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Friday, November 18, 2016

Stonington Vineyards- CT Wine Trail

On the Connecticut/Rhode Island border, where the Towns of Stonington and North Stonington merge and shift from coastal community to farms and casinos, three vineyards offer a variety of Connecticut grown wines on beautiful estates.  There is Jonathan Edwards in North Stonington, Stonington Vineyards right on the Stonington/North Stonington line, and Saltwater Farm Vineyard at the edge of the borough, closest to the water.  Stonington Vineyards was my second stop on the Stonington Wine Trail and I was pleasantly surprised by this vineyard nestled in by farms and field in beautiful Stonington.  Pour yourself a glass of wine (it is Friday after all) and read all about Stonington Vineyards.

. . . First Impressions . . .
One of the oldest vineyards in the state.  SV is a vineyard first, and venue second with opening hours that make sense, a nice change from most vineyards whose priority seems to be weddings.  This vineyard is dog-friendly (outdoors) and you can bring your own food.  There is a beautiful patio and lawn for the nicer days, as well as a gorgeous tasting room renovated in 2014.  The tasting was the cheapest I have been to yet, at $10 including a glass to take home.  The wine was good, but nothing "blew me away".  The prices were affordable and I brought home their award winning Seaport White for just $12.  

. . . About the Vineyard . . .
Stonington Vineyards is open daily from 11 am to 5 pm year round. When many of the vineyards are closed on Saturdays or have weird hours for weddings, Stonington Vineyards offers extended summer hours, open until 7pm on summer Saturdays. Unlike Saltwater Farms Vineyard, this place felt like a vineyard first, and wedding venue second.  To add to the fun, Friday evenings in the months of July and August SV offers a music series, with live music on Friday evenings. What does this all mean?  There is plenty of time to pack a picnic, bring your dog, and enjoy some local wine on the patio.

We showed up on an overcast November evening after passing the vineyard on the way to a hike.  It isn't often we leave the borough to head north of I-95 (oh no, we are turning into those people?) so when we passed the sign, we knew we had to stop.  We pulled into a quiet vineyard at about 11:30 and followed the signs out to the vineyard and eventually to the newly remodeled tasting room.  

After chatting with the staff, I soon discovered Stonington Vineyard is the oldest of the three vineyards in the Stonington area, and one of the oldest in the State of Connecticut.  I thought this was a great little fun fact for any New England Wine Lover, and I love to learn about this little coastal town I now call home.  

Stonington Vineyards prides themselves in a few things.  First off, they believe their "microclimate" is key for growing the varieties of grapes they have selected.  What creates this micro climate?    According to the vineyard, the vines are strongly influenced by the proximity to the water (just a few miles to the south!). "Ocean water temperatures create a maritime microclimate similar to that in Bordeaux" states the makers of Stonington Vineyard Wines. Stonington Vineyards also believes that their small scale hand picked vines is key to the quality of their wine.  And how much wine?  Approximately 6 1/2 acres of Chardonnay and 3 1/2 acres of Cabernet Franc. 

. . .The Winemaker . . .
Location is key, but Stonington Vineyards is also proud of the people who stand behind their wine. "Mike McAndrew started his career in the wine industry selling wine in the Finger Lakes region of New York in the late 70’s. Excited about the emerging wine community in Connecticut, Mike apprenticed at another Connecticut vineyard before coming on as the winemaker at Stonington Vineyards in 1987. It was the combination of climate, elevation, close proximity to the ocean and mineral content in the soil that lured Mike to Stonington Vineyards and he has been the winemaker ever since. A minimalist at heart, Mike’s winemaking philosophy is as natural as possible. “Grow sound fruit, pick when ripe and make great wine.” Read more about the winemaker here

  . . . The Tasting Room . . . 
The tasting room was light, bright and full of windows overlooking the vineyard.  There were large doors accessing the patio where on a nice day, you could enjoy a wine and picnic outside.  One section of the tasting room housed a little store with various wine-related gifts, and even sold cheese and crackers in case you forgot your picnic.  There were wine cask table and stools, along with large farmhouse style tables for bigger groups.  There was even a fireplace tucked into the tasting room which would be a perfect place to watch the snow fall with a glass of Stonington Wine. 

A long bar ran along the back of the tasting room where you could sample wines and talk to the staff about the vineyard.  The staff was friendly but I definitely got the impression that they had been there a little too long and passion in the wine and vineyard had to be lost.  I had to probe her and ask a million questions about the vineyard and the wine and I started to feel a little pestering.  I would have loved a little more interaction and education on the vineyard and how they made their wine. 

  . . . About the wine . . .
This winery is known for its outstanding Chardonnays, Seaport White and Triad Rose, also specializing in Reisling, Vidal Blanc and Cabernet Franc. Stonington Vineyards has won several awards throughout the years for its European-style wine. 

While at the vineyard, we sampled six wines, a few different white wines ranging from a sweet riesling to a dry rose. There was one red wine to sample as typical of New England vineyards, red grapes do not do well with the climate.  The chardonnays had a very different taste than what I was used to as they were unoaked (which seems to be a growing trend).  My favorite of the day was the Seaport White, a Cayuga/Chardonnay blend that has won several awards and can be found in many restaurants of the borough. It is also the cheapest bottle at the vineyard and to be able to taste local wines for $10 and buy a bottle for $12 is a steal. 

-2012 Cabernet Franc $30 Medium Body, with up front fruit of deep ripe red cherries and leather, elegant tannins and clean finish.

-2013 Sheer Chardonnay $18 Sheer equals pure…this best describes our un-oaked Chardonnay. Fermented in stainless for a distinctly fruit forward, clean taste on your palate.

-2012 Chardonnay $22 Classic Burgundian style, barrel fermented & aged sur-lee for one year in French cooperage. This wine shows a crisp, clean apple character with a subtle vanilla nose and satin finish. A more traditional style Chardonnay.

-2013 Riesling $22 A dry varietal with notes of pineapple, grapefruit, a hint of apricot and a backbone of minerals. This wine has a smooth finish. Delightful as an aperitif or with a light dessert.

-2013 Triad Rose $17 A unique blend of three grape varieties: Cabernet Franc, Chardonnay & Vidal Blanc. This provides this vintage with rich fruit, backbone & spice which harmonize together to make this a refreshingly pleasing to complement your Summer fair.

-Seaport White $12 A Cayuga/Chardonnay blend that results in a refreshing, balanced, off-dry white wine.

. . . Tastings . . .
While visiting the vineyard, I highly recommend a tasting.  You can taste samples of six different types of wines for $10 (including a SV glass). Once you find your favorite, wines can be bought by the bottle (cold from the fridge) or by the case with the option to order custom-made wine baskets. 

Learn how the wine is made with daily winery tours at 2 pm during the summer, and 2pm on the weekends during the winter. The tour usually lasts about 30 minutes at no cost, so it's well worth the time.

I can't wait to come back in the summer with a picnic and listen to some live music, or on a snowy day to cozy up to a fire with some local wine.  I love that they come across as a vineyard first, and a venue second focusing on exactly what they should, their wine.  Thanks for the tasting SV and we will be back soon. 

Stonington Vineyards
523 Taugwonk Road, Stonington, CT (map)
860-535-1222 or 800-421-9463

Hours:  Daily from 11am to 5 pm year round
extended summer hours, open until 7pm on summer Saturdays
Tours: 2 pm daily during the summer, and 2pm on the weekends during the winter.
Events: Friday evenings in the months of July and August SV offers a music series, with live music on Friday evenings

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