What do you know about East Coast wines?
My friend John in Groton, Connecticut, recently moved there and he invited me to visit. “What’s there to see in Connecticut?” I asked. “You can see ducks flying migrating for the winter, sailboats passing through … and I can take you to my brother-in-law’s winery,” said John proudly. What? Winery in the East Coast?! I thought all US wines came from the West Coast. I was wrong. There are 40 wineries in Connecticut and another 470 wineries in New York State. So off to Connecticut I went to learn a thing or two about East Coast wines.
We visited his brother-in-law, Paul, whose vineyard is in Ledyard, Connecticut. Maugle Sierra Vineyard is named after Paul’s last name, Maugle; and his wife’s maiden name, Sierra. Paul owns a hundred acre farm with around 20 acres of his land planted in grapes: St. Croix, St. Peppins and Marquette. He patiently harvests somewhere around eight 5’x5′ fisherman’s totes of crushed grapes in a good year (less stems and leaves of course) at harvest time. He then kills the ‘field yeast’ in the grapes with enzymes and sulfur before adding his own yeast and sugar to promote fermentation for up to ten days. The ‘grape juice’ ferments until the Vintner / Proprietor decides the wines is ready for ‘Pressing’. He uses a Refractometer Brix to ensure the alcohol level and taste meets both wine making legal guidelines and his own personal standards.
Then he presses the wine in a stainless steel press with a rubber bladder inside. The bladder is filled with air to around 15 pounds to squeeze the crushed grapes and fermenting wine through tiny openings in the side wall of the press until all the wine can be collected while leaving the grape skins and grape seeds behind to be taken away for composting. The wine then goes into stainless steel vats to sit for the next few years to delicately age before bottling and labeling for sales and for customer enjoyment!
Did I ever learn a lot in a few hours! Paul is an estate grower — meaning he grows his own grapes and makes his own wine. Most of his 15 varieties of wine (now thanks to the miracle of ‘blending’) are sold to surrounding communities and neighboring states … with one big exception: he provided the wine for John’s daughter’s wedding in California a few months earlier. Can you imagine that? Californians drinking Connecticut wine?
Sitting on a wooden chair, sipping wine, it was easy to leave my troubles behind under the shade of the aspen, birch and pine trees and looking over the vineyards in the valley below; listening to the strains of music wafting from Paul’s 30′ x 80′ showroom (a converted indoor swimming pool complete with dance floor). There are tables inside the main hall, a patio deck outside with more tables and umbrellas and chairs that offer comfort and enticement for hundreds of tasters and picnic goers (you have to bring your own snacks, cheeses, munchies and more). The Maugle Sierra Vineyard provides the ambiance, the charm of luscious shrubberies, flowers, and a setting to commune with nature and the fruit of the vine. No threat of forest fire here! Just some icy, wintry days and very low temperatures on occasion. When it happens, you can cozy up by the fireplace inside and listen to the soft strains of a country ballad singer or old time favorites being offered on any given weekend.
Like many vineyards, Maugle Sierra Vineyard is family owned and operated. Paul’s other brother, Mark, repairs machinery and serves as a guard against pesky predators like deer, birds and mice. Paul’s wife, Betty, plants the flowers and decorates. Volunteers and other family members also come to help harvest the wine in mid-September.
I’m glad I went to the vineyard at the prompting of my friend, John. I learned a lot, really enjoyed the atmosphere, enjoyed the wine, the conviviality and the new friendships made. It was all a real ‘bottle-opening experience.’
For more information, visit the Maugle Sierra Vineyard website.