Paradise Hills Vineyard & Winery Wine & Tapas Pairing Dinner at Pacífico Restaurant in New Haven, CT

I am a BIG fan of the Paradise Hills Vineyard & Winery (as you’ve probably already noticed). They are an amazing family bringing delicious wines to their community. It’s not uncommon for you to see the newest addition to the family, Marcelo Jr, running around the tasting room greeting customers. You’ll probably also spy their very own winery dog Otis greeting patrons while they take in the vineyard sites. So when I heard about their wine and food pairing dinner I knew I had to check it out.

When you walk into Pacífico restaurant you are surrounded by an instant glow of chill, beautiful, Latino vibes. From the decor to the menu you are transported to another world that encourages you to relax and enjoy the Pacífico experience.

Everyone who attended the event was greeted by winery owners Margaret and Marcelo. Margaret’s father is one of the original founders of Paradise Hills. It was great to see the next generation taking a commanding role in the winemaking and winery business. They both took the time to come over and speak to each table about the food and wine they were being served. And the pairings were amazing!

First we started off with a “Ceviche de Atun” – Yellowfin tuna ceviche, mango, pineapple, red onions, and citrus juices. This course was paired with their 2015 Washington Trail White Wine, an estate grown Chardonnay and Seyval Blanc blend. The combination of the ceviche and wine evoked bright flavors on your palate – a refreshing and tantalizing way to start off the wine and food pairing dinner.

The second course was a Pork Tenderloin with sugar cane skewers and roasted corn chimichurri paired with the Nostra Tradizione. The Nostra Tradizione is one of my all time favorites! The pork and wine worked perfectly together thanks to a little bit of extra spice on the palate with notes of strawberry and cherry. This wine can definitely handle a bold dish.

The third course was a Pan Seared Sea Bass perched atop a mound of couscous, with sweet plantains, roasted pepper, orange, and coconut jalepeno ginger mojo. This was paired with their 2016 Sauvignon Blanc –  which *Spoiler Alert* –  is a limited edition vintage released on April 25th! Make sure to get your hands on this wine before it’s too late. The Sauvignon Blanc is like summer in a glass, and paired with the sea bass was knock out of a combination. Talk about bright citrus flavors merging with a little spice and salt. Super delicious.

The forth course was a Grilled Skirt Steak with yucca fries and aji amarillo chimichurri paired with the 2015 President’s Choice – a Bordeaux Style Red Wine. My goodness was this awesome! The President’s choice is the Winemaker’s Private Blend (not even some of the family know what is in the blend!). Accompanied by the steak, the flavor explosion in your mouth was insane. Blackberry, currants, black cherry, and cedar woke up your palate. This wine was definitely worth the wait.

The fifth and final course consisted of a Passion Fruit Flan and Paradise’s 2015 Connecticut Cayuga White Wine. Another bold pairing of flavor. The passion fruit was ignited even more by the bright citrus and crisp acidity of the estate-grown Cayuga. An insanely delicious dessert pairing.

I couldn’t get over how well everything was paired and how each course pairing got better and better. It was clear that both Paradise Hills and Pacífico Restaurant took a lot of time to make sure every course and wine complimented each other perfectly. I want to give a big Thank You to Margaret and Marcelo of Paradise Hills Vineyard & Winery and Pacífico Restaurant for putting on this amazing event. I can’t wait to see what next year’s event will have in store for us!

Also, I want to give a shout out to Manny Vargas Photography for providing the incredible photos. He really captured the amazing ambiance and atmosphere.

Winery: Paradise Hills Vineyard & Winery (Visit)

Location: 15 Wind Swept Hill Rd, Wallingford, CT, 06492

Tasting Hours: Monday-Saturday: 11am-8pm and Sunday: 11am-6pm. Please call to set up private/group tastings (Info)

Tasting Options: Tastings are $10/person for 6 pre-selected wines or $15.00/person for 6 pre-selected wines and a logo’d glass.

Purchase Wines from the Event: HERE

Event Location: Pacífico Restaurant (Visit)

Experience Paradise Vineyards & Winery:

When you visit Paradise Vineyards you are greeted by friendly tasting room representatives and a delicious list of 6 wines to enjoy. Most of the tasting room staff either works in the vineyard or in the winery. They are very fun and knowledgeable. No matter if you are new to wine or consider yourself a connoisseur you can always learn something new while enjoying a great glass of wine at Paradise Vineyards!

The tasting room is cozy and inviting. There is a roaring fireplace in the winter time you can snuggle up to, or when the weather is warmer you can  sit out on their patio overlooking the vines.

PS- Check out more more photos from the event below and more information about Paradise Hills Vineyard & Winery! Cheers! 🙂

Winemaker Interview: Arielle Fabiano of Balderdash Cellars talks about how one glass of Brunello can change your life….

In this week’s “Winemaker Interview,” Arielle talks about how one glass of Brunello can change your life….

Winemaker: Arielle Fabiano of Bladerdash Cellars (Visit)

Location: 502 East Street (rear of the building) Pittsfield, MA 01201

Tasting Hours: Saturdays 1-5pm, please call to set up private/group tastings (info)

Tasting Options:  Tastings are $8/person and refundable with purchase of $50/person.

Why did you become a winemaker?


I became fascinated with winemaking while studying biochemistry in college. After a trip to Italy and a few life-changing glasses of Brunello, I discover that not only was I in love with the idea of winemaking, but also the science of it. It is the perfect symphony of so many things I am passionate about: biochemistry, agriculture, hard work and dirt under my fingernails, and above all, how a truly spectacular glass of wine can take your breath away.

After that trip, I tailored my biochemistry degree to winemaking as much as possible and threw myself into the wine world at full force. A harvest in Napa Valley as a lab tech served as a necessary reality check that squashed out many of the romanticized ideals I had about winemaking and gave me some perspective on just how much hard work goes into a great bottle of wine. When I graduated from Northeastern in May of 2015, I reconnected with Christian, owner/winemaker of Balderdash Cellars, and offered to give him a hand at the winery for the summer. As it turned out, he needed a new assistant winemaker and I needed a full-time job. The rest is history and we make a dynamic team. I couldn’t ask for a better boss or mentor.

How were you introduced to winemaking in Massachusetts?

One of my very first memories of a Massachusetts wine actually goes back to childhood! There is an apple orchard not far from my childhood house that also produces wine, and my parents would occasionally get a bottle and let me have a little taste. I remember enjoying the white zinfandel, which of course, makes me hang my head in shame as a winemaker today. Once I was of legal drinking age, my first trip to a Massachusetts winery was actually to Balderdash Cellars!

What are the biggest challenges for a winemaker in Massachusetts?

For most Massachusetts wineries, arguably the biggest challenge is growing high quality grapes in a climate and geography that is not suited to it. Certainly, great strides have been made in the cold-hardy varietals thanks to research coming out of Cornell and the University of Minnesota, but it remains a challenge, and I think some of the softer nuances of the more traditional varietals are lost in the cold-hardies.

Another challenge is being taken seriously as a winery and a winemaker. People tend to scoff when they are confronted with New England-produced wine, but nine times out of ten, people leave Balderdash pleasantly surprised, and with several bottles in hand. A few have even commented that our wines are as good as wines they’ve had from California.

What makes Massachusetts wine so great? What makes MA wine so different?


One of the coolest things about making wine in New England is that it forces you to innovate. There are inherent challenges relating to the terroir, but these challenges also expand into accessibility as well, whether that means access to equipment and products, the accessibility of the market here, etc. All of these challenges give you no choice but to come up with creative solutions and it’s that creativity and innovation that allows us to stand out and differentiate ourselves.

Tell us about your harvest process

Our harvest process is a bit more unconventional than most. We source our fruit from vineyards in the Paso Robles area in California, and actually ship our fruit out to Massachusetts frozen, after it has been destemmed and crushed at our custom crush facility in Paso. We fly out once or twice over the course of the harvest to taste our fruit and make sure it is picked at the ripeness we want. We also receive Brix and pH reports from the vineyards. Once our fruit has made it to Massachusetts, we will start fermenting whatever we have room for at the winery and the rest goes to our freezer facility. We thaw the fruit out, which usually takes about 5 days, and put it right into our stainless steel fermentation tanks. From there, our winemaking process proceeds in a traditional way.

How does your wine making approach differ from other winemakers? What is your general winemaking philosophy?

I haven’t quite found my voice or my style as a winemaker yet, but I am definitely more science-minded than I think a lot of winemakers are. One of my favorite parts of my job is when I am able to delve into a scientific journal article to troubleshoot a problem we are having or figure out how we can improve our wine based on relevant research. I am fascinated by the influence of yeast strains and how they can impact the organoleptic qualities of a wine and I enjoy picking yeast strains to try to achieve a certain quality in a particular wine.

Like many winemakers out there, I am a BIG believer in the concept of terroir and ultimately, I want to let the quality of the fruit speak for itself and allow that to shape the wine. One of my favorite sayings is that you can make bad wine out of good grapes but you can’t make good wine out of bad grapes. If you are doing what you should be doing in the vineyard, the winemaking should simply serve to showcase the fruit. Sometimes Mother Nature throws you a doozy of a vintage, however, (i.e. Napa 2011) and then the winemaking needs to intervene and get a little more creative to get as much as possible out of lower quality fruit.

How do you know you’ve got a good vintage?

I don’t have all that much experience in the vineyard, ironically enough given my winemaking philosophies, but usually I can tell from the look and smell and taste of the fruit. The depth of color of the skins, the aromatics coming off the juice when it’s first in tank, the taste of the skins and seeds all serve as indicators of what the conditions of the vintage were.

Are there any new winemaking techniques or tools you’d like to experiment with?

Oh boy, the list could go on and on! I’d love to explore native fermentations coupled with PCR (polymerase chain reaction), which basically allows you to find out what specific native yeast strains you have. If I had an unlimited winery budget and unlimited time, I’d also love to do some work with gas chromatography-mass spectrometry to correlate yeast strain with specific flavor and aroma compounds. I’m a huge wine chemistry nerd.

Which wine growing region has had the most influence on you?

It’s a toss-up between Tuscany and Napa Valley. My experiences in both places have shaped my palate and my winemaking philosophies hugely. One of the most rewarding aspects of being out in Napa, other than the experience of the work, was the opportunity to taste really good, really expensive wine that I wouldn’t have been able to taste otherwise. It allowed my palate to develop and to get a handle on the nuances of tasting.

What is one aspect of your job that might surprise people?

People would definitely be surprised by how physically demanding my job is and how little of my time is actually spent drinking wine! Winemaking sounds like such a romantic, wonderful job but the reality is that the majority of the time I am wet, dirty, smelly, covered is grape/wine goo and I am cleaning equipment. I spend probably 60-70% of my time scrubbing equipment. And you don’t even want to know the places I’ve found grapes when showering after a day of pressing.

What do you like best about your job?

Definitely one of the best parts of it is the Hanson family! I am so lucky to have the privilege of working with and learning from them. Beyond that it is getting to do what I LOVE: drinking wine and applying biochemistry to make excellent wine.

What is your favorite wine that you’ve made and what makes it your favorite?


Probably our 2015 Til Death Do Us Part Viognier. The Viognier was the first time either Christian or I had worked with that varietal but I had a very clear sense from the get go about the wine I wanted to make, and the finished wine really achieved that. It is bright and beautifully shows off the aromatics of the varietal, while also balancing acidity and mouthfeel.

Who are your favorite winemakers and why? OR What is your favorite wine and why?

I would have to say my favorite wine is Brunello di Montalcino. I have had exposure to so many wonderful wines and varietals but Brunello is one I always come back to and it is my benchmark. It is the first wine I had that put me on the path to where I am now and has been wildly influential in my career. One of the first times I was really able to taste the significance of terroir was at a tasting at Altesino in 2013. We tasted two Brunellos from the same vineyard, one made with grapes from the top of the vineyard, one with grapes from the bottom of the slope. They were two entirely different wines and they were grown maybe 500ft apart. As I said earlier, life-changing.

Is beer ever better than wine?

The only time I really drink beer is if I’m out at a sporting event or bar, or at a restaurant with an underwhelming wine list. I’d definitely rather drink a good craft beer than very bad wine. A lot of my winemaking friends joke that it takes a lot of beer to make wine!

I want to give a big Thank You to Arielle Fabiano from Bladerdash Cellars for giving us a peak into the life of a Massachusets Winemaker. Make sure to stop by Balderdash Cellars in Pittsfield, MA for some delicious wines made from a very passionate Winemaker! #GirlsMakeWineToo

From Making Wine in her Chef Pants to becoming a Professional Winemaker… Maureen Macdonald talks about her Professional Winemaker Journey

In this week’s “Winemaker Interview,” Maureen Macdonald talks about  going from bartender and chef,  to full blown professional winemaker and winemaking consultant. 

Winemaker: Maureen Macdonald – On Staff Winemaker & Winemaking Consultant at Musto Wine Grape Company, LLC. (Visit) and one of the founding members of the Women Winemakers of Connecticut (website)

Location: 101 Reserve Rd, Hartford, CT 06114

Musto Wine Grape Company Hours: Monday – Friday: 9:00AM-4:00PM, Saturdays: 9:00AM- Noon

Wine Class Options: Free Mini Wine Classes on Saturdays, each with a different theme

Why did you become a winemaker? What first attracted you to winemaking? 

I first developed an interest in winemaking while I was bar-tending at a fine dining restaurant. I was fascinated by wine enthusiasts who would come in and rejoice over a certain vintage of a premium wine offering. Everyone had a story as to why that particular wine was special to them; a memory of a special occasion. It sparked my interest in being able to create a product that would have this effect on people. I was lucky enough to share this interest with a patron at this establishment, and as luck would have it, he taught at a college that offered wine making classes. I enrolled, and the rest is history. I have now been making wine for almost a decade.

How were you introduced to winemaking?

I was introduced to winemaking via the academic route. I first took classes in viticulture and advanced horticulture to learn about grafting, pruning, and vineyard installation. All of this knowledge built upon my previous collegiate studies in botany and environmental science. I then took classes in oenology which taught me how to make my first batches of wine.

What are the biggest challenges for a winemaker on the East Coast?

A large challenge for winemakers on the East Coast can often be the lack of varietal choice within the Vitus Vinifera family. Due to colder growing climates, many vinifera varietals struggle to prosper in New England. While we do have many excellent winemaking French-American hybrid varietals to grow in this area, a big challenge for commercial winemakers is educating the public on them. Many consumers will eagerly try a new Pinot Grigio or Cabernet Sauvignon, but when you offer them a nice glass of Seyval or Marquette, they may give you a puzzled look. A significant portion of my job when working with these varietals is educating the consumers about their flavor profiles and food pairing abilities, just like the vinifera grapes that they are familiar with.

What makes making wine at home so great? What makes making wine at home so different?

Making wine at home is great because you can do it in your pajamas! The convenience factor is certainly a benefit as you can experiment at your leisure and have complete creative control over your end product. It is much more challenging in some aspects than on the commercial level as I certain tannins and additives are hard to measure out for such small batches. And I certainly do appreciate working in a commercial winery with the ability to rinse down everything into a floor drain at the end of the day. Cleaning up at home can be more painstaking in comparison.

Tell us about your harvest process

Harvest season is all about the preparation. I like to take weekly readings of Brix, TA, and pH of the grapes to track their ripening process and compare to previous vintages. I will also take some field estimates to help me gauge my anticipated yield for the season. I will make sure that all of my equipment is in good shape, supplies are ordered, and coworkers are informed as to picking and processing schedules. Then it is just time to wait until the grapes are ready, and pray for good weather. Once harvest season is underway, I become a finely tuned machine of crushing, pressing, and setting yeast, checking on all of my varietals daily. While it is a lot of work in many different directions, I find a certain rhythm to it, almost like a dance. You just keep moving with each grape and wine until it gets to the end point of stable wine. I will work a lot of long hours, have a lot of physically and mentally trying moments, but at the end of the day it is worth it. I just remember that this wine will make someone very happy at some point and my efforts will be appreciated. Hopefully someday, someone will have a special moment with this wine.

How does your wine making approach differ from other winemakers? What is your general winemaking philosophy?

I think I am unique within my local field as my area of expertise and focus is with French-American hybrids. Many winemakers start out by making Cabernet Sauvignon, in hopes of generating the next Opus One. I was fortunate to start at an active farm winery, working with many varieties of excellent quality French-American hybrid grapes. I developed an appreciation for their own unique wine making capabilities and learned as much as I could about making them into the best representations of their varietals. My goals were to make excellent quality wines out of local grapes in hopes of educating and exciting the public about the new varietals of grapes. I’d like to think I accomplished that to some extent, through the many wines that I have commercially produced.

In regards to a winemaking philosophy, don’t try and force a round peg into a square hole. Don’t grow a hybrid grape in hopes of generating a vinifera style wine. Embrace the grapes for the wines that they are able to make, and if you really want the next Opus One, do the research on sourcing premium grapes from a premium growing region and expect to pay for such quality. Not every wine has to be a deep, rich, tannic red wine to have with a filet mignon. Some wines can be light, fruity, acidic, and meant for refreshment on hot summer days or just relaxing and socializing with friends.

How do you know you’ve got a good vintage?

As the summer progresses, hot days, little rain after verasion, low disease pressure, you can start to see these factors as the signs of a good vintage. After crush I conduct an analysis of the grapes to see if they require any added acid, sugar, or water. If little additions need to be made to the must, it is another indication of a good vintage. Throughout the fermentation process, checking the vital factors of Brix and pH are critical as well as checking the aroma of the wine daily. I find that the overall health of that wine is detected in its aroma. Many faults and flaws can be fixed or avoided by observing the aroma.

Are there any new winemaking techniques or tools you’d like to experiment with?

I’ve always wanted to make sparkling wine. I am currently working on a commercial level project, preparing wine to be force carbonated. This is like swimming in the shallow end of the sparkling wine production pool. I’ve seen the traditional method champenoise done, and I understand the process, however that is my next big adventure in wine making. Who doesn’t love sparkling wine?

Which wine growing region has had the most influence on you?

While my first exposure to wine was California produced wine, and I still favor their product, as far as the region that has had the most influence to my personal winemaking style, I would have to say New England and Long Island. I have had the privilege of visiting over 50 wineries in the region and seeing the many expressions of the hybrid and vinifera varietals has given me a priceless education and influence on my winemaking style. The North Fork of Long Island made me fall in love with Chardonnay in its various styles and forms, from crisp and acidic steel productions, to decadent, buttery, and almost unctuous barrel fermented products. I wasn’t much of a Chardonnay connoseuir in my early career, and I will always remember a bottle of Harbes Farm Winery Chardonnay that was so incredibly rich and buttery, I wanted to dunk lobster in it. That bottle peaked my interest in Chardonnay production and influenced and inspired my Chardonnay research and production.

What is one aspect of your job that might surprise people?

I find many people do not realize that wine making is a full time job. Many folks assume that I spend my winters skiing or traveling to warmer locations. This couldn’t be farther from the truth. While I do like utilizing my bits of extra free time in the colder months to explore new wineries and attend as many educational opportunities as possible, the slower paced winter months are when I get my best cellar work done. This is the time for experiments, bench trials, researching new fining and nutritional additives and preparing wine for bottling. This is when I form the young wines into their mature expressions, preparing for potential epicurean greatness.

What do you like best about your job?

Its hard to pick just one thing about my job that I like, so I’d have to say the diversity. Along with being a winemaking consultant to vineyards, I also run lab services from Musto Wine Grape, running tests for home and commercial winemakers who may not have the proper equipment. I get to teach classes about winemaking topics and am now branching out to the vast “interwebs” with winemaking blogs and podcasts. Basically, my favorite part of my job is helping people make their wine better and sharing my passion for winemaking with them. Nothing is more exciting and satisfying than working with a client and seeing them have a eureka moment with a wine and seeing how to get it to its full potential.

What is your favorite wine that you’ve made and what makes it your favorite?

Sometimes it is not the wine that was made under the most ideal conditions that you are the most proud of. I once had a small batch of Cayuga that was fermented with an experimental yeast and I was not very satisfied with the results. Rather than dwelling on the lackluster results, I looked at it as a challenge. I blended this wine with some beautiful Riesling and then infused it with elder-flower blossoms and back sweetened it. The result was a dynamic, unique, dessert style wine with rich floral and honey tones. While the wine was very different form my initial concept, the end product was very different and creative and I was very pleased with it.

Who are your favorite winemakers and why? OR What is your favorite wine and why?

women winemakers of connecticut

I recognize the bias, but my favorite winemakers are my fellow female winemakers in the state. These women are very talented, creative and have helped me create a community of sharing and trust that proven exceptionally valuable to me in my career. They are a tremendous resource, both personally and professionally and nothing makes me happier than their success. When any one of us turns out a new spectacular wine, it is a win for all of us, showing that young women can make beautiful wine, in any location.

As far as my favorite wine, Faust Cabernet Sauvignon has a special place in my heart and palate memory. I remember the first time that I had a taste of this wine, and it was like drinking pure oxygen. I was astounded at the smoothness to it and the depth of flavors. I had never encountered a wine like this and it peaked my curiosity as to how someone could possibly make something so perfect. Even now when I open a bottle of it, I am still struck with the same sense of awe. It is truly a special product.

Is beer ever better than wine?

When you have completed your final pressing of the season, feeling incredibly tired, hands cracked, purple and sore, clothes soaked in wine, beer can be the nectar of the gods.

I want to give a big Thank You to Maureen for giving us a peak into the life of a Connecticut Winemaker and her journey to become one. Make sure to stop by Musto Wine Grape Company if you are ever interested in making your own wine at home! #GirlsMakeWineToo #MustoCrushCrew

The Musto Wine Grape Experience:

Visiting Musto Wine Grape when the grapes from California just arrived is like stepping back in time. The store is located in the Hartford Regional Market which houses many different agricultural businesses. The market was built in the 1950’s and housed many different agricultural businesses over the years. Musto Wine Grape is the only fresh wine grape and juice provider of it’s kind in the market.

The market definitely has an “old school” vibe. When you are walking on the dock/store at Musto Wine Grape you will usually notice that there is an overwhelming amount of languages flying through the air. Making wine at home is a time honored tradition for many cultures. Many Italian and Portuguese families make wine together every year and have been passing down this tradition for generations. Many people of Russian or Albanian decent use the wine grapes to create their country’s specialty liquor. So you have many cultures and generations of people converging all at once. It is not uncommon for you to hear 3 different languages being spoken on a Saturday morning when purchasing your winemaking products.

Musto Wine Grape focuses on education and high quality products for their winemakers. No matter if you are a newbie winemaker starting out, or a skilled winemaker making 200 gallons in your home, Musto has everything you need to create the wine of your dreams at home.

To get started making your own wine at home visit JuiceGrape.com!

Newest Article for WinemakerMag: Making Wine from Pinotage Grapes

Feeling so humbled that Winemaker Mag featured another article of mine in their magazine. Winemaker Mag has been my bible when it comes to home winemaking. Make sure to subscribe to their list for great home winemaking tips. Also, click HERE to read the full article about how make wine with Pinotage grapes! Cheers!

Frontenac Gris in CT


Super excited about Hawk Ridge Winery’s new release of their Frontenac Gris. A gorgeous golden starw color. The wine has notes of honey dew melon and honey suckle. The wine is well balanced and deliciously unique. Can’t wait to taste more of what Hawk Ridge Winery has to offer when they open this June! 🍷 #drinklocal

Hawk Ridge Winery is scheduled to open June of 2017. They are located in the rolling farm hills of Watertown, Connecticut. Email info@hawkridgewinery.net for more information about the winery.

Winemaker Interview: Southern Connecticut Wine Company (#SoConnWineCo)

In this week’s “Winemaker Interview,” Amanda talks about how she created Connecticut’s 1st Micro Winery and her love of winemaking.

Winemaker: Amanda Brackett of Southern Connecticut Wine Company (Visit)

Location: 65 S. Colony Street in Wallingford, Connecticut 06492

Tasting Hours: Thursday – Sunday, Thursday – Friday from 3:00-8:00PM, Saturday Noon-6:00PM,  Sunday – Noon-4:00PM

Tasting Options: Enjoy the Casual Elegance of SoConn

Why did you become a winemaker?

amanda of southern connecticut wine company topping off wine barrels

I had no idea of what I wanted to be when I grew up and never thought that someone would actually pay me to make wine. I’ve always had a love for the art behind wine, but my background is in business. When my husband and I moved to Connecticut, he encouraged me to find a job that was going to make me happy. I knew I didn’t want to suit up and punch a clock. Wine made me happy. It sounds simple, but I enjoy every aspect of wine. Making it keeps me creative, correcting faults keeps me learning and innovative, drinking it keeps me social and selling it keeps my husband happy.

How long have you been making wine for?

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Professionally, five years. I’ve been playing around with fermentation for as long as I can remember. I remember being little in my grandmother’s kitchen. Her sister’s had come to visit from Canada and they pulled all of the grapes off of the vines that my grandmother had growing in the yard. They crushed them and then used cheese cloth to separate the juice from the skins. Not a huge yield, but they made a rose with Concord grapes. I remember lining up the 7-Up bottles and holding the funnel while they filled each ¾ of the way. Then, tightening the caps and moving them to the pantry. A couple days later all of the bottles exploded. The caps had been tightened too much and the gasses had no way of escaping… Fermentation lesson #1.

How were you introduced to winemaking in Connecticut?

I actually answered a Craigslist ad when I moved to CT for a bookkeeper position for a construction company. The owner said that he was going to start a small winery and I didn’t give him a choice in hiring me. I’m a terrible bookkeeper so thank God I could make wine.

What are the biggest challenges for a winemaker in Connecticut?

soconn-barrel-branded

For me, it was the law. Connecticut currently only has a license for Farm Wineries. Since I don’t grow grapes, they had a difficult time classifying what I do. It took a while to get to this point, but The Southern Connecticut Wine Company is Connecticut’s first and only micro-winery.

Tell us about your harvest process..

amand-checking-brix-on-white-grapes

It starts with a trip to the grocery store where I purchase all of the El Monte microwave breakfast burritos in the freezer section. I stock up on coffee, waffles, hot sauce and vodka. I don’t grow so my pre harvest prep is making sure that I’ve ordered grapes (Christina, I’ll get that to you today, I promise), make sure I have all of the yeasts, nutrients and other products that I need for each blend on hand. Then I start power washing EVERYTHING. Harvest is a magical time where I become a maniac who has zero interest in anything else unless it’s fermenting. It’s a systematic, controlled chaos. This harvest I’m gearing up to make 23 different types of wines in the 2000 square feet of wine production space. Red’s ferment in the main production area while whites and roses are moved into a back office so the temperature can be dropped. Fermentation tubs, barrels, tanks, finished wine.. Everything is constantly being moved around. Harvest is a by any means necessary attitude with all hands on deck.

How does your wine making approach differ from other winemakers?

yeast-pitch

I love blending. Creating big red blends has become my niche. Throughout the year I’ll experiment with new combinations and use friends and family as guinea pigs. By the time harvest rolls around, I’ll have a game plan for at least one new blend. I’m not limited by region or growing my own product, so really, the sky is the limit as far as sourcing. I enjoy creating something crazy and different. If someone says “you shouldn’t do that”, I’m going to at least try it.

What is your general winemaking philosophy?

Make good wine and make wine that I would want to drink.

How do you know you’ve got a good vintage?

Repeat customers are a sure sign of a good vintage.

Are there any new winemaking techniques or tools you’d like to experiment with?

I would really like to try barrel fermentation. I’ve never been able to do that because of space constraints. I would also like to make an orange wine, but my husband won’t let me bury clay fermentation vessels in our backyard. I really have a laundry list of things that I want to try… carbonic maceration, sparkling, kegging wine.. just to list a few. It would also be pretty awesome to learn how to recoop barrels. We all need an activity in the down months.

Which wine growing region has had the most influence on you?

I’m partial to the Central Coast (California). I grew up on the Monterey Peninsula and that’s where I was first exposed to the wine industry. I grew up tagging along with my mom to all of the local vineyards in the Carmel Valley AVA.

What is one aspect of your job that might surprise people?

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I love it when someone asks what I do when I’m not crushing. The amount of time that goes into nurturing and working the wine surprises people. It’s not just a “set it and forget it” product. It’s very easy to make bad wine if you’re not paying attention. But, by that token, most faulted wine is able to be corrected…and if it’s too far gone, just throw some fruit in and make sangria.

Another aspect that surprises people is the comradely that the winemakers in the state have. Making good wine is easy if you have a network of people with different expertise. It’s more of a cooperative effort rather than a competitive environment. We support each other.

What do you like best about your job?

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I love creating something so unique and personal to share. I love getting messy. I love learning. There is always a new product, a new technique. I especially love being able to share this with my family. My son has been coming to the winery with me since he’s been a week old. One day I hope that he and I will be making wine, side by side.

What is your favorite wine that you’ve made and what makes it your favorite?

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My favorite wine is the wine that I made for my husband. We call it the Bawstin Blend, on account of his thick Boston accent. When he and I first started dating, he pretended that he was really into wine.. Low and behold, he used every wine app available on his phone and googled while we were at restaurants so that he could keep the conversation going about whatever he ordered, and he was ordering some fantastic wines!

He “confessed” that he didn’t like wine like five or six years after we started dating. He said he just couldn’t keep up the charade anymore. It was pretty awesome that he went through so much trouble to impress me in the early years, so we deconstructed a bunch of wines and figured out what characteristics he didn’t like in a wine. Then we constructed a crazy California red blend for him that isn’t too tannic or heavily oaked.

Who are your favorite winemakers and why?

There are so many! I think Isabelle Simi was positively badass. She took over her father’s vineyard and winery when she was 18, found prohibition loopholes and navigated the success of Simi through the Great Depression. Brandon Allen of SLO Down Wines is amazing. His wine, Sexual Chocolate, is one of my go-tos. Brandon was one of my favorite beer pong partners in college when we all use to drink Natty Ice and hang out in my garage. John Saunders of Boëté in Carmel Valley, CA produces one of my favorite Cab Francs, hands down. It’s a family owned and operated vineyard that produces small batch Cab and Cab Franc. He’s a super detail oriented winemaker and it definitely shows in the product.

Is beer ever better than wine?

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There comes a point in the season when anything is better than wine… even water. Usually during harvest you’ll find me drinking beer.. Unless something has broken. In that case, I drink vodka. Lot’s of vodka.

 

Also, check out Cru Podcast’s most recent interview of Amanda – Finding Your Happy with Amanda Brackett. In this episode Amanda and Chappy of Cru converse about her passion for winemaking and how she became a winemaker in Connecticut to how she is working to teach more and more people about wine. She also shares the challenges she has had to overcome not only with government regulation, but the simple fact of her being a female business owner and winemaker. A great listen!

Until next time. Cheers Wine Lovers!