Connecticut Wine 2010: 'A California Summer'
By ERIC GERSHON and ANNE VANDERMEY
Jones Family Farms in Shelton can count on a healthy crop of Christmas trees every year: Spruces and firs thrive in Connecticut soil. It's the wine grapes that require a little hope and prayer.
"You can't make good wine from bad grapes," said Jamie Jones, a 34-year-old graduate of Cornell University's College of Agriculture and Life Sciences who runs the 160-year-old farm and its far newer winery with his wife and parents.
But as the 2010 harvest comes to a close and the making of next year's wine begins, the Joneses and Connecticut's other winemakers, more than 30, are bright-eyed with hope for this year's grape crop, thanks to a warm and relatively dry growing season that offered a greater number of what vintners call "growing degree days."
Some local growers are calling the 2010 harvest the best ever, and Connecticut's largely overlooked winemakers expect to make some of their best wines yet — maybe even a few that will earn respect outside a state better known for swords than ploughshares.
"We pretty much had a California summer," said George Motel of Sunset Meadow Vineyards in Goshen, which has 21 acres planted with grapes and makes about a dozen wines. "In all cases you can expect some pretty good quality wines coming out of this vintage.
"Connecticut's wineries could use a harvest for the ages. Last year's came close to disaster, due to low temperatures and heavy rain. Plants grew moldy, the grapes were small, the bunches sparse. At least one vineyard harvested as little as 10 percent of its grapes in 2009.
"It was a failure," said Tina Torizzo of Haight-Brown Vineyard in Litchfield, founded in the mid-1970s by Sherman Haight Jr. and sold to out-of-state owners in 2007.At this time last year, "You would be looking at people saying, 'What are we going to do with these grapes?'" said Jeff Vernon, the winemaker at Chamard Vineyards in Clinton.
That weak harvest forced some winemakers to rely heavily on reserves, blends and a greater share of imported grapes — tactics that undermine efforts to win Connecticut wines the respect already accorded to wines from the North Fork of Long Island and the Finger Lakes region of upstate New York.
About 40 years after Haight planted what's believed to be the state's first wine grape crop, "There are people that don't even know there are vineyards in the state," said Bridget Riordan, sales director of Chamard Vineyards in Clinton, which is best known for its estate Chardonnay.
But if ever a moment was ripe for success in Connecticut, this is it."I have to believe that it's as good a year as we're ever going experience," Vernon said.
Growing A Reputation
W. Blake Gray, author of the widely read wine blog Gray Market Report, admits he can't name any Connecticut wines, although he admires several New York rieslings."The wine industry likes to point out that all 50 states make wine," said Gray, who is based in San Francisco. "That's the only reason I know Connecticut makes wine. Never heard of it. Never seen one."
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