Saturday, November 29, 2008

New York Times Features Hopkins Vineyards

I've been going to Hopkins Vineyards since they first opened. They are certainly one of the most popular wineries in Conncticut and they are a great success stoy.
Congrats to all of those at Hopkins and for all the wineries in Connecticut.

The Winemakers | Pasture to Vines
No Longer a Farm, but Still Hard at Work
Published: October 23, 2008
New York Times

Bill L. Hopkins of Hopkins Vineyards

ON a warm spring morning in 1979, the Hopkins family took delivery of thousands of young grapevines that would transform their 200-year-old farm here from making milk to making wine.

“I remembered it being a very difficult decision,” said Hilary H. Criollo, who was 13 at the time and helped her parents plant the first six acres of grapes. “I remember that the neighbors thought they were crazy.”

Her parents had considered the wine business for a few years because of two persistent challenges: a national energy crisis that made fuel for farm machinery expensive, and the worries of environmentalists that farm animal waste might pollute Lake Waramaug, a 680-acre tourist draw whose northern shore was below the farm.

When the state’s Farm Winery Act of 1978 passed, allowing winery owners to sell wine and conduct tastings rather than to make wine only for their own consumption, the Hopkinses saw a solution.

“We thought that we had the ideal slope and land for a vineyard,” said Bill L. Hopkins, 71, who with his wife, Judith W. Hopkins, 68, decided to use some acreage from pasture land. “No one else was doing it.”

Ms. Criollo, now 43 and president of Hopkins Vineyard, recalled sensing that her parents were preparing for a big change. Then came the day when they began to liquidate the 250 head of cattle and the dairy machinery to pay for vineyard equipment.

“The auction and seeing the selling of the machinery was kind of frightening,” Ms. Criollo said in an interview this month at the winery. “The other option was development. But we didn’t want to see a lot of condos here.”

Work on the vineyard began as soon as the plants were delivered, Ms. Criollo recalled. “Me and some of the neighborhood kids” did the planting, she said. It took a week to get all the plants into the soil of sandy loam and a touch of clay. The roots now go as deep as six feet.

Eventually, 11 types of grapes covered 30 acres of the 100-acre property. The winery, formerly a barn, produces 7,000 cases a year.

The property has been in the family since Elijah Hopkins founded the farm in 1787 after returning from fighting in the Revolutionary War, according to family records, which also trace the family line back to Stephen Hopkins, an Englishman who was a passenger on the Mayflower. In addition to dairy, the farm has produced tobacco, sheep, racehorses and grain.

The vineyard is just north of where Lake Waramaug makes an abrupt turn to the south toward Marks Hollow Point to drain into the East Aspetuck River.

Connecticut has at least 19 established vineyards, according to the Connecticut Farm Wine Development Council, which runs the Connecticut Wine Trail. Other winery associations in the New York region have established trails to help guide tourists among vineyards in the Hudson Valley, through New Jersey and on Long Island.

Hopkins Vineyard is in the federally designated Western Connecticut Highlands American Viticultural Area. The area includes all of Litchfield and parts of Fairfield, New Haven and Hartford Counties. The region has cool temperatures and features rolling hills and small mountains. The glacial schist and granite soils are appropriate for cabernet franc, chardonnay, merlot, pinot noir, seyval blanc and vidal blanc grapes, most of which are grown at Hopkins Vineyard.

Read the rest at: