Tales from the Connecticut Wine Trail

Melissa Stagnaro

Sometimes you just need a few days to get away and clear your head. You know, to sort through the vagaries of life in general and get things back in perspective.

It was that need to refresh and regroup which prompted me to head to Connecticut on Sunday. Because I figured spending a couple of days in the company of one of my dearest friends – my old college roomie Liz – was just what the doctor ordered.

For three blissful days, I hung out with Lizzie, her truly amazing husband Kent and their equally amazing dog, Texas.

Liz, ever the meeting and event planner, had the whole trip planned out practically before I hit send on the email, in which I invited myself to her house.

First on our agenda was hitting a few vineyards on the Connecticut Wine Trail. Which I definitely deemed worthy of getting up ridiculously early on a Sunday so I could be on the road by 6:30 a.m. The weather wasn’t exactly what I’d call ideal for a long drive, but I still managed to make decent time.

By the time I arrived on their doorstep, shortly before 11, visions of wine tastings were dancing in my head. And after the lovely Elisabeth whipped me up some scrambled eggs with tomatoes fresh from their incredibly bountiful postage-stamp sized garden, we were on our way to hit the Trail.

It was perhaps a 40 minute drive from the Shipman’s house in Milford, to the first winery on our list: DiGrazia Vineyards in Brookfield, CT. It was a scenic trip, through a series of stereotypically quaint New England towns. We made good use of the time, chatting and singing along to the radio. Kent was good enough not to roll his eyes too many times.

Gypsy, Liz and Kent’s somewhat-outdated GPS, was calling the shots. Which was probably why we ended up taking an even more scenic route once we got closer to our destination. We missed a few turns, too, but that just gave us a chance to explore more of the tiny winding lanes around the vineyard. I loved it.

The skies opened up on us as we made our way up DiGrazia’s long drive. While the rain effectively nixed our plan to have a picnic of sorts under their tree covered arbor, it did nothing to detract us from the task at hand. Which was, of course, to sample the establishment’s extensive list of wines.

If you’ve done a wine tasting before, whether it’s in the Finger Lakes region or elsewhere, you know it’s a mixed bag. Sometimes it’s good, sometimes it’s bad. And on occasion, it can be downright ugly. Having never before had the opportunity to sample any Connecticut wine’s before, I had tempered my expectations. As it turned out, I was more than pleasantly surprised by the quality of the wine we tasted – at DiGrazia and the other wineries we visited.

At DiGrazia, I found I preferred their whites and blush style wines. Although my absolute favorite was the Blacksmith Port, particularly after I heard the story about the old Italian blacksmith in whose honor the sweet, barrel-aged port was named and whose spirit is believed to linger at the vineyard.

It was Dr. DiGrazia himself who told us the tale of the man, as he took us on a brief tour of the facility. It was a treat to hear the story of the winery from the person who started it all. Especially since he peppered our little walk-through with mythical trolls and memories of his medical training in Switzerland. Now, well into his 70’s, he still practices medicine and oversees the vineyard’s winemaking operation, he told us. Adding that the key to longevity was to do what you love.

Which didn’t give me pause, until I learned his specialty was gynecology.

We’ll just say that made for an interesting discussion as we returned to the car, our arms laden with purchases.

We gnoshed on our picnic lunch en route to the second winery on our list: McLaughlin Vineyards in Sandy Hook, CT. After a couple of more missed turns, and a jaunt down what could only be described as a cart path, we came upon the rustic 160 acre property. Marked, not by a CT Wine Trail sign as we had expected, but rather one for fresh eggs. Who would have thought.

We were looking forward to the live music the vineyard hosts each Sunday – which was supposed to be raggae that particular day – but unfortunately it had been canceled as a result of the weather. We didn’t let it dampen our spirits, though, and got right down to tasting the 6 wines on offer. This time, my favorite was the Vista Reposa, a peppery red, of which I, regrettably, only purchased one bottle.

We chose not to linger, despite the idyllic surroundings. But I did manage to snap a few pictures of the vineyard on our way out. It really was a gorgeous setting. And for once, my paltry photographic skills actually did them justice.

From Sandy Hook, we headed to Shelton and Jones Family Farms. It’s a favored destination for Liz and Kent, for berry picking and cutting down their Christmas tree. They hadn’t yet sampled any of their wines, however, and our goal was to rectify that. And I can assure you that, now that we have, we’ll make it a point to go back. Because, quite frankly, we loved everything that we tasted there – the whites, the rose, the reds and even their dessert wines – which come in raspberry and black current.

My favorite, though, was without a doubt the Strawberry Serenade – a sparkling blend of chenin blanc grapes and fresh strawberries which was nothing short of inspired. It was pure poetry in a glass. Honestly, I would be quite happy never to let another liquid pass my lips.

While we sipped, and heaped lavish amounts of praise on everything we tasted, the skies opened up once more. As a result, we were forced *ahem* to linger over an extra glass of wine. I, of course, selected the Strawberry Serenade.

By the time we returned to Milford, we were worn out and – at least in my case – a little bit tipsy. We spent the rest of the day lounging in front of the television, watching the food network, sipping some of that wine we bought and playing Scrabble. Yep, absolute bliss.

There was less wine on Monday, but it was no less enjoyable. Liz, Tex and I spent the day hiking at a lake in nearby Fairfield, then watched The Blind Side (which I highly recommend) while we waited for Kent to come home from work. Then we took walk around the neighborhood with my new best friend Tex, imbibed a little more of that wine, whipped up some homemade pizza with more of their backyard-grown bounty and played even more Scrabble. It was a good day. Followed by another one with more good food, dog walking and lots of quality time with Lizzie. Who tells me she now prefers to be called “Elisabeth.” As if.

I dragged out my visit until Tuesday afternoon. But by then I had to face facts – it was time for me to go home. My heart was heavy as I packed my car and said my good-byes.

As I settled into my 4-hour drive, I couldn’t help but marvel at the clarity just those couple of days away had given me.

Not to mention all those bottles of wine, tucked away safe and sound in my trunk.

Yep, I think a return trip to Connecticut, and a few more stops along that wine trail are definitely in my future.

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