Every year Sunset Meadow Vineyard in Goshen holds a “Meet the Grapes” event which allows attendees to get up close and personal with their vines, winemakers, and winery story. The 90-minute tour features a tractor ride throughout most of their 38 planted acres, a Q&A session with the winemakers accompanied by a glass of wine, and a tour of their winemaking areas. Typically hosted in late summer, this is an event you should definitely attend to not only learn about their vineyard and practices, but about winemaking in Connecticut in general.
The Sunset Meadow Story
Prior to opening Sunset Meadow Vineyards (SMV) the Motel family owned a beef cattle farm on the same land in addition to bailing over 2,000 bales of hay per year. The birth of their vineyard is quite a funny story. While at a fundraiser in 2001, George Motel Sr. was approached by a CT winemaker who told him his property was ideal for growing grapes and he should consider it. When arriving home with his wife Judy later that evening, they discovered their cattle had gotten loose. Of course, the largest one was blocking the driveway. They had to lure the cattle back to the barn in the august heat, an endeavor that took several hours. At that point George thought, “Hmmm… maybe I should look into this wine thing.”
Not to be found out by the public, they planted their first batches of vines in their lower fields, hidden from sight by an adequate tree line. The family figured, if it doesn’t work out, at least no one would have known! Turns out it worked; that one acre in Field 1 has been expanded to a now 38 acres planted and over 14,000 vines on their property.
Owners, George Sr. and Judy Motel are joined by their son George Jr. and son-in-law Chris Chichester who together take care of the major operations of the vineyard. Though quite large, the vineyard still has a very homey and family-first atmosphere.
Our tour took us through their nine ‘blocks’ planted, showcasing their first vines as well as ones planted just last year. The initial planting of vines is a big endeavor; for the first 4-5 years a vine will not produce viable grapes. At this point only 60% of their planted vines are actually producing viable grapes for winemaking (look for even bigger things to come from SMV in the next few years when the new vines are ready!). This season will be the first that they are not starting new vines since their initial planting 15 years ago.
The seemingly endless rows of vines are all planted 9 feet apart – the optimal distance to allow for adequate sunlight on each row without compromising use of the land. SMV utilizes netting practices to shield their grapes from birds but George Jr. says the other pests aren’t what you might think. Skunks are a popular nuisance animal at SMV as they will actually crawl up into the netting and wander along grabbing grapes on their way.
If you visit Sunset you’ll immediately sense why their land is so great for growing grapes. It is a moderately hilly area angled downwards towards Route 63. The afternoon sunshine fills the entire land giving grapes the warmth they seek in their growing process. The Motel’s have installed a natural irrigation and drainage system throughout their vineyard and are steadfast on their soil characteristics. Each year they have soil from each of the nine blocks tested by UCONN’s Department of Agriculture to ensure their vines have the exact nutrients they need for optimal growth. George Jr. says, “When you can balance your product on the vine, your winemaking is better.”
SMV produces an astounding 18 wines, which is quite a high number on the CT Wine Trail. Nearly all of them are made entirely of their own grown grapes. In fact, only 5% Cabernet and 5% Merlot grapes are brought in from Napa Valley each year to use in the red blends. Sunset has a great partnership with their California vineyard and is even consulted on growing, fertilizing, and harvesting practices to ensure their quality standard is being met.
A tasting allows you to choose five wines, so you’ll definitely need some return visits to try them all. In addition to the options on the tasting list, SMV has some reserve wines sold only by the bottle. For instance, a red blend, Big Lab Cab, was recently introduced named after their rescue dog Churchill. If you visit during the week you’ll see him roaming around, but on weekends it’s far too busy for him to do anything other than paperwork upstairs.
For whites I recommend their Riesling and I have to say I’m not typically a Riesling fan. SMV’s is a much less sweet version of the popular German of Californian Rieslings you might find at a liquor store. Here’s the secret – they stop fermentation two days early – and paired with the cooler CT growing climate, this gives you a delicious drier version.
Of course, you also cannot go wrong with their award winning Blustery Blend.
For reds, the Root 63 is their most popular. A fruity red meant to be served chilled is the perfect wine for a warm day. For those of you that love bold reds like I do, the Twisted Red is a red blend impressive for being from CT! Additionally, if you’re able to purchase a bottle, go for the Big Lab Cab, which tastes best if you let it decant for 45 minutes before enjoying.
When to Visit
Sunset Meadow is open year round and often on holidays. You can visit on Sunday, Monday and Thursday from 11 AM – 5 PM and on Fridays & Saturdays from 11 AM to 6 PM. For more information or to buy a bottle online check out their website at www.sunsetmeadowvineyards.com.