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Divine Wine

Local Vineyards: Libations for Every Occasion


For decades when wine and wineries were discussed, thoughts turned to Italy and France, Sonoma County and Napa Valley. But the northern part of the country—Connecticut, the Berkshires, and Dutchess County—offer a plethora of wineries as well. The United States has become the largest single consumer of wine on the planet thanks to the success of so many of its vineyards.

Take, for example, Sunset Meadow Vineyards in Goshen CT. With 50 acres of land and an ideal vantage point from which to view glorious sunsets, this former working farm dates back to the 1800s. George Motel, who co-owns the winery with his wife, Judy, purchased the farm, which then raised beef and hay, in 1996 and established Sunset Meadow Vineyards in 2003.

It is one of New England’s largest producing vineyards and has been included in a list of the Top 101 Wineries in America by The Daily Meal, voted best in Connecticut by Connecticut Magazine, called a “hidden gem” by The Wall Street Journal, and been voted New England’s Best Family Winery by Yankee magazine among many other accolades.

Twenty wines are offered at the Goshen location (there is also a Sunset Meadow of Massachusetts which ships only to that state.) Among the new wines offered for sale and tastings are SMV Reds: St. Croix, a Pinot Noir-style wine; Merlot; Twisted Red, a Bordeaux-style and Root 63, a versatile semi-sweet red wine.

SMV Whites include: Chardonnay; Cayuga White, a crisp fruit-forward wine; Rosé; Sunset Blush; Riesling, with hints of pear and green apple; Vidal Blanc and Root 63 White.

SMV offers Chocolate and Wine Pairings at Sunset, Tasting Nights, and Virtual Tastings as well.

At Hilltop Orchards and Furnace Brook Winery in Branford MA, now celebrating its 33rd year, it all began with hard apple cider. Siblings Wendy and John Vittori purchased the 200-acre farm in 1987, protecting it from development. John studied cider making in England, earning his certificate of cider making at the Wooster College of Agriculture, where he learned the traditional English cider methods and formulas.

“We chose to create a different, authentic American cider, using New England varieties, such as McIntosh, Northern Spy and Golden Russet apples. These give Johnny Mash ciders a light and refreshing taste,” he explains. “It pairs beautifully with cheeses like smoked gouda, cheddar and Jarlsberg.”

Several years after its creation, Vittori’s cider went on to win a bronze medal in the Big E Northeast Wine Competition. With the success of their cider the Vittoris began offering a range of wines and established Furnace Brook Winery, offering a range of wines including Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Pinot Noir, Riesling, White Zinfandel, Chardonnay, Sparkling Muscato and Blanc de Blancs, produced using grapes from vineyards in the Northeast and California. Apple Ice Wine and Johnny Mash are made from Hilltop’s own fresh pressed cider. And the homemade cider donuts are the perfect accompaniment. Hilltop invites people to enjoy picking their own apples from its offering of 26 varieties. Reservations are necessary and guidelines during the pandemic are listed on its website.

Cascade Mountain Winery in Amenia NY began in 1972 when Bill Wetmore, his wife and their three children planted their vineyard. The winery was built in 1974, followed by the opening of its restaurant in 1985.

Since then the Wetmores have created a line of award-winning table wines, to be sampled at the winery tasting bar or purchased for home enjoyment. Among its bestselling wines are Private Reserve White, a blend of Chardonnay and Seyval Blanc; Summertide, a semi-dry white; Harvest Rosé, crisp with a fruity finish; Red Tail Cabernet; and Coeur de Lion, a light-bodied red. The winery’s popular restaurant offers creative food with a California influence, prepared from local ingredients. The building’s several decks offer breathtaking views of the apple orchards.

Hopkins Vineyard, located in New Preston CT, is the oldest family owned and operated winery in Connecticut. The original farm has been owned and operated by the Hopkins family for more than 225 years. In 1979, Bill and Judith Hopkins started Hopkins Vineyard, raising 11 varieties of grapes in fields overlooking Lake Waramaug.

As Bill Hopkins says: “If you’re going to sell wine, you really have to grow your own fruit. If you don’t grow your own grapes, you can’t really be sure about what you’re getting. It can vary so much. We know our soils and our climate and we know our varieties. It makes for a better wine.”

And, indeed, Hopkins produces some of the most popular wines in the area: Cabernet Franc 2017 Estate Bottled, a hearty dry red that is fermented and aged for 23 months; Duet 2017 Estate Bottled, a dry white blend of Chardonnay and Vidal Blanc grapes; Red Barn Red, medium-bodied and perfect with barbecue ribs, burgers, and grilled chicken; Westwind 2018 Estate Bottled, a semi-sweet wine made from Cayuga White grapes. And the list goes on.

There are many other wonderful wineries to visit and the CT Wine Trail has reopened with precautions in place. For up-to-date information about CT Wine Trail members’ hours and operations, visit the link below.

For information about the wineries mentioned visit individual websites, linked above.