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.

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