Monday, September 12, 2011

A Cold Evening of Great Wines and Lyricism (Connecticut Wine Trail)

Published by AsianTraveler, World Tour Issue, 2009
Images by Gerard Azel Villanueva

Connecticut is not known for its wine, which is why this is such a sweet discovery!

Whose woods these are I think I know.
His house is in the village though;
He will not see me stopping here
To watch his woods fill up with snow.

The Robert Frost classic, “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening,” was running through my head when we made our way across Brookfield. We drove north for three miles on frozen roads,   looking for that rich red potion that would give us some warmth on that cold day.

My little horse must think it queer
To stop without a farmhouse near
Between the woods and frozen lake
The darkest evening of the year.

I wouldn’t say it was the darkest evening of the year, but the gloom was palpable. The streets were absent of life; people stayed indoors to escape the cold, and even the trees, withered and leafless, had called it a night. The whiteness of the ice was a startling contrast to the brown earth and the gray mood that hung low in the air.  But even the snow wasn’t pristine. It was soiled and wet. The bitter drenched expanse before me called for some “frosty” lyricism.

I thought it apt as New Hampshire, where Frost wrote this poem, was just about a four-hour drive from the Connecticut Wine Trail. Its rolling hills and lush landscape, now brown and wet and dreary, must have been his inspiration when he composed the poem. I fancied the thought of him stopping around the corner of these hills wondering whose woods – or perhaps more appropriately, whose vineyards – these are.

The frozen vineyards of New England inspire nostalgic lyricism.

This was not the Connecticut that I had grown to love. Springtime, this New England town conjures fairytale images, where deers dart through bushes and burbling brooks wind around orange-leafed trees. In contrast to the unforgiving weather that day, the Connecticut climate is surprisingly mild, and its agricultural lands are perfect for grape-growing. Its twenty vineyards grow Chardonnay, Cabernet Franc, Merlot, Riesling, Seval Blanc, Vidal Blanc, Cayuga, Saint Croix, Vignoles, and Foch. Connecticut's wineries produce a wide variety of wines including dry, barrel-fermented Chardonnays, Cabernet Francs, Dry Rieslings, and Seyval Blanc. The Connecticut Wine Trail also offers fruitier and sweeter varieties and late harvests like Vidals and Vignoles. Other vineyards produce sparkling wines, ciders, and wines made from fruits like pears, apples, peaches, raspberries, and blueberries.

Mr. Frost was the perfect company on that cold cold day.

In 1978, commercial wineries were permitted in the area with the passing of the Connecticut Winery Act. About ten years later in 1988, the Connecticut Wine Trail was established. Another decade after, on this chilly day of 2009, we found ourselves on the western part of the trail, making our way along Sandy Hook, a  historical town lined with New England Colonial homes shaded by ancient oaks and maples.

This vineyard is also a year-round farm dedicated to the production of quality wines and maple syrup.

We drove in silence, lost in our own thoughts, listening to the sound the tires made on iced gravel. Soon we came upon high sloping hills. In the middle of 45 acres of  vineyards sat a bungalow-style tasting room that looked more like a home than a winery. It had a quaint arbor patio, surrounded by what looked like a well-tended garden that was currently in hibernation. Withered shrubs and vines weaved through a trellis over the slick deck. A weathered red-painted board said “Digracia Vineyards, Winery.” 

Outside, Connecticut was unusually cold and uninviting.

Rain started to fall in icy pin-like splatters, and we quickly sought shelter inside the dimly lit tasting room. Inside, soft lights bounced on jewel-colored bottles, illuminating the cozy quarters. Behind the bar, an elderly man nodded as we surveyed the well-stocked shelves, displaying the 17 varieties ranging from dry to sweet made from estate-grown grapes, local fruit, and honey.

My companion placed a crumpled five-dollar bill on the bar, and a female attendant prepared for the tasting.  She poured a white desert wine in a glass. I raised it to watch the lights streaming in through a stained-glass window. The lights sparkled in the golden-tinged Vidal Blanc. Aptly, the Vidal Blanc is named Yankee Frost because the grapes are harvested during a frosty morning in October in the tradition of an ice wine. 

At Digrazia Vineyards, wines offered range from dry to sweet, using estate grown grapes,
local fruit and honey.

The sweet fortified wine exploded in a complex of flavors in my mouth: intensely fruity, a hint of citrus, notes of berries, and a long finish. The white- haired man smiled. He must have known what was going on in my head and in my mouth.

We had five more varieties to try, but I was already light-headed when I smiled back at the old man. As Anastasia’s Blush was poured into my glass, our elderly host excused himself. That was the Doctor Paul Digrazia himself, the female pourer revealed. A pinkish glow grew on my cheeks as I savored the full-flavored blush.

Mclaughlin’s Vista Reposa is a smooth blend of Merlot, Syrah, Cabernet
Sauvignon and a little bit of Cabernet Franc, while the Chardonnay is soft
and not overly oaked.

After the 6th variety, the medium-dry Vidal Blanc, my cheeks turned hot.  I didn’t want to leave the warmth of the quaint tasting room for the sodden world outside, but the trail was long and we had another vineyard to visit.

We headed back to Sandy Hook towards Albert’s Hill.  Dusk was starting to settle, and the roads were still deserted, calling for more lyrical musings.

He gives his harness bells a shake
To ask if there is some mistake.
The only other sound's the sweep
Of easy wind and downy flake.

There was no downy flake, only an occasional splatter of rain that turned the mounds of snow into mush. From Albert Hill’s Road, we took a right turn, and after a few minutes of driving through brown rows of soil bordered by white snow, the McLaughlin Vineyards came to view. It was a 19th century barn nested on a low hill, surrounded by bald maple trees. The winery overlooked the sprawling frozen vineyard – 160 acres right at the heart of the Housatonic River.

We stepped inside the bright winery and browsed through the country store. Aside from the wines, there were several baskets of maple syrup in white jugs. The syrup is harvested from the sugar maple trees around the vineyard and bottled in Mclaughlin’s sugar house. I dipped a small piece of bread into the amber-colored syrup and grew a little nervous. Perhaps it was the few glasses of wine I had at the first vineyard, but I was afraid I wouldn’t leave the maple syrup station until I polished off all the bread in the plate, and the owner would drive me out. Before that happened, I forced myself to move on to the next station where I found a handcrafted wooden basket filled with breakfast goodies. Resting on a bed of hay was a New England buttermilk pancake mix, a pint of maple syrup, jars of raspberry peach jam, whole-bean coffee, and one of Mclaughlin’s specially blended teas.

Homemade goodness are bottled to take home as presents.

Looking at the burlap ribbon tied around the basket, I longed to stay for breakfast, but it wasn’t what we were there for. Moving to the tasting bar, I saw a glimpse of the outside through a window. Raindrops gathered in a pool on the lid of a barrel, creating a mirror that reflected the gray world. It was too cold. I was ready for another glass.

McLaughlin’s most popular red was smooth and dry with subtle notes of cherry. The merlot finished with a slight bite. After a taste of the maple syrup, I pined for something sweet, so the attendant brought out the Snow Goose. She explained that the winter white wine is usually harvested during the first frost. I toasted the occasion to the poet that inspired this adventure, inhaled the fruity bouquet, and savored the dry and light sweetness in my mouth.

There are eight more vineyards on the west side of the trail, but it was getting dark, and my head was blissfully swimming with all the wine I took in. The darkness waited outside.

The woods are lovely, dark and deep.
But I have promises to keep,
And miles to go before I sleep,
And miles to go before I sleep.


Haha I remember proofreading this one. Loved it.

I actually searched my email for your proofread version, and you said..ang linis, wala ka makita except hyphens and punctuation :P thanks Resty! :) Miss working with you!

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