Friday, March 02, 2007

Portsmouth Herald (NH) Raves About Sakonnet

Winter whites
By Rachel Forrest
Portsmouth Herald (NH) February 28, 2007

While Sakonnet Vineyards of Rhode Island produces some great reds -- a little Cabernet Franc here and a Pinot Noir there -- it was the whites that sparkled at the final event of the Winter Wine Festival at the Wentworth by the Sea Hotel and Spa in New Castle. Paired with the New England cuisine of Chef Mary Dumont from The Dunaway Restaurant in Portsmouth was a crisp, floral Vidal Blanc, a Gewurtztrauminer with hints of white peach and a Chardonnay with a touch of crisp apple, all created by a microclimate just perfect for making great white wines.
Vineyard owners Earl and Susan Samson chose to make wine in Little Compton, R.I., 32 years ago because the climate and soil of the area is very much like the maritime climates of European wine regions like those found in northern France.

"In my area we have six wineries," says Susan Samson. "We're not exactly the Napa Valley Trail, but we have a trail. It's a thrill to see a product grow, change, improve. When we first started, the wines were not exactly 'there.' I had to do a lot of dancing and singing but now I think the wines speak for themselves."

The Samsons say Rhode Islands' moderate maritime microclimate is much like the Loire Valley in France and a good growing environment for their Chardonnay and Vidal Blanc but especially for the Gewurtztrauminer.

"The Gewurtztrauminer thrives in cool climates," says Susan. Paired with Chef Dumont's foie gras torchon with a touch of quince, the fruit and honey flavors mellow out the rich duck liver.
The vineyard also produces a champagne, a blend of Chardonnay and Pinot Noir that produces a sparkling wine with a bit of citrus and nectarine along with a touch of cherry and honeysuckle. For those who think that an American winemaker can't use the term "champagne," think again.
"We made it during the time the French were 'misbehaving,'" says Earl. "So we just wanted to irritate them. It doesn't have to be from Champagne to be called that. We passed it through the ATF (Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms) and they approved it."

For their next vintage the Samsons say they'll go back to calling it Samson Brut, made in the Champagne method, but without the name.

Wine Festival Executive Director Michelle Duval pours Sakonnet Champagne Saturday at the final event of the Winter Wine Festival at the Wentworth by the Sea in New Castle.
Rachel Forrest photo

The wineries signature wine is their Vidal Blanc.
"It's New England's answer to Pinot Grigio," says Earl. "It was voted best wine with sushi at the Boston Wine Expo this year," adds Susan.

The Winterwine, a dessert wine made from the vineyards' Vidal Blanc grapes, also wins awards, and a little bit of controversy.

"There are rules and regulations," says Susan. "Ice wine is supposed to be made with grapes frozen on the vine. We pick it almost frozen and then bring it to a cranberry farm in New Bedford and freeze it there and we press them frozen like everyone else does."

"A frozen grape is a frozen grape!" Earl interjects. "The Canadians and Europeans got together and said if you can't freeze your grapes on the vine it's not ice wine. Ours is less expensive and just as good."