Harvest Festival – Haight-Brown Vineyards, Litchfield, CT.

Harvest Festival at Haight-Brown

Harvest Festival at Haight-Brown

Happy International Grenache Day! I will definitely be opening one tonight in celebration… now onto the story!

Last Saturday, while planning a visit to an upcoming harvest festival for some first-time-ever grape stomping and tasting, an unexpected opening appeared in our schedule.  And, I discovered there were several of them on this weekend in the area as well. As an added bonus, my wife’s sister was already in town, so she could share the occasion with us as we did in Delaware. We promptly got in the car and made the just-over-an-hour drive to Haight-Brown Vineyards, on the Connecticut wine trail. This was our first visit to the trail in our home state, and being mostly highway, we were there and back in no time.  The drive through the Naugatuck valley and up into the Litchfield hills was beautiful, as was the weather.

Main tasting room, Haight-Brown

The winery and main tasting room, Haight-Brown

When we arrived at the Harvest Festival at Haight-Brown, a band was playing, the lot was full and lines were long. Throughout a few misunderstandings on our part as newcomers, the staff was incredibly friendly, helpful, and professional. Off to a great start already… People were enjoying themselves everywhere in the newly-harvested vineyard rows and surrounding grassy areas, set up either on picnic tables or their own portable chairs. Fortunately ours were still in the trunk from soccer games and camping trips, so we followed suit… I had never had lunch in a vineyard, as for most of the season it was off-limits unless you paid for a special tour or experience. A staff member told us they had record crowds this weekend. In fact such record crowds on the previous day that there were no grapes left for stomping! Well, good for them. This is only my first or second harvest since I entered the world of wine, and there are many for me to experience in the years ahead. I will stomp grapes, and you will get to see pictures! There were still a few unpicked (albeit unripened, and not picked for that reason) grapes on the vines. Just enough to make it more authentic. I picked one or two and down the hatch! Not quite that tasty, but still, all part of the experience. I also don’t know which varietals they were. The term for these unripened, undeveloped grapes is millerandage. It happens.

It turns out that much of the crowd was dispersing at this time as it was almost 2:30pm and lunchtime had passed. By the time we got in the first line, it (and all the others) had virtually disappeared and we made our way through the tasting at our own pace.

Millerandage

Millerandage

Speaking of the tasting, lets get to the wines. There were eight wines that we tasted on the tasting card, spread out at several tasting booths inside and tables outside. The glass you got at the first tasting was yours to use and keep for the remainder and bring home. Good news, cause without a dishwasher, I keep breaking ours!

We started with the barrel-aged Chardonnay. As you know, I’m not a Chardonnay fan, but this was pleasant. The worst thing you can do to Chardonnay in my opinion is over-oak it. This was not the case. I found it to be light on the oak and easy-drinking with some light citrus notes. Not a white Burgundy, but then again, sometimes those can be too intense for me too. This is a Chardonnay I would drink.  Next came the ‘Railway White.’ This is a dry white made from Seyval Blanc, an early-ripening hybrid that does well in cooler climates like these and north in the Finger Lakes. I enjoyed this one more than the next, the ‘Covertside White,’ a fruitier white made from their estate Seyval blanc grapes. This makes me assume the Seyval in the Railway white was made from must from somewhere else, but I could be wrong. There was nothing unpleasant about this wine, I just preferred the Railway because it was drier. Their Riesling was your basic German-style Riesling, and I really enjoyed this one. We bought a bottle of this, and I am glad they have the blue glass and standard Riesling-shaped bottle as that to me is part of the Riesling experience. Classicly off-dry with honey and mineral notes on the palate. The ‘Picnic Red‘ was a fruity, unique red, ‘made from four Italian varieties,’ one of which was Barbera, a favorite of mine that I drink often.  I couldn’t tell you the rest, and it’s not on their site. I liked it, probably because it was primarily Barbera, and I just love Italian reds. I’d need a good food pairing and more than a sip to give it a full critique though. We moved on pretty quickly, so I’ll have to go back and give it a go with a full glass and some Italian sausage.

Haight-Brown Riesling and 'Big Red'

Haight-Brown Riesling and ‘Big Red’

The ‘Morning Harvest‘ was a full-bodied richer red, made from Malbec. A good wine, but again with rich reds like this, I feel I need to sit down and have a meal and a full glass to fully experience the intensity. At $20 a bottle, it might be a tough sell compared to a French or Argentinian Malbec at comparible price. But for Connecticut, it was pretty darn good.  My favorite was the next wine, the “Big Red,” a Syrah made from must from the Alexander Valley in North Sonoma County, California. You could tell. It had all the smoke and toast and depth of a good California red, and full of typical Syrah spice. Big indeed, and we brought home two. Which are now gone. This one really made an impression on me and was worth the $20 price. There are no lost points in my opinion for using must from elsewhere. It is done all the time, even in top wine-producing regions, and it was aged and fermented here, instilling the stamp of this winemaker. This was a full-bodied, rich and aromatic wine with a nice finish. Last was the “Honey Nut Apple,” a sweet spicy wine made from fermented apple juice with local honey and cinnamon added. This is a nice fall sipper – pair it with a pumpkin pie!

I was excited to see the grape press and harvesting trays still out on the grounds from the recent harvest, and of course to point them out to my wife and sister-in-law with accompanied lesson! I’m like a kid seeing a fire truck when I encounter these things, and it definitely adds to the authenticity of the experience.

Harvesting and pressing machinery

Harvesting and pressing machinery

They also had a cheese monger, and a nice gift shop with crackers, jams, and accessories and souvenirs. So, you could stock up on cheese and crackers and head out to the vineyard to enjoy with your wine. During the event they had a BBQ tent, which also had cheese trays that came with 3 of their shop varieties and some of their blueberry jam, and crackers. This is what we had with our wines. The bees seem to love the jam as much as we did.  And we discovered they have a nearby wine train. I went on the Napa Valley wine train about ten years ago, and it was an amazing experience.

We will be taking my sister-in-law back for a ride on that wine train on her birthday weekend at the end of October. Can’t wait to write about that one, let alone experience it! I am hoping to taste more local wines from other vineyards on the train, but if not, I will be back on the Connecticut Wine trail next season… its right in my back yard.

I never expected I’d make it to so many vineyards this year throughout the cycle and I am so glad that I have. I get to end the season officially in Bordeaux in just over a week, for a company trip. I cannot wait… Maybe there will be some grapes to stomp there? Don’t think I’ll get to another vineyard before then, but that’s a pretty fantastic way to end a season.

Robibero Family Vineyards

A nice view

A nice view

Hoping everyone is enjoying the longer format. I figured since I can’t write as often, I’d write more when I do… while I find quick reviews and tasting notes useful, anybody can do that, and I’d like to share my experiences and stories with you as well. After all, the experience is much if not all of enjoying a wine.

Last Saturday morning we visited a vineyard in the Hudson Valley AVA for the first time.  Not only was it great to explore another upcoming wine region so close to home, but we managed to get some lucky travelers’ perks and upgrades given to members at our hotel. Other than a little traffic on the way back (and a tornado watch) we were impressed with the ease of a quick trip to the area. So while we only got to experience one of the wineries, there’s no doubt that getting back, and often, is on the agenda.  We had never been on the Shawangunk wine trail, or to New Paltz, which we saw on the way out. It is a charming and quaint little town with B&B’s, restaurants, bars and shops, as well as a thriving college scene from SUNY New Paltz. Next time we go back we are staying here, rather than a chain hotel, although that WAS a good experience!

Vineyard view from the deck

Vineyard from the deck

Robibero family vineyards is relatively new. They opened in 2010. Previously in this location was a vineyard called Rivendell. (Lord of the Rings reference anyone?)  It is also the newest addition to the wine trail. The tasting room and deck overlooking the mountain ridge are elegant and beautiful and pets, and kids are welcome. In fact, they have a pet Yorkie, who’s also on the label of their “New Yorkie Rosé.” They also have regular events including live music, and “wine with your K9.” The head winemaker was formerly at nearby Benmarl winery, also on the trail. The people were very friendly; no snobbery here. The man who took us through the tasting, Kevin, clearly loves what he does, and we spent a good hour talking with him about life and wine and how we all became passionate about the subject. They were very gracious and since our two guests were unable to attend, they allowed us to taste all of the wines. They are all made in small lots, right there on their property. Kevin said they had just harvested the Merlot a few days before we had visited, and they had hand-corked all 2,500 bottles! That takes some strength, folks. Makes one appreciate how hard this work can be if you don’t have fancy expensive machines to do the job for you. We tasted ten wines in all, 4 whites, one rosé and 5 reds. They serve their wines at many restaurants in Westchester County, and they are available to buy in retail shops there as well as in New Paltz, and in Riverhead, NY at the entrance to the North Fork of Long Island. They also ship to you if you can’t find your favorite.

New Yorkie Rosé

New Yorkie Rosé

There were several nice whites, and I think they were the superior wines here. Before I get into my notes – I just want to clarify that I’m not at all saying the reds were bad. But I am such a red wine enthusiast with an amazing collection of and experience with reds from around the world, that I guess I’m hard to impress or am looking for something I hadn’t come across before. The following wine was exactly that. The  “Rabbits Foot Red,” was a velvety, bright fruity wine with a really interesting and more importantly new taste to me, a blend of 75% Baco Noir, 15% Merlot, and 10% Cabernet Sauvignon. Baco I had heard of only in the production of Argmagnac, and that’s Baco 22A, aka Baco Blanc. Baco Noir is a French vitis vinifera hybrid of Folle Blanche, and also an American vitis riparia variety that is resistant to black rot and powdery and downy mildew (as well as phylloxera like most American roots) and so it does very well here. It was brought here in 1951 to many states but is most widely known and grown in Ontario, Canada. It also is a bit of an up-and-comer in the Willamette Valley of Oregon. It was very smooth, and distinctly unique and peppery and smokey, which is what attracted me to it. The Merlot I believe adds smoothness, and the Cab a bit of structure.  At $14.99, I bought two. My other favorite was the 2009 Cabernet Sauvignon, but I found the price tag prohibitive. I do like to support local wineries in the US, and bought 6 bottles of my favorite wines. But for $26, I am looking for Napa or Bordeaux quality. So there you have it. Call it what you will. The rosé, while it had a cute name and label featuring their pet Yorkie, was really a white Merlot (with 6% Cab Franc) and had it been marketed as such, I’d probably have had a better first impression. I do like a white Merlot, having tried one at Sherwood House vineyards in March. For a white Merlot, it had its merits. Calling it a rosé just kind of threw me off. It had the bitterness and aroma characteristics of a tannic red wine for obvious reasons, and it just wasn’t what I think of in a rosé. I mentioned my thoughts on the matter, maybe they’ll give it some consideration, not that I’m anybody.  Here’s the whites highlights:

87 South red wine

87 South red wine

The 2011 Dry Riesling was my favorite of their three Rieslings. It had citrus and pear aromas, was crisp and refreshing and had a nice finish, as well as some slate character and a bit of honey.  A perfect dinner white. In reality, it was off-dry, but not much, so I think the name is fair, especially compared to the other two which are noticeably sweeter.

The 2010 Riesling had more of a peach and apricot palate and nose, and a bit more sweetness. A nice wine as well, but a better dessert wine.

This brings me to the 2011 Arctic Riesling which was the first time I ever had a Riesling that was oaked. For this reason I also picked up notes of French oak, which gave it a bit more structure and typical vanilla notes. But for this reason I found this wine exciting. I really go for unique wines where the winemaker is doing something of their own to make a wine special. While not super sweet, it was not as dry as the dry Riesling and not as sweet as the other. The range of styles they make the variety in is also appealing and shows that they are excited about making wine and trying to take it to another level.

The Serendipity was a blend of 35% Chardonnay and 65% Seyval Blanc, another cool-climate hybrid found in the Finger Lakes and England, though there are some issues there because it contains some non-vinifera genes.  While I’ve had some nice white Burgundy, I’m usually the ABC type. ‘Anything but Chardonnay.’ Perhaps its all the cheap over-oaked American bulk Chard that I used to think was what all Chardonnay tasted like before my formal education. I am trying to change my perspective, and have had SOME that have made me happy. And the right pairing with food can make a big difference. I find that I like it more in a blend for sure, so this was no exception. It had a nice full body but was also crisp, with apple and floral notes.  It works well together.

Our favorites

Our favorites

The last white I tried was the 87 North (named after the nearby interstate and complete with a local map and I-87 on the label), a crisp and well-balanced wine with honeydew melon and grapefruit aromas and flavor.  It is 50% Vidal Blanc (of Canadian Ice Wine fame) and 50% Cayuga, another local American variety we encountered in the wines of Renault in New Jersey. The grapefruit on the palette I contribute to the Vidal, and the melon to the Cayuga. Cayuga is also an upstate New York lake and region in the vicinity of the Finger Lakes, and with a wine trail of its own. It was engineered specifically for the cold climate of the area by the brilliant Cornell University viticulture program. It is a cross of Seyval Blanc and Schuyler and is very frost-resistant. It is picked early, gives high yields and has floral aromas and acidity similar to that of Riesling, which also excels in the area. A very nice wine.

They also had a port made by nearby Brotherhood winery, which we look forward to opening on a special occasion. This is also where our new friend Kevin used to work. I tried it and it was very good port for a small American winery.  I’ll review it when we open the bottle.

Visit them online at http://www.rnewyorkwine.com, or in person! They’re located at

714 Albany Post Road

New Paltz, NY 12561

(845) 255 wine (9463)

More Adventures with Greek Wine

Notios Agiorgitiko (Nemea)

Notios Agiorgitiko (Nemea)

Tomorrow I’ll be heading up to a winery in the Hudson Valley AVA region of New York for a tasting (thank you Groupon). Sadly this visit will be one day short of the Hudson Valley wine and food festival, but then, there’s always next year for that. (I found this out after all plans were made, natch.) I’m sure I will bring home another case of wine from the winery, per usual on these trips. I am going to have to build up that modular wine rack I bought even higher. And I will of course share that experience with you all as soon as possible.

But first, I wanted to talk about my dinner at a new Greek taverna in town. I am sure if you’ve read my blog since the beginning, you know I went to Greece for my honeymoon, and that I loved it there, and wrote about some Greek wines I tried at another local restaurant a few months back, and yada yada yada…

I don’t want to cause any trouble so I’ll leave the name anonymous. And after all the food was delicious, and it turns out they own another restaurant in town by the water that I took my family to for Easter brunch and it was great as well. And its the food I went for – I was so excited to have a new Greek place in town.

But I have to mention this funny anecdote. The owner is a nice, proud Greek man and clearly knows how to run a great restaurant, with great service and authentic food. I started at the bar while waiting for my wife, and worked with this man and his bartender to find an authentic Greek varietal to try. They offered me a few Cabs but I reiterated that I wanted a GREEK varietal, grown in Greece, not a European varietal grown in Greece. While I’m sure those are very good, well you get my point. He presented me next with a Meritage. I said, “aren’t those all European/French varieties?” to which he responded “95% of the Cabernet in France is made from grapes imported from Greece!”  Now, I am no expert, but I have taken almost 2 years of WSET classes and I can confidently say that is NOT true. He mentioned the same being the case with Italy.

I do know that wine itself may have originated in Greece, and that Italy has been importing some of their wine since almost as long. However, I have never heard such a thing regarding French wines. I also know that Italy has many many excellent wines that they grow in their own country, with stellar reputation and high classifications and designations for almost every region. After all, almost half the wine I drink is Italian. It’s among my favorite as well as you may know, loyal readers! But I’m sure they don’t need to import 95% of grapes from Greece either. I also know the French; I was married to a French woman and have been there many times. One of my best childhood friends is French. My kids are part French. The French are just way too proud, and their wines are just way too good for this to be true. They wouldn’t have it. Right? Regardless, I will go back there for the food and more Greek wine, and they were very nice people there. I just might not ask any more wine questions…

Moving on, the Agiorgitiko was a wonderful surprise. This one from Notios, meaning ‘the one that comes from the south,’ hails from the Nemea region in the Peloponnese of mainland Greece, northwest of Athens and southwest of Corinth. Notios is from Gaia vineyards, who I have certainly heard of before.  This variety is also known as Mavro Nemeas and St. George (after the town it originates in as it literally means ‘the grape of St George’, or Agios Georgios). It is an established wine region with Agiorgitiko being the only wine allowed in its appellation PDO Nemea. They also have a successful wine co-op here like the one I visited in Crete. The second most planted native varietal after Xenomavro, it is also blended with Cabernet for a table wine called Katoi. Though the acidity in most of these wines is generally light, the altitude in this region allows a season of prime ripening due to cooler nights which also preserve acidity. Therefore you will find the most balanced and ageworthy ones here in Nemea. It is an easy-drinking and prominently fruity wine with mild tannins. My immediate first impression and comparison was to that of a French Beaujolais (hmmmm maybe he’s right about French wines? haha.) This may be due in part to the fact that carbonic maceration is used to make the wine. Bright red fruit, spice, and gentle French oak dominated. And it had a nice medium to long finish. It paired amazingly with the Greek salad, Pastichio, hummus and feta dips and the Greek meatballs.

Atlantis Assyrtiko

Atlantis Assyrtiko

My wife, being the white wine connoisseur that she is, ordered an Assyrtiko which in many ways is reminicent of a Sauvignon Blanc, but more the Loire style than Marlborough. In fact, for this reason it is often blended with Sauvignon Blanc. She really enjoyed that wine as well and was nice enough to let me try it to write a tasting note. It originates in Santorini, and we enjoyed some while there on our honeymoon in 2010 as well. It is also used to make a semi-sweet wine called vin santo, which I also mentioned in my previous blog on Greek wine, and mixed with the Savitiano grape for Retsina. The volcanic soil helps it retain its acidity and ripen well in addition to contributing its own unique characteristics. Many of the vines here are old and ungrafted due to the volcanic ash soils’ resistence to Phylloxera. Its high alcohol content and acidity also make it one of the best Greek wines for ageing. Over 70% of Santorini vineyards are Assyrtiko, grown by bush training and basket-weaving the vines to protect from the wind and heat on the island. It is full bodied and dry with citrus and mineral notes, much like a Loire Sauvignon Blanc. This one won a gold medal in France’s Challenge International Du Vin in 2011. The name is appropriate as well, as Santorini is one of the possible locations of the mythical city of Atlantis, which may have sunk in the cataclysmic eruption that turned the island into a mostly sunken caldera in the Bronze age and finished off the Minoan civilization.

So while I wouldn’t say there aren’t similarities in some wines between the two countries, each have their own distinct terroir, methods and history that make their wines their own to be sure. I can’t wait to go back to Greece. I’d love to live out my elderly years there, enjoying the warm climate, people, and the amazing food, wine and history… one day I will make that dream a reality!