Harvest at White Silo Winery, Sherman, CT

White Silo Winery

White Silo Winery

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.

Cayuga grapes ready for vinifying

Cayuga grapes ready for vinifying

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.

Pressing the grapes

Pressing the grapes

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.

Dry Blackberry Wine

Dry Blackberry Wine

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:

http://whitesilowinery.com/
32 Rt 37 East
Sherman, CT. 06874

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Rayas Château de Fonsalette Côtes du Rhône 1986 Reserve Syrah

1986 Rayas Château de Fonsalette Côtes du Rhône Reserve Syrah

1986 Rayas Château de Fonsalette Côtes du Rhône Reserve Syrah

This past weekend I had the good fortune to be invited to drink some 27-year-old Rhône Syrah. A friend was having a party and there were several culinary treats. Pizzas grilled on the barbecue with fresh herbs and vegetables from the garden, homemade mozzarella and sangria, and our favorite cider on tap. Add the fire pit and this wine surprise, and I was in heaven there for a while. The bottle  was presented by one of the guests who received it as a gift. While not knowing a ton about the wine, the age obviously made it special and they asked whether I thought it would be good. While this would likely be considered past maturity, I certainly thought it would still be drinkable and was excited to try. We decanted it for about 50 minutes as there was plenty of residue, and to allow it to open up.

As you would expect, the fruit was fully developed and the complexity was rich – black pepper everywhere, with subtle black currant fruit notes and hints of liquorice, bramble and soil. The tannins were subdued as was the acidity, and it was all very smoothly integrated by this point. And it was not musty at all. There was definitely rim variation on the edge of the wine due to its age.

The Appelation of Côtes du Rhône tells you that this wine has reasonable quality even if it doesn’t come from a more famous appelation in the region. There are many fine wines of this type within the region. If anything, this translates into a good buy for your money as often these other vineyards are right on the other side of a boundary of a famous appelation. Red wines in this broader appelation are usually a blend of the three big red varieties, GSM — or Grenache, Syrah and Mourvèdre. Cinsault and Carignan are used too. These days, stating just Syrah on the label would indicate that this varietal makes up 85% or more of the blend. I don’t know the exact percentages of the varietals in this wine but I would guess Syrah makes up a healthy portion if it is stated there, even by older laws.

More recent vintages seem to have a majority of Grenache with Cinsault next and only last, Syrah. This makes me wonder why Syrah is so prominent on the label of the 1986. This vineyard is located in the central Côtes du Rhône Villages area, so one can’t assume its due to it being from the Northern Rhône where Syrah dominates. I would guess that it was either an older generation’s chosen blend, or weather factors in that growing season made for nice ripe Syrah which they wanted to showcase. Since 2005 this region has become part of Côtes du Rhône Village Massif.

Decanting 1986 Rayas Château de Fonsalette Côtes du Rhône Reserve Syrah

Decanting 1986 Rayas Château de Fonsalette Côtes du Rhône Reserve Syrah

Fonsalette is a brand, not a domaine. The actual vineyards are in Lagarde-Paréol but the wines are vinified at Château Rayas. It belongs to the Reynaud family, who bought Rayas in the 1880s when former notary Albert Reynaud became deaf and had to change careers. Its been passed down the generations since, and with the addition of Chateau des Tours. All said, they also make a Côtes du Rhône Blanc, Châteuneuf du Pape and Châteauneuf du Pape Blanc in their vineyards and estates. They are old-world, described even as the ‘antithesis of modern winemaking’. These are low-yielding old vines, and the winery itself is nothing grand in appearance, choosing to focus on the wine above all else.

I’ve seen the price listed anywhere from $135 in France to over $300 in the U.S when searching the web. Parker gave the vintage 78 points, though I enjoyed it a lot more than that! And he wrote fondly about his meeting then-winemaker Jacques Reynaud (Albert’s son) in his 1997 book “Wines of the Rhone Valley” and holds their wines in high regard. If anyone else has any experience, insight or clarifications on this wine, I’d love to hear your thoughts.