Connecticut Wine: Meandering in the Nutmeg State

 

Meandering Through the Nutmeg State – Connecticut’s Eastern Wineries

Just a mile off Interstate 95’s exit 90, you’ll arrive in Mystic, a bustling historic community filled with literally dozens of attractions.

Come hungry … there’s lot of great places to eat here in Mystic.

Of course, one of the most well known dining spots is the legendary Mystic Pizza, established in 1975 and the setting and inspiration for the 1988 hit movie. Located at 56 W. Main Street, stop by for their House Special pizza and maybe an appetizer of fried calamari. You might have to wait in line, because “A Slice of Heaven” isn’t just a slogan, it’s an apt description of Mystic Pizza’s pride and passion.

A few short blocks from Mystic Pizza, you’ll see Mystic Seaport, the nation’s leading maritime museum. Mystic Seaport isn’t only about tall ships and sea stories though, as you can find plenty to keep you occupied for hours on end. In more temperate months, take a sightseeing cruise on Long Island Sound, or amble through the recreated 19th century seaport village, aptly named Olde Mystic Village. Don’t forget to include time to visit our friends from the sea at the renowned Mystic Aquarium, and after all that eating, shopping, and touring, it’s time to kick back and relax at our first stop on the eastern Connecticut Wine Trail — Haight Vineyard Winery in Olde Mystic Village.

With wineries in both Mystic and at Litchfield in Connecticut’s northwestern area, Haight Vineyard Winery became the first “new” winery in Connecticut in 1978. Of course, Connecticut — like most of our 50 states — has a long farm winery tradition and history, and here in New England, many of the wineries and vineyards stand on family farms which have existed for generations. In fact, Haight Vineyard Winery provides a respectful nod to wine-making history at its Mystic location. Wander through the fascinating displays of wine-making history and production, then stop in the tasting area to sample the fruits of Haight’s labor.

Haight produces breezy, refreshing wines, personified by their seasonal Estate White Wine, “Summer Breeze.” An immediate favorite after its introduction, Summer Breeze is produced from the Seyval Blanc grape variety and flavored with a hint of honey and lemon. Don’t miss its sister wine, the medium-bodied “Picnic Red,” a friendly, approachable wine, well-suited for a Mystic picnic or Long Island Sound sunset. Before wrapping up your visit at Haight, sample their deliciously fruity and fresh “Covertside White” and their popular “Barely Blush,” an all-seasons wine with just the right hint of sweetness.

Just a few miles away from the Mystic Seaport area are our next two Connecticut wineries, but if you’re in the area between March and October, take a few minutes off the beaten path for a quick bit at The Sea Swirl of Mystic, a casual throwback place serving soft serve ice cream cones, New England Milk Broth chowder and local clams. A local institution for 50 years, the Sea Swirl is one of the best clam shacks around. As an added bonus, stop by at sunset and dine outdoors while enjoying the great view.

Just up the road from Sea Swirl, you’ll follow the blue Connecticut Wine Trail signs to Stonington Vineyards for a taste of some of winemaker Mike McAndrew’s European style table wines. Best known for its barrel fermented Chardonnays, Stonington also offers very enjoyable blends, like the off dry Seaport White and the well balanced Gewurztraminer. Take time to visit Stonington’s vineyards and learn firsthand why this Connecticut corner provides a perfect maritime micro-climate, allowing for a long and perfectly cool growing season.

If you happen to be at Stonington in mid-October, be sure to coincide your visit with their Wine and Food Festival. Experience live music, samplings from local restaurants, cellar tours and displays of unique local art. You can purchase a framed or unframed print in their gift gallery to take home as the perfect remembrance of your visit!

Just a short drive away is the town of North Stonington, home of the charming Jonathan Edwards Winery. Have your camera fully loaded with film — Jonathan Edwards Winery offers some of the most picturesque settings you can imagine. Situated on a 48-acre hilltop, the winery offers a gorgeous view of the Atlantic Ocean (think: perfect spot for a picnic). Their gift shop not only offers their Napa Valley-style wines, but various local taste treats including specialty cheeses, baguettes, olives and dips. The winery’s slogan, “Where East Meets West,” provides a hint of their wine choices. The 2004 Connecticut Chardonnay, is owner-winemaker Jonathan Edwards’ first estate-grown wine. Notice the fresh green apple and lemon bouquet as it complements the vanilla oak from their aging barrels. The winery also offers a smooth Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah, and plans many more estate bottlings in the near future.

Taking a Break

After three winery visits sandwiched in between various other tourist attractions, it might be time for a rest stop. Fortunately, just up Connecticut Route 2 from Jonathan Edwards Winery, you’ll intersect with Connecticut Rt. 169, one of the most scenic drives in the eastern U.S. Before heading into small town of Lisbon to visit the Heritage Trail Vineyards, consider a stop at the Lonesome Dove Bed and Breakfast, situated on three acres adjacent to Rt. 169. The Lonesome Dove is renowned for the many species of birds that visit its grounds, including the namesake Mourning Dove. Indulge in all the amenities of a bed and breakfast, explore the grounds and enjoy one of your wine purchases on their private deck overlooking a stream and Connecticut woods.

Just outside of Lisbon, you’ll find Heritage Trail Vineyards, located on 38 rolling acres in the heart of the Quinebaug-Shetucket National Heritage Corridor. Here, you’re invited to sample their various estate wines on their sundeck, with peaceful views of nearby woods, ponds and wildlife. Try their Quinebaug White, produced from Vignole Blanc and Cayuga White grapes, giving it a crisp taste with just the right amount of sweetness. Or, for something a bit bolder, ask for the Cabernet Franc, a full-bodied deep ruby red with a wonderful rich taste. Stop by to taste and say hello on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays from May to December.

Taking Rt. 169 back to Rt. 2 via I-395, head west from Lisbon approximately 30 miles to the historic town of Colchester, to Priam Vineyards. A member of the Connecticut wine scene since April 2003, Priam produces wines influenced by northern France and German styles. The 27-acre site features a vineyard high in the New London County hills, with a 35 mile view of the New England countryside. Owners Gloria Priam and Gary Crump encourage visitors to enjoy local cheeses available in their gift and tasting area, perhaps while enjoying a glass of their crisp Barrel Select Chardonnay or the floral, spicy Gewurztraminer. Don’t miss exhibits from local artists in the tasting room gallery.

Our sixth and final stop takes us due northeast less than an hour from Priam Vineyards in Colchester, to the small town of Pomfret via Routes 66, 6 and 169. This area of Connecticut is affectionately known as “Connecticut’s Quiet Corner,” just 10 minutes from the Putnam antiques district. Here, you’re literally 15 miles from both the Rhode Island and Massachusetts borders, and holding fort in this corner of the state is Sharpe Hill Vineyard.

Sharpe Hill Vineyard is situated on more than 100 acres, which on some points rise to over 700 feet, providing a spectacular view of the tri-state countryside. Visitors can enjoy a gourmet meal (by reservation) in the Wine Garden or the Fireside Tavern, which is reminiscent of a 19th century taproom. Open year around, Sharpe Hill delights visitors with a diverse selection of wines. Favorites include their brand new Dry Riesling, Ballet of Angels white and their Red Seraph, a smooth blend based on the St. Croix grape. Sharpe Hill is very proud of their recent “Award in Excellence” from Zagat, and also for being the official wine for the U.S. Coast Guard Tall Ship Eagle.

Cheers!

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