Monday, September 04, 2006

Heritage Trail Vineyard

You're not likely to find another winery in Connecticut that says 'New England' more than Heritage Trail in Lisbon. The sights on the wooded property, the smells of damp barn board and a cozy wood fire took me back to childhood visits to my grandparents' farm in Maine. No wonder, since the winery is housed in an 18th Century farmhouse and property that was neglected for years before being revived by owner Diane Powell, a practicing psychologist.

What she has accomplished is truly noteworthy. But this stop on the Connecticut Wine Trail also reminds one of the wine-producing limitations that New England represents.

The Facilities
Rustic and quaint immediately come to mind when you step inside this old farmhouse with its antiques and old wood floors. It's almost as though you stepped inside a colonial-era tavern, rather than a winery. But the ambience is completely authentic, not effected.

The tasting bar is of sufficient size and character to make the experience of tasting wine enjoyable. And, the tasting area merges into the gift store, which includes a variety of both wine and farm product gifts. It's a little small, but not overly confining.

The nicest feature is probably the sundeck or porch, where tasters can sit and enjoy views of the lawn, woods and pond. Overall, the facility will not remind anyone of today's typical modern winetasting facilities. But Heritage Trail goes with its strength, which is a nicely maintained rustic farmhouse. I give the facilities a 3 out of 5 score.

The Staff
One of the advantages of visiting a truly small winery is that you stand a lot better chance of meeting the winemaker and/or owner. In the case of Heritage Trail, we got to meet both in the person of Dr. Powell, who poured all of our wines.

You get an insight from the winemaker that you just don't get from other staff, no matter how well trained they are. Dr. Powell not only gave us plenty of information about the wines we tasted, she also gave us a personal perspective on the joys and agonies of winemaking in New England. "It's heartbreaking when you plant vinifera and they die," she said. Such losses are not uncommon in New England thanks to bitterly cold winters.

This level of intimacy earns Heritage Trail a 5 out of 5 score for staff knowledge and enthusiasm. But if you want the chance to meet and talk with a winemaker, act soon because Heritage Trail is up for sale.

The Wines
Heritage Trail is located in the eastern part of the state but well enough inland that it does not benefit from Long Island Sound's moderating influence. Consequently, as Dr. Powell noted, vinifera struggles to survive. What you'll find principally at Heritage Trail are wines made from hybrid grapes that do better in winter but which fall short of vinifera (or European) wine quality standards.

Tasting at Heritage Trail will cost you $4 a person, but the price of the tasting will be applied toward the cost of any wines you buy. This, in my opinion, is the absolute fairest means of charging for winetastings, but hardly anyone in Connecticut does this.

Quinebaug White -- An off dry white made from vignoles, cayuga white and horizon grapes that shows some lemon and spice aromas but finishes exceptionally tart. Could go with citrusy light foods, but not a finesse wine by any means.

Sweet Reserve -- Made with 100 percent vignoles, this wine showed much differently from '04 to '05. The off dry '04 was a bit grassy and pleasant, while the '05 was sweeter with a hint of dried apricot. Pleasant but light wines for summer quaffing.

Chardonnay -- This classic vinifera wine was my favorite. Made mostly with New York fruit, the wine is fermented in glass and aged sans oak, which means all you get is pure apple-like fruit with just a hint of residual sweetness. Malolactic fermentation gives it a creamy mouthfeel, for a pleasant light to medium-bodied chardonnay.

Shetucket Red -- Made from a hybrid called rubiana, this red had some tart cherry flavors but lacked body and complexity. Just not my cup of tea, or wine.

Facing numerous challenges, Heritage Trail does a good job of making wines. But I'm afraid most people will not find the overall tasting experience up to the standard enjoyed by some other area wineries. I give the wines a 6 out 10 score.

While the wines are not among the best in the state, Heritage Trail still offers an enjoyable wine-tour experience, especially if you like the ambience of Connecticut's colonial past. And, there's no doubt that the opportunity to meet and talk with a winemaker will make for illuminating, enjoyable conversation. Heritage Trail's overall score is 14 out of 20 points.

NOTE: While most reviews tend to look only at the wines, I believe visiting wineries is as much about an "experience" as it is about the quality of wines. Wineries probably get more tourists than wine geeks for visitors, and I think they're looking for a combination of comfortable, wine-focused facilities, knowledgable and passionate staff, and enjoyable wines. So, I'm assigning scores to each winery on a 20-point scale. 5 potential points for enjoyable, mood-enhancing ambience; 5 for knowledgable, enthusiastic staff; and 10 for quality wines. The scores are purely a result of my personal judgment; I have no relationship to any of the wineries.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

It seems you fell in "love" with the winery. Why don't you make an offer on it?

10:53 AM  

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