Are Connecticut Winery Tasting Fees Too High?

I have only visited two wineries so far this year and there’s a good reason for that. 2012 was the last year I visited all the CT wineries on the CT wine trail (and some that are not on the CT wine trail) and I have been to all of them the previous three years. I’ve noticed two things since I’ve been visiting the Connecticut Wineries.

The first thing is that wines have gotten extremely better each year as many of the wineries have perfected their wines. I’m sure the grapes are maturing as they season each year.

They seem not to be boutique wineries as they were when first starting out but are becoming bonafide wine producers of consistently good wines. And the CT reds are starting to get much better than in the beginning. I think a lot of CT reds are getting as good as the CT whites, if not more so.

So, with that here’s the second thing I’ve noticed – tasting fees have risen considerably from the majority of the state’s wineries.  It used to be that I could visit all of the 30+ wineries (usually 4 at a time) and it would be reasonably priced at around the $3 to $6 for a tasting. And some were even free. Some of the wineries gave you their signature glass with the tasting fee.

I get it that you have to cover the costs of doing business and that much of the total production you harvest are mere “experimental batches” in California wineries. And I don’t mind paying more for a bottle of your wine as I like to support local wineries as much as I do local farmers’ markets.

Prior to this year wine tastings were approximately about 75 cents for an average ½ ounce pour. I can live with that. But this is what we’re experiencing at the wineries today:

$14 for 8 wines plus signature logo glass

$8 for 7 wines

$7 for 6 wines

$10 for entire wines on the list plus signature logo glass

$9 for 8 wines

$7 for 5 wines or $12 for 12 wines

2 free samples, $4 for 8 wines, or $8 for 12 wines

$6 for 6 wines plus signature logo glass

up to $25 for 6 wines (of which 2 are reserve wines) plus a famous brand name glass

$9 for 10 wines

$7 for 6 wines

some have options of 2 wine tastings consisting of:

$5-$8 for 3 or 4 wines OR $10-$12 for 7-9 wines plus the signature logo glass

$10 for 4 wines – REALLY?

I can go to almost any restaurant and get a decent glass of wine for around $6-8 and it’s usually around 6-8 ounces of wine. As you can see from the tasting fees above I’m paying about double that. And I only want to TASTE your wines not drink them.  If I want to drink your wines it will come after I taste them and at a different time as I will remember what your wines taste like and visit you again but with the purpose of bringing along a picnic lunch (most wineries allow you to do this, unless of course they sell food too which I understand) and purchasing either a glass of wine or a bottle and enjoy what your winery has to offer. Which means I’m going to spend a few hours at your establishment.

With the cost of gas nowadays I’m starting to get particular to which wineries I visit and if you’re going to charge me more than about a $1 for a ½ ounce pour I probably won’t be visiting you.

I can go about 15 minutes from home and get free wine tastings (because I belong to their wine club) for myself and up to four guests. Their wine club averages out to one bottle of wine a month. Then, there is another winery I travel about 50 minutes to because their wine is exceptional plus I cannot remember when they last charged me for a tasting, even though their wine tastings are one of the few wineries that have reasonable fees for tastings. 

As far as the signature logo glass is concerned. I really do not need it. If you sponsor a wine festival at your winery then I expect to get signature logo souvenir glass. After all, don’t take this to heart but given my druthers I’d rather drink my wine from a Riedel wine glass (yes, I’m snobbish that way but have found a good wine glass makes the wine taste better) so I won’t be drinking the majority of my wine from a signature logo wine glass unless of course it’s a Riedel. I’m seeing a trend of exploding tasting fees in the future. Are the CT wineries forcing me to visit wineries outside the state???

Okay fellow oenophiles – am I wrong? Do you agree or disagree?  Please comment on the post. Let me know how you feel. It can be as easy as “I agree” or “I don’t agree”.  Winery owners – how about you? Am I on target or am I sniffing up the wrong grapevine? I’d like to hear your point of view.

Taylor Brooke St. Croix Rosé

It’s been a while since I’ve been blogging and I recently got an email to my website account from wannabewino.com about Wine Blogging Wednesday (WBW) and that it’s back. Well, for one, this was news to me and it’s been around for a long time. Goes to show ya that you can teach a new dog an old trick – no, reverse that. Anyway, getting back to the reason I’m posting this one is simple – I needed to get back in the “sip” of things and this seemed like a good place to start. You can read the background for WBW from Tim Elliott at winecast.com for more information. This happens to be WBW #80, but the first for me.

The theme for WBW #80 is a dry rosé and as many of you know I’m more of a bold, sassy, dry red drinker with a Borolo at the top of the list although there are many others that could easily tie for the top spot. Although when I leave this earth I believe I’ll be toting a French Bordeaux or two with me – well, I can’t use my wine luggage for traveling on the plane anymore so I might as well put it to good use.

So I went looking for a bottle of dry rosé and wouldn’t you know I could only find one and I really thought I had two in my wine cellar. Alas, whiners of wine, I remembered I did a tasting up at Taylor Brooke back a few months and was really impressed with their rosé and realized the wine was still in the box I brought home and had not logged it into my wine database yet – not like my mind is going or anything like that! Seeing as this is my first WBW I thought doing a virtual wine tasting of a local wine would be a pretty good choice. The rosé sells for around $14 and had an ABV of 12% so it won’t break the bank and one glass isn’t going to get you tipsy. It’s made for summer sipping and produced from the St. Croix grape varietal.

So, I chilled the wine as I was planning on having it on a warm summer afternoon out on the deck whiling reading one of three books I’m in the process of reading now. And yes, I can remember the plots and characters in each of them – hey, my mind isn’t all that gone – yet!! Okay, the wine’s been chilling in the wine cooler and I’m making a new recipe for a late lunch and early dinner.

The wine opened with a nose predominately of red raspberry (I have to open the wine before I start cooking) and the aroma was much like when I pick fresh wild red raspberries that grow in the backyard when it’s hot and muggy outside with the sun shining with nary a cloud to find. I continued to sniff into the wine glass and found strawberries and black raspberry aromas too. I also detected a slight hint of apricot after sniffing it for 8 or 9 more times. On the palate I found the succulent red raspberry flavors with hints of black raspberry and red currant. This dry rosé had a nice acidic feel to it and the finish was very smooth and creamy on the back palate.

The meal consisted of chicken marinated overnight with a soy ginger marinade making the chicken moist and quite tasty. Along with the chicken were grilled pineapple slices and grilled Portabella mushrooms. We then added garden fresh tomatoes, baby Swiss cheese, sautéed red onions and avocado slices. The recipe called for all of this to be delicately placed between two slices of Ciabatta bread but my better half and my son decided to put it all on a plate while I had mine on the Ciabatta sans the avocado.

Needless to say, the meal went well with the dry rosé and I opted for cubed cantaloupe and fresh picked blueberries for dessert and not only did the wine complement the meal but added to the dessert. If you could imagine a red raspberry in liquid form – this would be it.

Preston Ridge Vineyards

This past weekend I awoke on Saturday morning hoping to soak the deck in Australian Timber oil to protect the beautiful cedar boards so I can get our patio furniture out and I can enjoy the warm weather, if it ever comes this year.

It has to, I presume, because the local farmers have all spread manure on their fields and that is a sure sign that spring has sprung. But the only liquid soaking the cedar was from natural resources – rain, that is.

So, I’m moping around the house getting under my better half’s skin as she’s trying to study and I’m trying to have a conversation. So, I was politely told to go do something, go to a winery or something. Well, I don’t need to be prodded to visit a winery. So, I logged on the computer to see where I wanted to go and found a new winery I had not heard of yet.

Preston Ridge Vineyard opened last October but I was unaware as I had already turned in my CT Passport (no, I didn’t win) and was pretty much done for the wine season. Seeing as the vineyard was only 8-9 miles away, I figured what the heck and I gathered my keys to the car and hit the road. It didn’t take long and I was soon at the vineyard.

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After heading down the entrance the tasting room came into view and there were only about five cars in the parking lot and the building seemed to be fairly large so I was excited about visiting a new winery.

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Upon entering the wine bar is just to the right of the entrance. This is where I met Steve and Ann, the owners, and where I began my wine tasting.

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But not before I noticed the 144 bottle wine rack to the right of the wine bar. I have to get one of these wine racks.

I started my wine tasting with their 2011 Fieldstone White which is a blend of Cayuga grapes and it opened with peachy and citrusy notes both on the nose and the palate. Although it wasn’t a real warm day I could envision sipping this on a warm sunny afternoon out on the deck that is, if I ever get the Australian Timber oil on it.

Next up was the 2011 Chardonnay which had peach, apple, and pear aromas and as this was chilled to just about the right temperature the flavor was similar to the aromas as my palate found this to be clean and crisp. As many of you know I am not a real big Chardonnay drinker but I liked this one. On their tasting menu were two other Chardonnays of similar aromas and tastes, however the 2011 Chardonnay Reserve had a real buttery finish on the palate and the 2011 Chardonnay Premier Cellar Reserve finished with vanilla notes on the back palate.

Next up was the 2011 Zundell Farm Rose which was light and refreshing and reminded me of strawberry shortcake sans the cake but with the creamy topping. Again, another good summer sipping wine. This would probably go well with a cheese and fruit tray.

Now I was on to their reds and the first one was the 2011 Cabernet Franc which is one of my favorite reds – actually, reds are my favorites in general. This didn’t disappoint as jammy red raspberry, red currant, and red cherry flavors were plentiful with a slight peppery finish.

Then I tried the 2011 Estate Cabernet Franc and I found much the same as the previous Cabernet Franc but detected hints of plum with the same slight peppery finish. The the last wine on the wine list was the 2011 Cabernet Sauvignon which consisted more of the black berry fruits of cherry, raspberry, strawberry, currant with hints of earth and leather.

Well, I thought this was the end of the wine list but Steve and Ann had a few more surprises. I was treated to a few barrel tastings (these are some of my favorite things) and was quite surprised to be offered a couple of Rieslings which weren’t even on the tasting menu. I couldn’t tell you specifically what the two were but the aromas and flavors were of peach, honeysuckle, and pear with slight hints of green apple. Clean, crisp and wonderful, however these won’t get bottled until the fall but worth the wait if you’re a Riesling drinker.

The last one was a Cabernet Franc. I really liked this one and it will be bottled in the winter which was a surprise to me as it tasted perfect. I’ll definitely be back to taste this one again when it’s ready. Bet you’re wondering what the aromas and flavors of the barrel Cabernet Franc – oohhh, you’re going to have to visit the winery and hope they bring some of this up to the tasting room to experience the nuances of this wine.

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When I was leaving I took this picture and I’m not sure what this is but I’d love to turn that into a bocce ball court.

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Now this is the way to do a wine tour!

 

 

Rosedale Vineyards Serendipity

There are times I’m just looking for a decent white wine as a simple complement to a fairly simple meal. So I went into the basement where I keep all my wine (unless of course they’re open, in which case they’re upstairs in the pantry – uh, that would be for the red wine, so the whites are always kept in the chiller) and seeing as I didn’t have any opened bottles of white wine I chose a local wine that I had not had in a while. I just happened to choose the Serendipity from Rosedale Vineyards.

Made with 100% Riesling grapes, this local Connecticut wine opened with fresh apple and peach notes (about equal between the apple and peach aromas) on the nose and with spring around the corner this was a very pleasing aroma. On the palate were orange peel, peach, green apple, honey and mineral flavors. The finish wasn’t long but it wasn’t short either – maybe just right. This paired quite well with shrimp pesto over angel hair pasta.

Sunset Meadow Vineyards 2009 Vidal Blanc

Located in Goshen, CT Sunset Meadow Vineyards is one of about 30+ boutique wineries in Connecticut. In my opinion, CT white wines are getting better every year. Usually when I visit CT wineries I look forward to tasting their white wines. The reds aren’t quite there yet on the grand scheme of things with the rest of the world, but hey, the rest of the world has been doing it for a lot longer than the small wineries in southern New England. The wine retails for around $19 and has a 12% alcohol by volume.

The vidal blanc had an opaque yellow color with aromas of lemongrass, lime, fresh cut hay and floral notes. On the palate I found lemon-lime jello, pear, and clementine. The finish was refreshing with ripe apricots. We paired this with Cajun sea scallops, leaf spinach, and long grain wild rice. The crispness of the wine complemented the Cajun spices (my own concoction BTW) which marinated the sea scallops.

Okay, here’s the recipe for the Cajun marinade for about 1 1/2 lbs of sea scallops (approx. 1 1/2″ in diameter and just as tall): Rinse sea scallops well and drain any excess liquid and place in a quart container. Combine 1/3 cup olive oil, 1/2 tsp garlic powder, 1/2 tsp onion powder, 1/4 tsp black pepper, and 1 tsp (you can vary this to your taste) of your favorite dry Cajun seasoning (I use the Habanero Cajun seasoning from Hell – beyond hot). You can also vary the ingredients to suit your tastes.

Pour this over the sea scallops and let soak for at least 10 minutes. Bake in a glass dish at 425 degrees for 14 minutes although this will vary based on the size of your sea scallops. Total time of preparation to sitting down and eating the meal is less than an hour so this can be a great meal during the middle of the week. Oh, and don’t forget to have the bottle of wine well chilled. The coolness of the wine with the hotness of the Cajun spices does a cha-cha on your taste buds. Bon Appetit!

Holmberg Orchards Russet Hard Cider

On occasion I like something other than a glass of wine, sparkling or otherwise and a hard cider fits the bill. What I like about the Holmberg Orchard’s Russet Hard Cider is the tartness as I prefer this over a sweet cider. Sweet ciders have their moments, especially in the summer months when you want to blend it with fresh fruit to make “adult Kool-Aid”. But seeing as this is winter, a cider with a bit more tartness is in order when you’re not in the mood for a glass of wine, champagne, beer, whiskey, scotch, cognac, martini, or any other libation.

What I like about tart ciders is they can be paired with just about any sort of appetizers or snacks. Pretzels are my preferred choice of snacks while watching a good movie, reading a great book, or just hanging around. This particular cider has about 7% alcohol by volume and costs around $9. Obviously this has aromas and flavors of apples and the perfect complement for snacking. Sometimes this is just what the doctor ordered 🙂

 

Taylor Brooke Winter Pomegranate

The other day I opened a bottle of Pinot Noir that didn’t quite suit my fancy and here I had a traditional turkey dinner with all the trimmings (well, most of them) so I had a dilemma on my hands.

Now that the first wine I opened didn’t do the trick for a wine paired with some food, so I had to venture into the catacombs of my basement to retrieve a bottle of wine to save the day.

As some of you know me will also know that I can spend hours in the basement on my wine database searching for the “right” wine. Seeing as I had struck out with the red wine I first chose I decided to go with another strategy and seek out a wine other than a Pinot Noir. I decided on Taylor Brooke’s Winter Pomegranate.

This seasonal fruit-infused Riesling is usually only available in the October-November-ish months when this is plentiful. The aromas and flavors are of fresh pomegranate when they are in season. I am quite fond of Rieslings and Taylor Brooke’s spin on a fruit-infused Riesling gave the turkey dinner a great wine-food pairing. So, this saved the day as it went perfectly well with the meal.

I have in the past also paired this with an appetizer my grandmother used to make consisting of sliced tomatoes drizzled with olive oil; sprinkled with fresh chopped basil (whole leaves are good too); sliced or chopped garlic; and either Asiago, Parmesan, or Romano grated cheese on top. You can also place sliced fresh Mozzarella instead of the grated cheese, which I prefer especially if all the ingredients are fresh.

So, if you’re looking for a great wine to serve with a meal, pick up the Winter Pomegranate. It sells for around $12 and is well worth the cost of admission.

Saltwater Farm Vineyard 2010 Cabernet Franc/Merlot Blend

I recently visited Saltwater Farm Vineyard as we had a few relatives visit during the Thanksgiving holiday and they wanted to get in a few of the Connecticut wineries before returning back to Texas.

Now, I have not visited any of the wineries in Texas but I understand they have a whole bunch of them and if you remember my definition of “bunch” then you’ll get the picture you aren’t going to get to all of them in one day.

So, we decided to visit Saltwater Farms after eating at the Voodoo Grill in Mystic where we had some of their famous “hot” wings, burgers, and other delectable treats.

Arriving at the vineyard, the scenery was still picturesque even though the vines are bare and a coolness hung over the landscape it was still active with ocean birds, marshes, and salt in the air.

Upon entering the tasting room, Michelle, one of two wine bar staff persons greeted us quite warmly and began the process of pouring wines for us. Although we liked the wines on the tasting menu that Michelle walked us through, what really grabbed our attention was the last wine we tasted.

The Cabernet Franc/Merlot sported a 12.5% ABV and opened with black cherry and black berry on the nose, a hint of boysenberry and eucalyptus found it’s way in the aromas as well. On the palate I found a very smooth mouthfeel with blackberries and intense black cherry. It had a really great mixture of the two flavors yet were quite distinct from each other. A combination of mocha and a light peppery finish rounded out the tasting on this wine. Although a bit pricey at $35 we found it to be well worth it.

Michelle was quite knowledgeable with the Saltwater Farm wines letting us know the nuances of each selection. We were also provided with a bit of history concerning the effects of Hurricane Sandy and fortunately, the winery escaped the deepest wrath of Sandy. I know tasting the wines is the ultimate factor in visiting a winery but I also like to interact with the wine staff as this is part of the wine visit too. You never know what little tidbits you come away with.

As an avid red wine drinker, I do believe that Connecticut has improved greatly in producing red wines that get better each year. Visiting Saltwater Farm this year, among other CT wineries, I have high hopes for the reds in Connecticut.

Paradise Hills Vineyard & Winery – 2012

Traveling to Paradise Hills Vineyard brings you to what you think is a residential area giving you reason to believe the GPS isn’t working quite well. But if you persevere you’ll find yourself in front of the wine barrel with the winery’s name on the front. And when you think otherwise, a sign points you in the right direction.

These are the signs I like to see  and after following the hand crafted sign I found my self right in the parking lot with the adobe style tasting room.

 

As you can see I had the place all to myself and could wander around at will and decided to visit the vines before entering the tasting room. I must say the grapes look enticing but seeing as I am a patient individual I can wait for the finished product.

Once inside the tasting room I was met by Richard, one of the owners as the wine staff for the tasting. The tasting fee is $8.00 for the five wines they have on the wine menu. You do not get a signature glass but their wine glasses are clearly 20 ounce or better wine glasses. I’m particularly fond of this venue as it really provides ample room to swirl the wine and get the full potential of the wine’s aroma and flavor. I have a gazillion wine glasses anyway and not getting another one wouldn’t bother me at all.

Before the tasting begins Richard gave me a run down of the history of the place (which I did not write down verbatim, so you’ll have to visit them and get the whole story) including the visit from George Washington traveling through the winery hillsides and the family initial above the wine bar. Then we got into the wines.

Washington Trail White ($18): A strong green apple aroma led into apple and tart pear on the palate. This was clean and crisp with a lingering finish. This is one you’ll want to serve well-chilled.

Chardonnay ($24.99): This is produced from Estate grown grapes which happen to be the ones I decided to visit (see previous picture of grapevines) before I entered the tasting room. This had apricot and honey on the nose with strawberry and citrus flavors and was served quite chilled. A bit more than I like my Chardonnay but good nonetheless.

After tasting the two white wines, Richard produced a new glass for the red wine tasting.

Trio ($22.99): A red blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Malbec, and Carmenere revealed a mocha and cherry aroma which was quite pleasing to the ‘ol schnozzola. On the palate were chocolate and wild berry flavors with hints of pepper on the finish.

Riomonte ($22.99): This red blend was very similar to the Trio minus the Cabernet Saivignon but with an additional pronounced plum aroma and flavor. A slight peppery finish and after a few sips a chocolate flavor found its way to the back palate.

Cayuga White ($20.99): This opened with lemongrass and hints of peach on the nose. Semi- sweet flavors of melon, honeysuckle, peach and apricots on the palate.

In the event you want to stay for awhile grab your self a glass or bottle of your favorite Paradise Hills wine and sit out on the patio watching the grapes grow.

Walker Road Vineyards – 2012

Arriving at Walker Road Vineyards on a beautiful sunny afternoon I had noticed the entrance to the vineyard changed from last year’s visit. They also moved from the basement of their home into a barn-like structure not too far from the vineyards. So things are looking up for them.

You may want to get to this winery soon as they are only open the first full weekend of each month. I hope in the future they decide to change this as I think it would be better for business.

I couldn’t resist taking a picture of the small bridge from the parking lot, which is also small but navigable providing there aren’t too many vehicles in your way.

Upon entering the tasting room you get a rustic feel and they have done a great job with  it compared to the old wine bar (last year) which was a small bench with maybe 3-4 tasters being able to taste wines. The new wine bar can accommodate quite a few more tasters. Sorry for the blurry picture but I wanted you to get an idea of how the place was set up.

When I first entered the tasting room I met Jim Frey and his wife Bruce-Elizabeth and they inquired if I wanted to do a tasting. Last year they did not charge for the tasting but you didn’t get a signature glass either. The tasting fee was $5 plus you got to keep the winery glass. If I’m not mistaken this is the first year Walker Road Vineyards has offered signature wine glasses. They only produce two wines but they’re pretty good and the tasting notes are as follows. I forgot to record the wine prices but do know both were well under $20.

Gertrude’s Garden: A blend of Traminette, Seyval Blanc, Sauvignon Blanc produced aromas of peach, apricot, and melon on the nose. The flavors consisted of citrus, lemon zest, and fresh herbs. The finish reminded me of lemon meringue pie.

Red Table Wine: This red blend consisted of the St. Croix, Cabernet Franc, and Sangiovese-Brunello varietals . It reminded me a lot of the wine my grandfather made, probably due to the Sangiovese-Brunello varietal. I found black cherry, pepper, dark plum, and cherry hard candy aromas. On the palate were blackberry, black currant, and plenty of pepper. A long finish ended with hints of European mocha.

Here’s a view of the vineyards from the tasting room.