Saturday, April 02, 2011

A Visit With Grayson Hartley of Haight-Brown Vineyard (CT)

Grayson Hartley is a complex person. He has the easy going charm of California that makes him easy to chat with. He is as happy with a beer in his hand as he is a glass of wine. On the other hand, he is intense about wine, always looking to learn, discuss, or just gab about wine. He has streak in him that makes him want to not just make wine, but make great wine.

Last weekend, Grayson and his lovely girlfriend Allie came to visit us. He brought along several wines for us to try.

In 1974 Sherman Haight Jr. bought the Wall Street Journal and read all about Dr. Konstantin Frank's abilities to grow vinifera wines in the Finger Lakes, and thought he would like to do the same in Connecticut. He was so inspired, he flew to Rochester, met with Frank, and decided he would plant vines himself. Today, Haight-Brown Vineyard, Inc. is Connecticut's oldest winery, opening its doors in 1975. In 1978, the State Legislature passed a Farm Winery Act and Haight Vineyard became Connecticut’s first established winery. He is considered the pioneering father of the Connecticut wine industry. The winery is located in Litchfield Ct. in the northwest part of the state.

I cut my teeth on drinking the wines of New York, New Jersey, Connecticut and Rhode Island. I remember doing the Connecticut wine trail such as it was, up through Litchfield. In the 1908s, I drank Covertside White, which they still have on their wine list. Those were early days.

Courtney Brown & Amy Senew purchased Haight Vineyard from its founder, Sherman Haight Jr, in March, 2007. Today, the Litchfield vineyard grows 45 –50 tons of grapes per year and produces Vinifera wines and French Hybrid blended wines. Their wines include the familiar Chardonnay, Merlot, Riesling etc., as well as seasonal varieties such as AppleCrannie, Spring Fling etc.

Brown and Senew had vowed to provide the vineyards with some much needed TLC, and have worked hard to do so. But the addition of Hartley to the team is a big shot in the arm for the small winery.

Grayson is a Connecticut boy who went California. Surfer? Maybe. Winemaker, oh yeh! He worked harvests at a number of small, cult wineries. He mentored under He made wine at Whetstone Wine Cellars. One of his mentors was was Andy Erickson of Screaming Eagle. This is someone with real experience, let loose in a Connecticut vineyard. Just think of the possibilities.

Hartley brings a passion that every owner wants to see. He is as interested in the fruit in the vineyard as anyone else. And he doesn't see any limitations to his new environs - none at all - which is refreshing. He is idealistic and realistic, as well as having fun.

The first thing we tasted from Haight-Brown was the Railway White, a mostly chardonnay blend of white wine. It had big fruit up front, with hints of green apple, and melon, and maybe a touch of honeysuckle? Nice mouthfeel, with lots of fresh fruit, and a nice balance of acidity and low tannins. A wonderful, smooth finish. This is a lovely table white. Wonderful with a regional cheese plate, or soups, salads, chicken or fish. Wonderful!

The Second wine was the Nouveau Foch. This is a light bodied, easy drinking Beaujolais style wine. Made with their Estate grown Marechal Foch grapes. This too was a smashing wine. A light styled, easy drinking red, with bright cherries and a hint of stewed strawberries, this was a big mouthful of bright red fruit, but with just enough acid and smooth tannins to make a lovely, light-to-medium bodied easy drinking dry red wine. Again, great with region cheeses, fabulous and strong enough to stand up to spicey pasta dishes, roasted chicken or pork, or grilled portobello mushrooms. Really tastey!

I think there's going to be lots of really good news coming out of Haight-Brown in future seasons. Very exciting. In the meantime, get down to Haight Vineyards and try some of their wines. Some very good stuff going on over there.