New England’s Coastal Wine Trail included locations in Connecticut, Rhode Island, and Massachusetts.
Photo Credit : Coastal Wineries of Southeastern New England
If you haven’t yet heard about the Coastal Wine Trail in southeastern New England, you’re in for a delicious surprise. It’s easy to assume that all the great discoveries in wine have been made, all the great grape-growing regions developed (Napa, France, Sonoma, Italy, Alsace), all the worthy varietals identified. But spend enough time with wine experts, and you’ll learn that things aren’t nearly as hidebound as they sometimes seem. The wine world is full of new discoveries, from lesser-known grapes of familiar places (such as the Nerello Mascalese grape of Sicily) to entirely new (or at least developing) wine regions.The Coastal Wine Trail isn’t exactly new. It was developed by a group of 14 wineries in southeastern New England more than 10 years ago, and some of those wineries have been around for decades. That’s a mere blip in wine’s history—the world’s oldest known winery dates back to 4,100 B.C.—but it’s long enough for vines to take root and mature, and for winemakers to determine which varietals, agricultural practices, and vinification methods work best for their region. And so, this comparatively new region is producing wines that become better each year, winning awards and attracting growing crowds. It helps that the Southeastern New England AVA (American Viticultural Area, a federal designation similar to the European DOC system) is located in an area with a climate not unlike that of France’s Burgundy region, with its sandy soil and mild, ocean-modulated climate warmed by Gulf Stream breezes. And it makes sense that grapes can thrive here. Wild grapes are native to North America. Our native grapes may be a different species from Vitis vinifera, the classic Mediterranean grape with more familiar varietals such as Pinot Noir, Pinot Grigio, and Chardonnay, but breeding programs at Cornell, the University of Minnesota, and other sites have combined vinifera and native grapes to produce promising cold-tolerant North American hybrids such as La Crescent, Marquette, and Seyval. You’ll see these at some of the Coastal Wine Trail wineries, though there are still plenty of old-school Pinots and Reislings to satisfy traditionalists.
Driving the entirety of the Coastal Wine Trail will take you all the way from Truro Vineyards, on Cape Cod, through Rhode Island, and down as far as Preston Ridge Vineyard in Preston, Connecticut. For a recent episode of Weekends with Yankee, we visited Westport Rivers Winery in Westport, Massachusetts. There, Bill Russell, whose parents, Bob and Carol, founded the winery, showed us still-fermenting barrels of juice; demonstrated how to properly pick the grapes (called “berries”) from the vine; and discussed how New Englanders are embracing the idea that they can “drink local.” In the winery’s cozy tasting room (it was a chilly day at the end of the growing season), we tasted sparklers (Westport’s signature products — they’ve been served in the White House), whites, and reds, savoring their leaner, crisper, more European style (in contrast to fruit- and oak-heavy wines from California and warmer climes).
To plan your own Coastal Wine Tour trip, visit any of the participating wineries, listed below.