Connecticut Part 1: DiGrazia Vineyards & Winery


I'm of the mind that I should post soon after experiencing a wine, formulating an image and blurb so that when I do get to painting it for an entry it feels more sincere and authentic; this goes for the recounting of events as well, but since August things have been hectic and now is as good a time as any. 

So back in August I pitched the idea of visiting wineries upstate with my aunt, uncle, sister and her fiancée, as I've said in the previous post overviewing this adventure, and off we went to find a few somewhere between Mahopac, New York and Norwalk, Connecticut. Who knew we'd find a few there as well as a great lunch place called Down the Hatch overlooking Candlewood Lake -it's a great place for all-American eats, seafood, and some beer. YUM. Luckily it was a sunny crisp day and we were able to enjoy our burgers and beers on the deck but at some point towards the close of our meal I was beginning to get antsy, I knew that wineries closed around 5pm usually and perhaps I was being a little lofty thinking we'd visit three or four.

One of the many things I didn't know before starting this trip was that there are vineyards spread across the state, mostly within the only two designated American Viticultural Areas hugging either the western edge with New York or the Long Island Sound. The Connecticut Wine Trail tries to entice wine-centric folks to visit them all with a Wine Trail Passport where, if you collect all twenty-five wineries, you win a trip to Barcelona, Spain (hello Cava!). However, Connecticut, although small is still large enough that driving up to Woodstock and Pomfret would take a good two hours by car since they exist in the far north-east corner of the state. With that as the start, circling around to the coast would probably take a good day and I'm guessing by the third or fourth winery you're going to want to pack it in. But here we were in the Western Connecticut Highlands AVA visiting two wineries within twenty minutes of one another and an hour and change between both Mahopac and Norwalk. Perfect!

I'm not going to try and pull one over on anyone, I didn't know what to expect as I'm just now getting into this seemingly neglected niche of the wine world. In going out there I certainly wasn't expecting something to change my life, I mean I hardly ever do when opening a bottle because it's really about the experience captured within that silica vessel rather than trying to taste the romanticism of some detached nostalgia that we are inherently coaxed into believing (or were) when approaching wine as a cultural/experiential product. Throwing all that out the window, experiment and enjoy, we all know no wine is made equal but it's only a matter of time when these "petridishes" of wine may give way to something as unique, distinct, or succinct as some of those found in those old world wines that we have come to cradle -at least these are my hopes. 

With that said, we made our way to our first stop at DiGrazia Vineyards in Brookfield, CT, winding through the forest on our way to what, at first, seemed like a suburban home with a large yard but was indeed the winery perched on the crest of a hill. Having parked we strayed up the elongated bluestone stairway to the porch, a small grape covered pergola with some couples drinking together to our left, the lawn beyond that, and then entered the tasting room. The bar was bustling with people and as soon as a spot opened up we filled the void, were presented with our tasting mats, and asked to pick six as our glasses were placed before us. The winery offers thirteen wines -three whites, three roses, one red, and six dessert styled wines- and under the high ceilings of this rustic country-inspired room I chose: the Winners Cup, a dry style Vidal Blanc with noted "reduced acidity" (was the harvest especially cool?); the Wind Ridge, an off-dry Seyval Blanc; Anastasia's Blush, a somewhat sweet blend of Niagara, Elvira and...?; the Fieldstone Reserve, a dry, medium-bodied red made with the St. Croix (or so I was told as the bottle says it's made of Marechal Foch); the Blacksmith Port, also made with the St. Croix, Leon Millot and...?; and last the Harvest Spice, an off-dry pumpkin spice blush...

I've heard of Vidal Blanc and Seyval Blanc, two French-American hybrid varieties grown across Canada and most notably New York State due to their cold resistant qualities and early ripening. But the others (St. Croix, Leon Millot, Niagara, Elvira and whatever else they might be using because I tried asking to no real clarity and didn't want to come off as some kind of wino-inspector) I had never heard of and figured this to be the perfect opportunity to get acquainted.

Throughout our tasting we were not shy to voice our likes, dislikes or plain indifference to the wines. I very much dislike stingy pours - we were given miniscule pours, how are you going to try and assess a wine if you're getting maybe an ounce of it? My aunt had chosen the Yankee Frost, a late harvest dessert white wine made from Vignoles and noted as "a distinct flavor created by blend of honey and spices," was the most vocal with obvious sounds of disgust or a comment on how awful one or another tasted. I'm of the mind that if it's not to my liking I pour it in the bucket and spit the rest out as one would do at a tasting, it's a bit more polite, after all you're not forced to buying the product. Inherently it's subjective, one flavor profile might be more tolerable or pleasing to another and our reactions are gauged by this test. At this point in the tasting, I refrained from asking any more questions, I felt like I was being too intrusive almost with someone who apparently didn't know some of the fairly basic facts about the wines: what exactly is Vignoles variety (at the time it sounded like a word for field blend)? I got mostly partial facts with moments of pause and answers that trailed off into the ambient chatter of the room. With the Anastasia's Blush I was told that they harvest from vineyards a few miles away, one that straddles New York and Connecticut and asking why in particular they had to mention the 'reduced acidity' in the Winners Cup, the answer was unclear.

Overall the wines were okay, pleasing and something new. So here's my rundown:  

The Winners Cup and Wind Ridge: ghostly, light and evasive to the senses

Anastasia's Blush: dark with earthy hints, mostly dry with a touch of sweet

Fieldstone Reserve: exactly as described on our sheet, medium-to-full, enticing with a touch of toastiness that was well done (natural or oaked, I'm not sure)  

The Blacksmith Port: I have to preface this entry because I have always been seduced and enamored by Ports since my early twenties; maybe it was the sweetness and the high alcohol in those days, but the more I tried the closer I was pulled toward the fire and toasted campfire notes of tawnies, and the dark raisin-date-berried notes of rubies and late bottle vintages, I knew they'd be something I'd go after when I could taste them. So here I was deeply disappointed, maybe it was the grapes used, maybe the process, maybe it needed breathing time -I don't know. All I know is that taking a whiff of this was like inhaling the licorice scent extracted from the black magic marker you used as a kid; someone could have just swiveled that in the wine as it left the rest to struggle for equal or any attention. It was smothering.

Harvest Spice: Here I tried for something different and was sorely defeated. I mean, this was the most off putting concoction I have tried in a long time. I felt like my senses were assaulted, imagine being in a Michael's or A.I. Friedman's, wandering around and loosing yourself in their tall narrow isles of crafts only to turn around and find yourself drowning in the faux flower section, the powerfully hyped up artificial scents overtaking your senses and as you try to leave, the candle selection just around the bend buttresses those floral scents with spices, fruits, and whatever crazy scents the Yankee Candle Company is now producing. It was quite possibly the most vile Autumn cornucopia stuffed with waxy fake fruit and potpourri ever bottled. But it did have a dry finish...

In the end I did purchase the Fieldstone Reserve as something to sit with outside of a tasting room and will write a proper review for it soon. Since my intent is to learn more about local wineries and the hybrid grapes they cultivate, I will make an effort to purchase wines from DiGrazia and other wineries in Connecticut, New York, New Jersey and beyond. 

Digrazia Vineyards and Winery

Winemakers: Dr. Paul DiGrazia and Aaron Cox

Wines Produced: 16 included brandy, spiced, and fortified wines

Varietals: Elvira, Frontenac, Leon Millot, Marechal Foch, Niagara, Ravat Blanc, Seyval Blanc, Traminette, Vidal Blanc, Vignoles