Last weekend after a great hike on the famous Appalachian Trail, my wife and I visited the White Silo Winery in Sherman, just a few miles from where the trail enters Connecticut. Simply expecting a nice way to celebrate and loosen up the muscles a bit with a few glasses of wine, we stumbled into harvest.
While sad to have missed the opportunity to volunteer earlier that day, I got my nature fix on the trail and winemaker Eric Gorman was more than happy to give me his card so I could volunteer next year. We chatted briefly about our WSET experiences and he and his staff were also more than happy to let me watch them as they went about their work. A small but efficient operation of de-stemming, harvesting and pressing the whites was underway, the reds having been done the day before. Once a you-pick-it fruit farm, the good folks of Cornell came along years ago with recipes for making fruit wine and the experiments began. They became a winery in 1990, with the first grape vines planted in 2010. The first crop of traditional grape-based wines were harvested in 2012.
These days they have found much success with the fruit wines, winning several awards including the Big E for their sparkling Blackberry wine. Only 2 wines are not fruit based – the white being Cayuga-based (I do not know what grape is used for the red). My guess is Cornell also provided/inspired them to grow the grape, which they bred to tolerate the cold climates in the region to much success. I’ve had this variety in many Connecticut and New York wineries so far as a result.
There were a few baskets of the just picked Cayuga bunches and we were invited to taste a few of them. We then witnessed the pressing of the grapes in their bladder press. This press was a smaller, water-based press that works in the same way as pneumatic presses I’ve seen but is vertically oriented. When the press is full of the grapes, the stems and pips were added back in both to keep the bladder shape from deforming and potentially being damaged, and to of course add some tannin. We also got to taste the just-pressed juice which was another treat! The last step was pouring it into the steel fermentation tank and checking the brix. As the next batch was being prepared, another staff member was using a de-stemmer just like the one I saw in a winery in the Finger Lakes and did my best to resist buying on the spot! Well that and the fact that I don’t have any OTHER winemaking equipment other than a carboy, some yeast and a fermentation stopper from WSET class. I also saw the bottling machines – all the wine is grown, vinified and bottled on premises – a nice small family operation that had my wheels turning… One day.
We then went inside for a tasting ($7 pp including a free sangria made with 1 part dry rhubarb and 1 part blackberry over ice) where we tried several of the wines including the dry blackberry, blackcurrant and blueberry wines, the rhubarb sangria, a semi-sweet rhubarb wine and the “Upland Pastures” (Cayuga) dry white and dry red. All were interesting and refreshing and we came home with 3 bottles, one of each of those I just mentioned. We enjoyed most of the blackberry wine with dinner last night. You also get to keep your tasting glasses as is traditional in most wineries. Many local shops carry the wines as well as the winery (call to order while they set up the online store).
The beautiful winery is in an old 1800’s dairy barn on a hillside in the foothills overlooking the vineyards and fruit plants below. There is also a nice terraced area to enjoy the wine, custom box lunches (reserve in advance), local cheese plates or you can bring your own. To celebrate their fruit and vegetable crop, they have the Asparagus Festival every May, The Rhubarb Festival in June, and the Raspberry Festival in September.
They also make their own mustard from berries, quince, blackcurrant and rhubarb that are all grown on their property. The Quince mustard took 1st place in the 2011 CT Food Specialty Competition, and there’s now a jar in our pantry. There was a nice art gallery in the winery with paintings and pottery from local artists on display and on sale. If you’re a hiker, they have 3 miles of trails behind the winery called “Elaine’s trails.” Definitely give them a visit at:
32 Rt 37 East
Sherman, CT. 06874