Celebrating Oregon Wine Month

Originally published in the May 2019 issue of the South Shore Senior News

There are countless numbers of world wine regions I am incredibly fond of for a variety of reasons, but Oregon is one of my very favorites. If you have yet to enjoy a wine from Oregon, you are in for a wonderful surprise. This region produces some of the purest, highest quality wines in the world with a large focus on sustainability. Oregon boasts more than 700 wineries and more than 1,000 vineyards growing 72 grape varieties.

Pinot Noir is the predominantly grown grape in Oregon, making up 72% of the region’s grapes, with Pinot Gris a distant second, comprising 14% of the region’s grapes. Chardonnay, Riesling, Syrah, and Cabernet Sauvignon are also grown and produced here, among many others, and offer superior domestic wines to the US market.

Oregon wines are often discussed as being similar in style and even quality to the wines of Burgundy, France. Both Oregon and Burgundy produce wines that distinctly reflect the individual terroir in which the grapes were grown. You can actually taste the difference in terroir (soil type, slope gradient, slope aspect and sunshine hours, climate, etc.) from vineyard to vineyard, even if only a mile or less away. Although I would never consider Oregon in the shadow of Burgundy, I do believe Burgundy has been a source of inspiration to its Oregon counterparts for many decades.

Oregon’s winemakers focus on small batch, high-quality wines. The grape growers and winemakers take incredible pride in their craft, and that is represented well with consistently high ratings by Wine Spectator and the like. In fact, Oregon wines made up 20% of Wine Spectator’s 90+ scores on domestic wines in 2017.

There is a culture of sustainability among Oregon farmers and winemakers, something more and more of us are prioritizing when it comes to the preservation of our planet. 47% of Oregon’s vineyards are certified sustainable, a higher percentage than any other domestic wine region. Oregon also accounts for 35% of US Demeter Biodynamic vineyards. Matt Kramer of Wine Spectator remarks, “It’s here in the culture; it’s here in the air. The very DNA or Oregon winegrowing is sympathetic to this non-interventionist, naturalist, small-scale form of farming and winemaking.”

With incredible respect and admiration for sustainability and biodynamic farming, I will more often than not choose a wine from Oregon over any other if it is available on a menu while I am dining out. I know I am getting a wine that a community’s heart and soul went into growing and making, and that spirit is reflected in each savored sip.

Since 2012, the Oregon wine industry has celebrated Oregon Wine Month annually in May. I invite you join in and celebrate with your own bottle of wine from Oregon, and discover a new favorite wine region to enjoy for a lifetime.

For more information, visit https://www.oregonwine.org/

SSSNMay2019

Rhode Island Wine and Waterfalls

A few months ago I found an article online guiding the reader through a day trip through Rhode Island that included a little hiking, several waterfalls, and various vineyards along the way. I love all of those things, so I texted my best friend Angi, we picked the date of Sunday, October 7, 2018 to go on said day trip, and we patiently awaited a new adventure. Neither of us are strangers to RI wineries in general, as we spend every 4th of July weekend in Newport, RI, followed by a day touring the RI portion of the Coastal Wine Trail. The vineyards and wineries more inland, however, were brand new to us.

The weather report wasn’t looking spectacular for our day trip, so we decided to forgo the waterfalls portion of the day and simply “do wine.” Truth be told, I’m glad it ended up this way, as it allowed more time for an extra winery visit than we had planned.

Leyden Farm Vineyards & Winery

Ang and I hopped in the car and drove about an hour south of my house, where we’d start our day at Leyden Farm Vineyards & Winery. First, let me start by saying the drive from Worcester, MA to West Greenwich, RI was simply beautiful. Rustic homes and farms, one pumpkin stand right after another, lots of small town charm, long winding back roads, and foliage that was just starting to glow. The drive itself with no destination at all would have been worth it, but alas, much wine awaited us.

Ang and I each bought a tasting, and then were instructed to go out back, choose to sit wherever we wished, and then go up to the tasting bar for each of our five selections. They had quite a bit of fruit wines, which Angi chose to taste. I tend to stay away from the sweeter styles and fruit wines when there are other options, so I went for their dry white and four dry reds, which included a Sangiovese, Merlot, “Romeo’s Red” (a blend of Merlot, Cab Franc, Cab Sauv, and Landot Noir), and a Pinot Noir. I didn’t ask, but I’m pretty certain not all of these grapes are estate grown, as many of them struggle to grow in our New England climate. What I found odd was that every single red I sampled was exactly the same bright ruby red. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a Merlot such a bright shade of ruby. I should have asked more questions, but to be honest, I just wanted to taste some wine and enjoy a relaxing day with my bff! Sometimes I really need to force myself to draw the line between tasting wine for work and tasting wine for pure enjoyment. This day was for enjoyment.

What I did love was that several of their labels were pictures of dogs, and some of the wines were even named after their dogs. I think we all know how I feel about dogs! #dogmom

We enjoyed our wine on the quaint patio overlooking what appeared to be a Christmas tree farm and a lake with a fountain in the distance. It has a beautiful atmosphere and is a wonderful place to enjoy a relaxing day with people you love. We certainly could have stayed for a while and made ourselves comfy for a few hours, but there were other vineyards to see and wines to taste, so we got back in the car to head about 30 minutes north to Johnston, RI.

Verde Vineyards

Another stunning drive through winding New England back roads, and we arrived at Verde Vineyards, and incredibly quaint and rustic farm winery.  Of course the first thing I did upon arrival was hop out of the car and squeal with delight over the backyard chickens running about. I have this weird thing for birds. I love them. LOVE THEM! Chickens, ducks, turkeys, and of course parrots (I am a parront to two macaws, after all). Living in the city, I don’t really have the yard space to own my own chickens and ducks, but mark my words, when I eventually move out to the country, that’s one of the first things on my to-do list. Get chickens! Okay, back to the wine…

Before we even reached the tasting room entrance we were pleasantly greeted by two gentlemen, one of which was the owner, Giacomo (Jim) Verde. Sadly for us, they were completely sold out of white wines, so we were only able to taste the two reds. For $3 per tasting, you can’t really complain, and good for them for creating a product people love enough to buy out! Jim was proud to explain to us that Yankee Magazine had called him “the greenest vineyard in New England,” and not because his last name means green in Italian, but because his energy bill is $0. The farm creates all of their own energy. Angi and I truly enjoyed their reds, so we each walked out purchasing a bottle of St. Croix, a hybrid grape, that we will open during our annual Friendsgiving dinner and share with our closest friends. This vineyard was a charming farm that would be a delightful place to spend an entire day. Pack a picnic, grab some friends and family, head over to Verde Vineyards, buy a bottle, and just enjoy the small town feel. You won’t regret it.

It was suggested by the guys at Verde Vineyards that we add an additional winery visit to our day, and who are we to ignore a great recommendation? Back in the car it was for a quick drive north to the town of Chepachet, RI.

Mulberry Vineyards

I truly can’t get over the simple rustic beauty of every vineyard we visited. The moment we pulled up to Mulberry Vineyards, both of us fell in love. The owner, David Wright, was crushing Merlot grapes, and his wife Melissa was upstairs working the tasting bar, where she greeted us with a huge smile and warm welcome.

The Wrights are truly “living the dream.” They own and operate this gorgeous piece of vineyard property, and produce some truly delicious wines. Like most vineyards in New England, they do source their grapes from other areas of the country that are better suited for growing, and the result is some seriously high quality wines.

Alongside our tasting, Melissa gave us a little plate of the Merlot grapes David was crushing. I find this fascinating, to taste the grape at the exact brix and acidity level the winemaker desires to create the perfect wine. I thought this was such a great touch to add to the experience. The Merlot was fabulous, by the way, and I walked out purchasing a bottle to take home and enjoy.

Tavern On Main

After three fabulous wineries, we were starving, so on the way to our next winery we passed by what looked like a quaint tavern to have lunch. We had no idea what we were walking into. Usually we’ll take a moment to look up a menu online, assess the wine list, all that jazz. Not this time. We wanted to just pick a random place by the looks of it and see what we could find. Wow, were we glad we did. Tavern On Main in Chapachet, RI is one of those hidden gems you want to revisit as often as possible.

You never know what to expect on a wine list in a small town bar or grille. Actually, I take that back. I usually expect the wine list to be full of mass produced, cheap crap wine. Ang and I were pleasantly surprised to see their wine list contained two wines from the very vineyard we had just left, Mulberry Vineyards! I ordered a glass of red, Ang ordered the white, and we thoroughly enjoyed a glass of high quality, locally made wine. In addition, the menu blew us away. The menu was so diverse and had such enticing selections, it took us a bit of time to narrow it down and figure out what we wanted. The decision got a lot easier once I realized they had a seafood dish that was 100% lobster, crab, and butter. No bread crumbs, no carbs, just pure keto-friendly savory goodness. Ang and I started by splitting a bowl of steamers, and then I savored that lobster/crab/butter dish like nobody’s business. Heaven!

Purple Cat Winery & Brewery

Our final destination for this awesome day was a block or two down the road from the tavern, Purple Cat Winery & Brewery. This place is just plain fun. There was live music as we walked in, and people were enjoying tasting flights of both wine and craft beers. As if we didn’t eat enough delicious business at the tavern, for some reason I felt the need to order a charcuterie plate to enjoy with my tasting flight. I’m glad I did, as it was the perfect compliment to the nine or so wines we were able to taste, and it helped me stay away from the bowl of non-keto friendly CheezIts.

After the tasting, we decided to close the day by ordering a glass, relaxing on one of the several comfy couches, and kick our feet up. They closed at 6pm, we were still there at 6:20 (ooops), so we figured we overstayed our welcome and headed back home. Purple Cat was a lot of fun, and I really enjoyed their “Trolly Car” red blend, which is what I ended up ordering by the glass.

And That’s A Wrap…

When we think about great wine regions of the world, Rhode Island isn’t one of them. In fact, no where in New England comes to mind. Despite that, what I have found is that we are incredibly fortunate to be home to many wonderful rustic farm wineries, some bigger commercial wineries, and some that are just plain fun. I don’t expect a big, bold California style Cab when I visit our local wineries, nor do I expect a grassy New Zealand style Sauvignon Blanc. What I do expect is a unique flavor, some great blends, perhaps some unexplored hybrids, a few fruit wines here and there, and truly something to be proud of. New England has it all, and wineries, vineyards, and amazing cuisine are at the top of the list. We don’t need to compete with the Finger Lakes or California, that would be ridiculous. But we can stand on our own when it comes to local flavor and charm, and appreciate it for exactly what it is.

A Dog and Wine Adventure in Vermont

It has been a bucket list thing of mine to visit Vermont in October, which is kind of insane, seeing how I live in Massachusetts only a couple of hours away. I regularly visit every other New England state, but for some reason I’ve never made the effort to visit Vermont, particularly in autumn, which is my absolute favorite season. This summer I decided no more putting off until tomorrow what I can do today. Life is happening now! So I decided to do a little online research and book a short 2 day trip for my dog Peyton and myself. This would be the first of many “mommy-doggy” trips to come.

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Time To Hit The Road

Peyton and I took a stunningly beautiful drive from Worcester, MA heading north, through Keene, NH and northwest to West Rutland, VT. The foliage wasn’t quite at peak yet, but it was still simply breathtaking. I’ve never quite seen mountains splashed with such vibrant colors before. It was the type of drive you take when you realize life is so much bigger than what we experience in our daily routines. Seeing the mountain ranges, the farms in the valleys, the fog sitting atop the mountaintops just enough to hide them, it was something everyone should experience.

Dog Friendly Vermont

We arrived in West Rutland, VT and checked in at the Paws House Inn, which is a dog-friendly bed and breakfast. They’re so dog friendly, in fact, that they charge an extra fee if you don’t check in with a dog! We were warmly welcomed by the manager Stephanie, and Peyton made herself right at home.

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We got settled into our room and went for a refreshing hike at Pine Hill Park, where Peyton was greeted by a tin man. She decided to return the greeting by barking at him as if he didn’t belong there, which in all honestly, I can’t figure out why a tin man would be in the woods either. But I digress. We enjoyed a lovely hour-long hike through the trails to kick off our weekend of relaxation.

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Once we got back to the inn I decided against going out to dinner at one of the many dog friendly restaurants in the area and instead decided to open a bottle of California red (a Boston Wine School selection) and simply relax, taking in the crisp air, the solitude, and most of all, the quiet. We relaxed on the back deck until it got too cool to remain outside, then finished the bottle of wine inside in the cozy living room. The day and evening were perfection. No one around except the two of us, simply enjoying the quiet and each other’s company.

 

The Adventure Continues

The next morning we awoke to the sun shining brightly and very cool fall-like air, so we went back to Pine Hill Park for another quick hike. No barking at the tin man this time, apparently Peyton had made her point the day before. We returned to the inn to check out and get ready for our day of wine adventures ahead of us. This inn was so adorable and charming, I truly recommend it to anyone wanting a dog friendly getaway. Peyton and I will most definitely be returning, perhaps next time for more than one night.

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Whaleback Vineyard & Winery

Peyton and I hopped in the car and headed to Poultney, VT where we would visit Whaleback Vineyard and Winery. Truly in the middle of nowhere and on the New York border, this property was the epitome of family farm vineyard. When we arrived, there was a note on the door with a phone number to call, since they were out among the vines harvesting grapes. I called and a very friendly gentleman answered and came right up to the tasting room with a warm welcome. Peyton and I walked inside, where we were greeted with old farm charm. It was a large room with a table and chairs, all of their wines, and a bunch of tasting glasses. The gentleman (and owner) sat down with me, pouring me a sample of each of their wines, explained their growing and vinification process, and answered all of my many, many questions. Their flight was split 50/50 with fruit wines and North American grape wines. Not being well versed in fruit wines, I was very interested in the winemaking process, and I have to say, although fruit wines aren’t typically my thing, I enjoyed the wild apple wine so much that I purchased a bottle to bring home. I think this will make a lovely gift and really represents that local Vermont charm.

 

Peyton and I got back in the car and headed south to Jacksonville, VT. This drive was so beautiful. We weaved between mountains, farms in the valleys, rushing rivers next to the roads, splashes of cherry, burnt crimson, and pumpkin orange in the trees on the hillsides. I could have driven this route for days and still have been amazed. My favorite part of driving through the roads of Vermont was when I passed through the village centers of town. They all looked like scenes from a Hallmark movie! My mom and I always ask each other, “where do small village-like towns like those in Hallmark movies exist?” Well now I know… in Vermont! Says the city girl.

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Honora Winery

After almost two hours in the car, Peyton and I arrived at Honora Winery Tasting Room in Jacksonville, VT. We got out of the car and immediately heard the rushing water of a small river or large brook right out front. There was a gazebo, several picnic tables, and a pond in the back. I knew immediately we would be staying for a glass of wine and a snack after our tasting.

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We were warmly greeted by Stephanie, whose family owns the winery. I was able to choose 4 out of their six wines, so I chose the driest white (Chardonnay) and the three reds (Syrah, Alicante, and Petite Sirah), all of which are made from fruit sourced from Central, CA. These wines were simply fabulous. Of course they were, they’re made from California fruit! Honora does a wonderful job at vinifying this fruit, and their tasting room is so inviting I could have stayed there all day. Instead, I decided to purchase a bottle of the Petite Sirah to take home, and a glass of Alicante and a cheese plate to enjoy outside in the gazebo. Nothing says lunch like cheese and wine (and it’s keto friendly)!

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I am so in love with the Jacksonville, VT Honora Winery Tasting Room (there are 2 locations), that I truly can not wait to go back. The wine and cheese were so delicious, and the grounds were as New England village-like as it gets. Some time soon I will book a room at a local bed and breakfast and spend the entire day here enjoying several glasses and a picnic with some close friends. New England charm and California sourced wines, that is heaven in my book!

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At this point it was mid afternoon, and we had one more winery to visit on our way back home to Worcester, MA. We got back in the car for an hour and headed south. We crossed into Western Massachusetts where we entered the town of Colrain. You’d think a bordering town would be identical to the town we just left, but I noticed an immediate difference. The winding roads through the mountains were no more. It was hilly, yes, but the mountains splashed with vibrant colors were no more. Goodbye, Vermont! It was wonderful to meet you!

Mineral Hills Winery at Godard’s Red Hen Farm

Our last stop was at Mineral Hills Winery at Godard’s Red Hen Farm. I was somewhat familiar with this winery, as we had shared a booth at The Big E (Eastern States Exposition) state fair a couple of years ago when I was pouring wine samples for Hardwick Vineyard & Winery (for whom I still work). Sadly, I had yet to visit their tasting room or even try their wines! I was pleasantly surprised once I finally did.

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Much of their grapes are also sourced from California, which was exciting for me to try. I tried two Cabernet Sauvignons, one a 2015 and the other 2017. They were both fantastic, but the 2015 had aged beautifully in the bottle and wanted to be enjoyed now. I walked out with a bottle of the 2015 Cab and called it a day, or more accurately, a memorable adventure.

Life Is Happening NOW!

If you take anything from this account of my adventure, I hope it is this: life is happening NOW. Not tomorrow, not in 5 years, not once your kids are out of school, not once you find a significant other, but right now. You do not need the “perfect time” to cross something off your bucket list. Every day is the perfect time. No one is guaranteed tomorrow, and it is up to us to truly live our best lives every day. You don’t need to wait for others to accompany you in an adventure. You are perfectly capable of exploring the world yourself, meeting new people, and especially enjoying your own company. The relationship you have with yourself is the most important relationship you will ever have. Nurture that relationship, honor it, and truly enjoy it. You will never regret doing the things you’ve always wanted to do but have put off time and time again. Give yourself that gift. You deserve it.

Vineyard Hopping on the Coastal Wine Trail in CT!

On Sunday, May 24, Dennis and I decided to visit some Connecticut wineries on the Coastal Wine Trail we hadn’t been to before. Vineyard hopping is something we really enjoy doing, and it was a gorgeous, sunny, eighty degree day here in New England, so what could possibly be more fun?

We drove a little over an hour from Worcester, MA and arrived at the first winery of the day, Jonathan Edwards Winery in North Stonington, CT.

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It is $15 per person to taste seven of their wines. We ended up getting the tasting for free because I work for a local winery in Massachusetts, and they extended an “industry courtesy.” Awesome! So we selected our wines and got to tasting!

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We started with the 2012 Estate Pinot Gris. This was a really nice wine with plenty of pear and apple on the palate. Next up was their 2012 Estate Chardonnay. It was very strong with oak, which is fine with me. I like a well done oaked Chardonnay! There was still plenty of lemon citrus on the palate. Next we tasted the 2012 Napa Valley Chardonnay. This wine was fermented in stainless steel and aged in oak. I loved this wine. It had plenty of green apple notes and was quite smooth. Much less oak was apparent than the Estate Chard. The fourth wine we tasted was the 2013 Napa Valley Sauvignon Blanc. This I loved! It showed a nice amount of citrus on the palate, but a lighter more subtle style of grapefruit, not the New Zealand style. Moving onto the reds, we next tasted the 2012 Napa Valley Merlot. This surprised the heck out of me. It was much more tannic than your typical Merlot and had a great deal of oak. I’m not a big fan of Merlot, but this I liked because it was much more powerful than your typical Merlot. To finish off the dry reds, we tasted the 2013 Lodi Zinfanel. I have to be honest, I didn’t like this one at all. I am a HUGE fan of Lodi Zin, but this one was very bitter for the varietal and lacked the jamminess typical of a Zin. Finally, we finished the tasting with their dessert wine, called Dark. This was their 2012 vintage from Napa Valley, and is a Petite Sirah infused with brandy and aged for 3 years. This was pretty nice for an infused dessert wine, which I’m not usually a fan of.

We decided to each get a glass and wander around the vineyard to enjoy the beautiful weather. I got a glass of Pinot Gris, and off we went!

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Next stop… Saltwater Farm Vineyard in Stonington, CT.

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This is such a pretty winery and vineyard. The winery part is an old restored WWII-era private airport. We each did a tasting (which they also gave us complimentary because I work for a local vineyard) of their four wines. The 2014 Sauvignon Blanc was absolutely lovely. It is half estate grown, half Long Island grapes. It had a really nice crisp citrus flavor with a finish of tropical fruit. The second wine we tasted was the 2013 Estate “Gold Arc” Chardonnay. These grapes were fuly estate grown and aged in French Oak. Next, the 2013 Cabernet Rose, which is 100% Cabernet Franc. These grapes are partially sourced from Palmer Vineyard on the North Fork of Long Island in Riverhead, NY. This tasted extremely watered down. I expected more from a Rose Cab Franc. Finally, we tasted the 2013 Pinot Noir. This was Dennis’s favorite of the four. Some of these grapes were also sourced from Long Island. There were very obvious notes of leather (which I love in a red), but it was extremely acidic for a Pinot Noir. It was barrel aged for one year. Once again, we bought a glass of wine each and went to explore this stunningly beautiful vineyard!

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Our last winery of the day, we headed to Stonington Vineyards in Stonington, CT, which sits on 58 acres of beautiful land.

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By this point, we had already visited 2 other wineries, tasted 11 wines, and had 2 full glasses of wine each. The palate was a bit compromised at this point, lol. We tried each of their wines, but I’ll be damned if I remember any of them! Apparently I didn’t even take notes here, like I did at the other two vineyards! LOL I do recall them being pretty good, and I especially recall the staff at the tasting bar being incredibly nice. Sorry I don’t have more detailed info reviewing this vineyard, but I guess that’s an occupational hazard. lol

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To wind up our day, we dined out for dinner and enjoyed some fantastic New England seafood before we headed back home. These vineyards were all beautiful with great wines, and we look forward to going back this summer to enjoy some live music and/or a picnic! If you live in the CT/RI/MA area, I highly suggest visiting these beautiful vineyards!

Cheers!
Missa
http://www.winedowntastings.com
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