Sunday, February 19, 2017

Howard Bursen is Making the Best St. Croix on the East Coast at Sharpe Hill Vineyard (CT)

Sharpe Hill Vineyard is an award winning winery in Connecticut's Quiet Corner! Sharpe Hill Vineyard wines have been awarded more than 250 medals in International tastings. Founded by  Steven and Catherine Vollweiler, the winery is located in the town of Pomfret - just minutes from scenic Route 169 and from the Putnam Antiques District. The winemaker Howard Bursen, part of the old Finger Lake wine mafia (you should see him play banjo alongside Peter Bell of Fox Run and Dave Whiting of Red Newt!) is the incredibly talented winemaker there. I have written about him often. He makes some incredible wines quietly there in Connecticut.

Buy St. Croix Grapevines

St. Croix is a relatively new wine grape. This hybrid grape cultivar was produced in 1983 by Elmer Swenson, a pioneering grape breeder who introduced a number of new cultivars that are hardy in the Upper Midwest. It was introduced by the University of Minnesota.

St. Croix vines are vigorous and produce medium sized, somewhat loose clusters of grapes. It has moderate to good disease resistance, and is hardy to -28°F or better. St. Croix grapes produce medium to full bodied, dry, deep red wines with low tannins, good fruity aromas, and have currant and other dried fruit flavor aspects. Production often employs oak barrel ageing to add even more complexity to the wine’s bouquet and flavors.St. Croix produces wines that have been compared to a light to medium burgundy. Sugar content and tannins are low at maturity, but St. Croix has been used both as a varietal and for blending.

But I will be blunt, I have tasted few St. Croix wines I like....even a little bit. But that's where Howard Bursen come sin. I met him several times in the last few years at the Eastern Wineries Exposition. And there, he bade me try his versions of St. Croix. And I have been won over by the grape being handed by this incredible vintner.

Now, one thing to do with a red grape that winemakers sometimes do, is they make a rose out of it. But few people I've met have done so with St.Croix, as they have fallen in love with it's deep color, and their desire to make a big, dark California style wine with any new grape they find. Howard took a different tact. In the summer of 2006 Sharpe Hill released their Dry Summer Rose. The Sharpe Hill Dry Summer Rose 2014 was made from St. Coix grapes and a touch of blended white wine. The wine  was a lovely pink/salmon wine, with a big nose of classic strawberry and bright cherry, and a hint of citrus. It was dry and bright and refreshing. An amazing, fun, lovely dry summer rose! This was the best St. Croix I had at the time, and Howard blanched. He had something else to try! 

Howard pulled from his bag of tricks a wonderful, full bodied, estate grown St. Croix which was a 100% estate wine. The color was impressive, and I clenched my teeth ready for an acidic affront to red wine, with cloying flavors. Wrong!!!!! This was a lovely, dark Rhone-ish red, with dark cherry, dark cassis, and hints of raspberry and plum, vanilla and a dash of white pepper. 


I tasted the wine with Michael Kaiser of Wine America and Danny Klein, Regional Vice President, American Wine Society at the blogger's table at the Eastern Wineries Exposition. Both were equally impressed with the rose'.

Shapre Hill has been a quality producer in Connecticut and on the east coast, and Howard continues to improve upon past successes. A winning combination! Get up to Sharpe Hill and try these wines. These wines were easily the best versions of St. Croix I have had on the east coast so far!