Harvest Prep: Jim from Walker Road Vineyards

I was lucky enough to catch Jim Frey, owner of Walker Road for a few minutes before his crazy busy season started. We chatted about Harvest and what his pre-harvest traditions are over at Walker Road Vineyards.

How do you get ready for harvest? “We start by harvesting our Marquette grapes.”

The Marquette grape is the grandson of Frontenac and Pinot Noir. This grape creates a wine that is complex, ruby red in color, and very flavorful. The wine has notes of cherry, berry, black pepper, and baking spices. A delicious red wine.

Any other fun harvest traditions? Harvest snack/food of choice?

“Our friends and family always come over and help us harvest the grapes. It is a great day to share with everyone! After harvesting during the day, we crush in the evening (a little cooler) and have either pulled pork sandwiches or chili.”

Visiting Walker Road Vineyards:

Visiting Walker Road is like stepping into a “Vineyard Oasis”. Enjoy your wine tasting in their 150 year old barn overlooking their gorgeous vineyards. Owner Jim Frey just received the “Wine Person of the Year” award for CT and he truly deserved it. The vineyards are managed meticulously and the wines are exquisite. Jim and his wife are normally behind the tasting bar serving guests as they mingle and enjoy the scenery. Make sure to stop by and enjoy delicious wines, great stories, and great people!

Winemaker: Jim Frey

Location: 11 Walker Road, Woodbury, CT (Visit)

Tasting Hours: Sat-Sun 12-5, May through mid-December

 

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: 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?

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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?

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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..

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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?

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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!

Valentine’s Pairing Ideas: Chamard Vineyards

Valentine’s Day is a great time to show someone you love them with a bottle of wine, a wine tasting experience, or a special event at one of the local CT vineyards.

Here’s some pairing suggestions from Chamard Vineyards in Clinton, CT.

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photo via 9orange photography

If you’re in the mood for Dark & Decadent… 2014 Chamard Vineyards Heritage Cabernet Sauvignon pairs wonderfully with dark chocolate. The bitterness of the chocolate brings out the fruit in the wine, giving you a scandalously flavorful experience.

If you’re in the mood for Sensual & Sweet… 2015 Chamard Estate Reserve Chardonnay is the perfect choice for white chocolate, butterscotch, or caramel desserts. The buttery notes in the barrel aged Chardonnay compliment the savory sweetness of these deserts – leaving a lingering sweet feeling in your mouth as well as in your heart.

If you’re in the mood for Bubbles… Chamard’s Sparkling Sauvignon Blanc compliments your everyday milk chocolate bar. Just as sparkling wines always bring the party, sparkling wine + chocolate = a match made by cupid!

No matter what vineyard you visit — they’ll have the perfect pairing for you and yours!

Interview with Cru Podcast – “Empowering Women Winemakers in Connecticut”

 

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{pictured above – The Founding Members of the Women Winemakers of Connecticut}

{photo credit: 9orange Photography}

Today is kind of surreal. I was featured on the Cru podcast speaking about my family’s business – Musto Wine Grape Company, LLC., The Connecticut Wine Industry, and The Women Winemakers of Connecticut Group I helped create. Such an amazing opportunity, I feel so grateful to have been featured. I had a great time discussing all of these topics with Chappy and I hope he is able to taste some of Connecticut’s delicious wines soon!

Chappy’s podcast focuses on “Stories from the People Behind the Wine”. And if you look at the people he has interviewed so far, the stories are insanely inspiring! He has interviewed the McBride Sisters, Brian McClintic, and Dustin Wilson just to name a few.

It was incredibly kind of him to take the time speak to me and share our conversation with his listeners. Connecticut is a small winemaking and wine growing region but we have a lot to offer any wine lover.

To hear more about The Connecticut Wine Industry, Making Your Own Wine at Home, and The Women Winemakers of CT, You can listen to the full interview below….

Empowering Women Winemakers with Christina Musto 

I hope you enjoy the podcast and make sure to sign up for the Cru Podcast Newsletter. Lots of fun Wine Loving podcasts and new finds will be sent to you every Friday.

Cheers!

Companies mentioned in this podcast:

Cru Podcast

Musto Wine Grape Company, LLC.

CTWine.com

Women Winemakers of CT

Southern Connecticut Wine Company

Paradise Hills Vineyard & Winery

Chamard Vineyards

Ceja Vineyards

Winemaker Interview: Gouveia Vineyards

In this week’s “Winemaker Interview,” Maryann talks about how her Grandfather’s  winemaking influence and  her love and care for the vineyard help create delicious Connecticut wines at Gouviea Vineyards. 

Winemaker: Maryann Houde

Winery: Gouveia Vineyards (Visit)

Location: 1339 Whirlwind Hill Road, Wallingford, CT 06492

Tasting Hours: OPEN Monday – Saturday from 11:00AM-8:00PM, Sundays 11:00AM- 6:00PM

Tasting Options: Enjoy your wine with a view! 

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

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I’ve been making wine for 5 years. I wanted to follow the tradition of my grandfather. As a kid, I remember crushing grapes in the backyard and making wine in the cellar. This was very intriguing to me.

I have fond memories of Sunday dinners sitting around the table at my Noni and Papa’s house eating delicious pasta and sauce. My brother, sister and I were only kids but my grandfather would let us have a little wine mixed with soda. I remember how everyone wanted to nap after dinner!

How were you introduced to winemaking in Connecticut?

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We had heard about a vineyard that just opened in Wallingford back in 2004 and my husband and I wanted to check it out. Gouveia Vineyards was the first vineyard we had ever gone to. We were amazed that this beauty was in our home town. I got a job in the tasting room in 2010 and that is where it all began for me.

What are the biggest challenges for a winemaker in Connecticut?

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I would say that most winemakers in CT have a hand in growing the grapes for their wine. Maintaining the vines that you grow on your own vineyard is very challenging due to the climate and susceptibility to disease.

What makes Connecticut wine so great? What makes CT wine so different?

The great thing about CT wine is that our vineyards and wineries grow and make wine from a lot of grape varietals that are different from other regions.

Tell us about your harvest process.

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Towards the end of August we start checking sugars in the vineyard. This helps us to determing an estimate for harvest. We’re busy cleaning and tuning up our equipment. When the grapes are about 22 Brix, we pick a date, and we’ll put the word out and gather our team of volunteers to help us pick.

We start crushing the same day that we harvest. The grapes are trucked in from the field, weighed and go right into the crusher. The winemaking begins.

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

Wine makes itself. You crush the grapes and they’re going to become wine one way or another, good or bad. I want to care for the vines as best we can during the growing season so when harvest comes, I can make sure the grapes become the best version of what they’re supposed to be.
A lot of times, the circumstances are not ideal in the vineyard or the cellar so you must work with what you have and not be afraid to take a different and sometimes unorthodox approach if necessary.

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

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I know the vintage is good when I see smiles on peoples faces who come and visit the winery. When I listen to their comments about the wine, and see how much they’re enjoying it, I know the vintage is good. If it’s making people happy, It’s a good vintage.

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

How messy it is. You get dirty! It’s not uncommon to take the occasional wine shower!

What do you like best about your job?

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I like the variety. Everyday is something different. One day I could be in the vineyard, the next in the cellar and the next giving a wine tour and talking to customers.

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

My favorite wine that I made is my 2012 Petite Syrah. It was the first year I made wine at home the old fashioned way. The grapes were stomped with our feet. It’s my favorite because my family made it together. It came out really nice, too.

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

I read the memoir of Robert Mondovi and that was very inspirational. He really forged the way for the California wine region. He was a risk taker and a visionary and wanted to make the best wine for every level of wine consumer. Through personal account, Joe Gouveia. I connect with his philosophy because it reminds me of the old-world style of winemaking back in the days of watching my grandfather crush grapes in his backyard.
You don’t need to do a lot to make a good wine.

Is beer ever better than wine?

Jesus didn’t turn water into beer…

I want to give a big Thank You to Maryann Houde from Gouveia Vineyards for giving us a peak into the day in life of a Connecticut Winemaker. Make sure to stop by Gouveia Vineyards in Wallingford, CT for some delicious wines made by a passionate Winemaker! #MyCTWineTrail #DrinkLocal

The Gouveia Vineyards Tasting Experience:

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Visiting Gouveia Vineyards is like visiting your favorite mountain getaway. You enter the driveway and are immediately transported to a peaceful, beautiful, vineyard property with rolling hills and gorgeous views. The tasting room is open and airy creating a relaxing tasting experience. You can enjoy a tasting of 4 pre-selected wines and a fifth taste of your choice. Each tasting is $12.00/person and you can keep your wine glass.

Once you finish your tasting you can sit down and enjoy a bottle overlooking the vineyard or take your wine outside to the outdoor picnic area. Gouveia Vineyards is a great place for larger groups because they have a lot of space and allow you to bring food to their facility. Gouveia Vineyards is a great place to visit with family and friends. I hope you enjoy your tasting. Cheers!