CT Coast & Country Winter Wine Trail

This weekend I set off on an adventure — I combatted the CT Coast & Country Winter Wine Trail in one day! This special winter program runs January 7 to April 2, 2017 and includes three of the 25 CT Wine Trail members: Bishop’s Orchards Winery in Guilford, Gouveia Vineyards and Paradise Hills Winery & Vineyard, both in Wallingford. What a better way to spend a beautiful weekend and National Drink Wine Day?!

I had never been to any of the three vineyards, so I was excited to go and present my findings to you. I expected them to all be very different in both style of wine and the atmosphere. I selected a day that would have various offerings, packed a good book for the ride, made sure my boyfriend Konrad wasn’t “hangry,” and jumped in the car. The drive down I-95 from eastern CT was an easy commute and only made better by the lovely weather!

First we visited Bishop’s Orchard Winery, which offers tours at 2pm on weekends for $6 per person, or $14 if paired with a tasting. Our tasting bar server, Brian, noted that tours are best in the fall, when their cider room downstairs produces wine, fresh cider and cider doughnuts. They were offering a Cheese Pairing special this particular weekend between 12-5, from which we enjoyed a lovely Manchego cheese, crackers and grapes. Their usual tasting costs $9 per person, and includes a souvenir glass. Since the tasting bar is located within the Bishop’s Farm Market, it is convenient to pick up some snacks for the rest of the trip. They also have a great offering of other Connecticut wines from Jonathan Edwards Winery, Jones Winery, Hopkins Vineyard, Holmberg Orchard Winery, Sunset Meadow Vineyards, White Silo and more. More details about their tastings and tours, with group information, can be found here.

Their tasting is very structured, having six categories to try wines from. Some categories have two or three wines to choose from; Konrad and I always picked different ones so that we could share. All of Bishop’s wines are made of fruits other than grapes, but the process is similar and they are made in stainless steel tanks by winemaker Keith Bishop.

We started with their Dry and Semi-Dry offerings, the Stone House White and Faulkner’s Spiced Apple. Both are apple wines, but the Faulkner’s has mulling spices added. We then moved on to Semi-Dry, where we could expect a sweeter, more fruit-forward wine. We got to choose two of three options, including Pearadise, a pear wine. We greatly enjoyed the Happley Impeared wine, a mix of apples and pears.  Hard Ciders were next – Farm House Style semi-dry and Golden, made of golden delicious apples and honey. The next two categories were the same, allowing us to try all four semi-sweet wines between us. The Semi-Sweet wines include two peach wines and two blushes. The popular Amazing Grace blush wine includes the only fruit not grown at Bishop’s – cranberries – though they recently built a bog and can expect their own in about three years. This wine goes great with Turkey and is most popular around Thanksgiving time.  The last category was specialty wines, where we tried Berry Best Friends and Hyland Red, a sweet, jammy raspberry dessert wine that we paired with a dark chocolate Kiss. They also offered Night Owl from Hopkins Vineyard in Warren, which took me by surprise. Brian informed us that the Bishop and Hopkins families have been friends for years, and Bishop’s supplies some fruit for their wines. In August, Bishop’s has their own wine festival, and purchased all of Hopkins’ leftover wine to have on-hand. Including Hopkins wine in their tastings goes to show that there is a lot of collaboration and mutual respect in Connecticut’s winemaking industry.

Just when we thought we were done… Brian pulled out two more bottles. Some bubbly! We enjoyed a final taste of Sachem’s Twilight, a peach sparkling wine, and Rubus Nightfall, a raspberry sparkling wine. Both were delicious and I look forward to making mimosas with them! Once we completed the tasting, we purchased a bottle of Happley Impeared, Farm House Cider, and Sachem’s Twilight to take home, got our CT Coast & Country Winter Wine Trail passport, complete with Bishop’s stamp, and set off for Wallingford.

The drive to Wallingford was easy and peaceful. We passed many of the orchards we had been talking with Brian about, and also enjoyed looking at some beautiful houses in Guilford. Konrad’s sister called and we planned to meet up at Gouveia.

Pulling up to Gouveia, the winery and house sat atop a hill with beautiful views in all directions. We were looking forward to catching the sunset I’ve heard to much about. Once we walked into the stone building, I was surprised by the amount of space and people inside, as we stepped over to the tasting bar at the right.

The tasting at Gouveia included five wines – four pre-selected and one for you to choose based on what you liked. The tasting cost $12 and included a souvenir glass. We started with their estate-grown Steel Chardonnay, which I really enjoyed. Next was their Stone House White, a sweeter wine that was like a Riesling or Moscato. This was followed by their semi-sweet Whirlwind Rosé, and their Merlot. Their Merlot has 80% estate-grown grapes and 20% from California to give it a robust, spicy vanilla flavor from the French barrel. I chose another red for my fifth taste, their most popular Stone House Red.

As I stood there with Konrad, his sister Justyna and friends, I looked around and was happy to see so many groups enjoying themselves. People walked in with table games, picnics and more. I asked Dawn, our tasting bar server, what makes Gouveia unique? She noted the family-friendly atmosphere.

I took another glance down at the tasting menu and decided we weren’t done yet… we must try the limited Chocolate Epiphany Reserve. Best decision to splurge a little on another taste; it cost $3 for a sample. Dawn joked to Konrad, “You better try it first or she’ll want all of it down to the last drop.” The Epiphany Reserve is a Port-style wine that marries wine and dark chocolate. It had a great nose and tasted amazing. Even 30 seconds after my last sip, the taste lingered and didn’t change. Dawn said she likes it drizzled on french vanilla ice cream with a trio of berries, and also noted that a customer uses it to complete a seared ribeye with peppers and onions. Although that sounds yummy, I’d much rather drink it! It’s only sold by the bottle to take home, as it has a very high alcohol content of over 18%. While on the topic of using wine for cooking, Dawn mentioned a few other wines she liked to cook with from the CT Wine Trail, like Stonington Vineyards’  Seaport White for shrimp scampi. Again, this depicts the mutual respect and passion for the craft along the Trail.

I was interested to learn that Gouveia does not distribute their wines anywhere but the winery and the Library Wine Bar & Bistro in downtown Wallingford, also owned by the Gouveia family. This is because they love to see people enjoying their wine and they have very little sulfates in them to preserve shelf-life. Since I won’t be able to buy their wine anywhere closer to home, we went home with a bottle of steel Chardonnay and two bottles of the Chocolate Epiphany Reserve.

I stepped outside to take a gander at the panoramic windows in the back room and take some pictures of the amazing views. I can’t wait to visit again with everything in bloom!

Next, we visited Paradise Hills, as they are open latest (until 8). I wish we could have done this Trail on a Sunday so we would have caught the tail-end of their live music, which they offer on Fridays from 5-7:45 and Sundays from 2-5.

I’m in touch with owner/winemaker Margaret Ruggiero quite a lot about the Trail, so I was excited to finally try their wines. They did not disappoint! Their tasting menu included six pre-selected wines for $10, and four other options to add for an additional $2. Every single wine here was delicious. They were well-balanced with great flavor profiles. My notes read, “yum, yum, yum” with little hearts all around. First we had two whites, the Casa Biano (house white) and Washington Trail White. Next, we tried the brand new, award-winning Landot Noir. This is their only fully estate-grown red, featuring a blend of grapes.  It is a lighter to medium bodied red, and our group all agreed it was our favorite of the day. Paula, our tasting bar server, also highly recommends this wine. We then tried another red, Trio. Trio is made entirely from Chilean grapes, making it an international wine. We returned to whites for the last two. Vino Bianco del Paradiso was an incredibly unique wine, with a sweet dark chocolate/strawberry nose, and a totally different taste. Paula led us through how to try it, asking us to hold it in our mouths for 4 seconds, then press our tongues to our teeth to swallow. These directions reminded me of my wine tour and class in Tuscany. Speaking of Tuscany, after we tried the Cayuga, I opted to also try their Chianti-style wine, Nostra Tradizione (our tradition), which uses Sangiovese grapes. Konrad tried Temptation, their apple wine, to compare it to Bishop’s wines we had earlier that day.

We had about thirty minutes to have a seat and enjoy a bottle of Landot Noir before leaving to make our dinner reservation. The place was packed, so we made our way out to the back porch, expecting to be alone as the temperature dropped a bit, but found it delightfully full of people as well. We grabbed a table from a couple leaving in the back.

After we got our last stamp at Paradise, we turned in the tear-off part of the passport. On the other side of the booklet, there is a coupon for 20% off two entrees at Ballou’s Restaurant & Wine Bar in Guilford. Even though it seems like we back-tracked, Guilford is on the way back to I-95. Reservations were recommended beforehand, and they gave us an excellent table near the window. It smelled so good in there! They have 80+ wines on their menu, including CT Wines from DiGrazia, Sharpe Hill and Bishop’s, and we selected a bottle of Mia, a Spanish red wine. We shared crab fondue, which was delicious, and I opted for a lighter entree – spaghetti squash. Others had variations of their macaroni and cheese.  Overall, the meal was good. The location of the restaurant is on the Guilford town green, where there are many shops and other places if you made Guilford alone a one-day trip.

We all had a wonderful day going to multiple vineyards. If you plan to do the same, please make sure you take your time to have food and drink responsibly! The CT Coast & Country Winter Wine Trail Passport is a great reason to check out wineries open in the off-season. The mini-passport program offers a number of prizes, including travel accommodations, spa packages, restaurant gift cards, bottles of wine of course, and much more! Prizes will be drawn at random by April 16 from all fully-completed cards. Winners will be notified via email or phone.

I’m happy I took the time to explore more of the Trail, and to do it side-by-side with family and friends. Especially in the days following Valentine’s…and on National Drink Wine Day! I look forward to returning to each winery sometime in the future, and to taking trips to do the Litchfield Winter Wine Trail. Thanks to all three on the Coast & Country Trail for the great hospitality!

Cheers!

Author

Kayla Hedman

A Connecticut-native, Kayla recently moved back to southeastern CT from Burlington, VT. While in VT, she frequented local wineries, where a number of her friends worked as tasting room staff and event coordinators. She hardwired her palette and learned to appreciate wine for the sake of her friends. Unfortunately, after finding out she has an intolerance to gluten, Kayla stepped away from being a part-time representative for a brewery and grew to love wine even more. She works full-time as a brand manager at a marketing agency, and enjoys supporting local small businesses in her spare time.