Seeing Connecticut in the autumn is high on the bucket lists of many tourists from the United States and all over the world. The russet tones of leaves fallen from the Maple and Birch trees lining the CT streets are the stuff of legend. But the scenery is just one of the many attractions of the Nutmeg State. In addition to famously being the home of private Ivy League research university, Yale, Connecticut boasts a rich cultural and agricultural heritage.
The state’s leading ecotourism draw are, of course, its myriad world-class vineyards and wineries. In fact, there are more than 40 of these spread out along the Connecticut Wine Trail. Each of the wineries in Connecticut has its own unique charm, with most specialising in hardier grape varieties. Hybrid varietals, along with Vitis vinifera (the common grape vine), are popular with vineyards supplying CT wineries. These are best suited to the extremely cold winters and humid summers that characterise the climate of this collection of American Viticultural Areas (AVAs).
Some wines commonly offered at CT wineries include Riesling, Vidal, Saint-Croix, Chardonnay, and Cabernet Franc. Wine aficionados and locals alike know that Connecticut as the home of Vidal grapes and sweet wines. Here’s a quick breakdown of what we consider to be the four best wineries in Connecticut:
Jones Family Farm and Winery, Shelton
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For a really hands-on experience of CT wineries, you can’t go wrong with a visit to Jones Family Farm and Winery in Shelton. Not only can visitors enjoy tasting wines in the estate’s charming repurposed 19th-Century dairy barn and outdoor courtyard; they also have the opportunity to pick their own produce on the Jones’ working farm. In addition to the several acres of planted vineyards, the Jones land yields squash, blueberries, strawberries, gourds, pumpkins, and more.
The Jones family has tended the grapes and other crops on this farm for more than a century and a half. The stone buildings and rustic details transport visitors to the early days of the Jones Family Farm. Founder, Phillip Jones, who established the winery in 1999, runs the operation according to the motto: “Be good to the land and the land will be good to you”.
Over and above the wine-tasting and produce-picking activities on offer at the farm, the Joneses also present farm-style cooking and food-and-wine pairing classes, as well as educational programmes on the agricultural process. Thanks to fruits grown on the estate, the Jones farm is unique among CT wineries in that it produces specialty fruit wines alongside its more traditional grape wines.
The winery is open Thursday through Sunday, with a $20 deposit required to secure advanced bookings for tastings. Tastings at this, one of the best wineries in CT, feature six or seven different Jones Family wines, with the 2020 Riesling being a popular choice
Hopkins Vineyard, Warren
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Atop a hill overlooking Lake Waramaug, you will find another not-to-be-missed winery in CT. Visitors to Hopkins Vineyard can bring along a picnic basket to enjoy as they take in this matchless vista of the Litchfield countryside.
Also in view from this vantage point are 30 acres of vines harvested to produce Hopkins Vineyard’s stellar selection of fine wines. These can be purchased on site, by the glass, bottle or flight. To sample these wines, guests are invited to the venue’s wine bar, located in the hayloft of a barn that has stood on the property since the 1800s, for tastings. The various tasting experiences available at Hopkins Vineyard are paired with delicious culinary delights, including artisanal cheeses, fresh bread, and country pâtés. Some of this fine fare can also be found in the on-site gift shop, where visitors can purchase Hopkins wines, gourmet foods, cookbooks, and other wine-related items.
Owing to its proximity to an inland lake, the terroir of the Hopkins vineyards is ideal for producing tender grape varieties. These are processed into a wide array of wines, including the sweet Night Owl and Ice wine labels, as well as semi-sweet apple cider wine and peach wine, dry reds, and even sparkling wine.
Check the Hopkins Vineyard calendar to time your visit to coincide with one of the exciting events regularly hosted by this winery in CT. The Estate-Bottled 2020 Ice Wine is a shoo-in if you are a fan of sweet wines with peach and apricot notes.
Sunset Meadow Vineyards, Goshen
Twenty minutes away from that same lake, lies Sunset Meadow Vineyards, a former working farm now serving up robust red and bright white wines. This is another of the best wineries in Connecticut for picnickers. You’re welcome to bring your own snacks or, if you’re lucky, grab something tasty from one of the food trucks regularly hosted on the grounds.
The sprawling property was purchased by Sunset Meadow Vineyards, also the owners of another location in Sheffield MA, in 1996. Overlooking the Western Connecticut highlands, the CT location includes 50 acres of bountiful soil, planted with 13 of the grape varietals used to produce Sunset Meadow wines. Try their light-bodied Pinot-noir-style red, St Croix or the ever-popular wine slushies.
The tasting room, appointed with antiques and wooden beams from the original estate, conveys a strong sense of the history of this location. It is open year-round from 12pm to 5pm on Mondays, Thursdays, Fridays and Sundays and from 11am to 5pm on Saturdays. Note that the tasting room is closed to the public on Tuesdays and Wednesdays. Seating is allocated on a first-come-first-served basis. Their special chocolate and wine pairings, with locally-made Fascia’s Chocolate, are particularly popular.
Don’t miss the on-site gift shop of this winery in CT, where you can purchase Sunset Meadow Vineyards wines, Connecticut keepsakes and an array of gourmet foods. The shop even makes gift baskets to order.
Paradise Hills Vineyards, Wallingford
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Another of the best wineries in CT where you can get your hands dirty, Paradise Hills Vineyards. In the autumn, this family-owned winery hosts Annual Volunteer Grape Harvests. As part of this, resident viticulture experts educate volunteers about the harvest process, teaching them how to correctly prune grape vines.
The estate’s Italian-American owners and operators, the Ruggiero family, began cultivating grapes in the gravelly loom of Paradise Hills in 1997. This distinctive terroir has proven ideal for the production of a host of award-winning wines, including Chardonnay, Seyval Blanc, and Vidal Blanc, among others.
The Ruggiero family’s commitment to sustainable and socially-conscious farming practices is part of what makes it one of the best wineries in CT. This is evident throughout the estate’s operations, which include geothermal heating and cooling system,
The family’s personal touch is also strongly felt in the authentic Tuscan style of the Paradise Hills boutique winery, featuring a custom-made copper wine bar, wood-burning fireplace, and elegant chandeliers. Tastings are offered daily on a first-come-first-served basis and feature six pre-selected wines. If you’re a fan of delicate white wine, you’re sure to love the Paradise Hills Vineyard Chardonnay, produced from award-winning grapes.