll pass through, and many of the towns have historic homes-cum-museums open to the public.   Even without stopping, it’s a gorgeous drive that rivals those of the Litchfield Hills on the western side of the state.

So, after a very pleasant hour at Maugle Sierra, I headed north to Woodstock and Taylor Brooke Winery, passing Heritage Trail in Lisbon, Connecticut which I’ve already visited twice and therefore decided to skip that afternoon.  For those newer to this part of the wine trail, Heritage Trail is a great mid-point stop along Route 169.  In addition to the winery they have a small restaurant serving both lunch and dinner and featuring dishes made from local produce and cheeses.  A perfect day’s itinerary could include kicking off the day at Maugle Sierra, a stop at Heritage Trail for wine and lunch, a mid-afternoon stop at Taylor Brooke and then wine and dinner at Sharpe Hill.  I’m trying to talk Kevin and Gretchen into leaving the kids in Sag Harbor with Kevin’s father later this summer and come to Connecticut for a long weekend.  If it works out, this will definitely be one of our itineraries.

Owner and Winemaker, Richard Augur

I arrived at Taylor Brooke just after 1:00 that afternoon.  The winery sits atop a small but steep hill overlooking the main road, and a very sharply curved driveway leads you up the incline.  The drive only accommodates one car at a time, so check carefully before starting up – or down.  Backing up on that drive is not for the faint of heart.

Once you reach the top though, it’s all worth it.  The tasting room, a one-and-a-half-story gray-clapboard building awaits you at the top of the drive.  Outside, the building is reminiscent of a small country store or cottage; inside, the space is open and inviting, and the staff welcome you in warmly.  The main room is a long rectangular space, probably a good 25-30 feet end-to-end, and the tasting bar runs along much of the back wall.  Shelves with t-shirts, coaster, wine corks, and other gift items as well as local area brochures line the walls opposite the bar.  The rest of the space is left open, and as a result, even when busy, the room doesn’t feel claustrophobic.  An archway on the right leads to a smaller room with bar height tables and chairs for those who may want to relax and linger.

Taylor Brooke is owned by Richard and Linda Auger, who have been making wines for about 15 years.  They have 2.5 acres under cultivation, growing Vignoles, Riesling, Cayuga White, Corot Noir, Traminette, and St. Croix.  The Cayuga White is new this year, replacing St. Pepin, as is the Corot Noir, which is replacing their underperforming Cabernet Franc vines.  While it will be another 2-3 years before the Cayuga and Corot Noir grapes are ready for pressing, these hybrids should do better in the colder winters and shorter growing seasons of New England.  The Augers and Taylor Brooke were also the first in the state of Connecticut to plant Traminette, which continues to do well for them.  Other grapes used in their wines, such as Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot, are brought in from Massachusetts or Long Island.

In 2008, the Augurs established the Taylor Brooke Scholarship Program, an annual $500 scholarship awarded to a graduating senior of the Woodstock Academy who plans to focus on a career in Agriculture.  They have also established an Adopt-A-Vine program.  For $55, program participants receive a certificate of “adoption” for one of the grape vines grown in Taylor Brooke’s vineyards, are eligible to participate in the Fall Harvest and will receive one complimentary bottle of wine each year for three years.  This is the first program of it’s kind that I’ve seen in Connecticut, and it’s quite interesting. I didn’t have a chance to ask Linda Augur how many vines they have available for adoption, but I do know they sell out quickly.  I’d love to see the idea catch on at other vineyards as a great way to get people more involved in and aware of local wine production.

Taylor Brooke is open from May 1st through December, Friday’s 11-6 and Saturday & Sunday 11-5.  They are also open select holidays; check their website for details.

Taylor Brooke Winery
848 Route 171
Woodstock, CT 06281
Phone: (860) 974-1263
Twitter:  woodstockctwine
Facebook: Taylor Brooke Winery