By Renee B. Allen
Corkers has a dual meaning: a person who puts corks into bottles, and a remarkable or astounding person or thing. Both of these definitions seem apt for a blog covering wine in Connecticut. Every month, this category will feature a Connecticut winery and its winemaker, or a Connecticut wine event. It is a very exciting time for winemakers in Connecticut right now. With more than 20 active wineries on the Connecticut Wine Trail, and new farm winery-friendly legislation passed or being considered, the wine industry shows no signs of slowing down. From providing farmers with a new source of revenue to aiding our state both in agriculture and tourism, farm wineries are doing their part for the Connecticut economy. There has never been a better time to become a “locabibe.”
locabibe: a person who chooses to drink beverages that are locally grown or produced (especially wine)*
*Pronounced with a long i sound, as in vibe, locabibe is a new word coined by the Wine Institute of New England
We are excited to showcase the Jones Winery as our first CT Corker of the month. Among its many other accolades, Jones Winery earned the honor of Best Wine in Connecticut in 2010 from Connecticut Magazine. In January 2011, Jones was awarded first place in the Connecticut Specialty Food Association Competition in the white and fruit wine categories. Philip Jamison Jones is the President of the Connecticut Vineyard and Winery Association, a non-profit association of farm wineries from around the state whose goals include educating consumers about wine in Connecticut, and promoting the business of wine through the Connecticut Wine Trail. WINE had the pleasure of spending a couple of hours at the Jones Family Farms last November.
Philip Jamison Jones emerges from the back of the Jones Winery tasting room. He is younger looking than I expected, but he does not appear apologetic for his age. Confident, not cocky. He is fitting me into what is clearly a busy day for the winery. I suggest we walk and talk to save time. Jamie, as this sixth generation farmer is known, readily agrees.
The tour begins outside, directly next to the tasting room. We are halfway up a hill lined with leafless vines (it is November), when Jamie suddenly stops and turns around. He looks out into the distance and raises his hands slightly, motioning to the rows of vines next to us. These vines are planted here mostly for show; its nice to have vineyards directly next to the tasting room, explains Jamie. This hill actually faces due north, not an ideal site for grape growing. The hills you see in the distance? Those are the actual vineyards. They face southwest.
Jamie shares his winemaking philosophy while we stand on this sun-dappled hill, touching the vines as he speaks. Wine is made in the vineyard. You have to plant the right grapes in the right sites. You have to care for the vines and keep them healthy. Jamie’s words hark back six generations to those of the farm’s founder, Philip James Jones: Be good to the land and the land will be good to you. I ask whether he has considered going organic. Jamie answers in the negative without hesitation. According to Jamie, copper and sulfur sprays used in organic vitification may be worse than the fungicides Jones uses. He sees the cides he uses as medicine for the plants. Scientific advances have made them better, less harmful to the environment. Connecticut has a humidity problem. Fungicides are needed. Organic is fine for California, but we have a different climate in Connecticut. Located 12 miles from the Long Island Sound, the climate is not quite marine, but the Sound does provide a tempering effect. Jamie notes that, from one point in the vineyard, you can see Long Island.
Jamie’s interest in starting his own winery at his family’s farm began while he was studying plant science at Cornell University. The vineyards in the surrounding towns appealed to him. After graduating in 1998, he returned back home to plant his first vines in 1999. The Jones Winery opened in 2004. We head back down the hill and Jamie tells me to hop into a red pickup truck. Its time for a tour of the farm. We drive past fields that recently held the pumpkins, now barren, fields of fruitless blueberry bushes with bright red leaves, and rows upon rows of vines. Cayuga, chardonnay, cabernet franc. Jones is not a fan of the Marechal Foch grape, a cold-hardy hybrid often found in the East. He ripped these vines out. They were bird food, said Jones, referring to the fact that birds, preferring dark, small berries, wreaked havoc on these vines. He experienced a similar problem with St. Croix, another early-ripening grape. He now grows neither. Jones would like to plant more merlot (closer to a 50-50 mix with the Cabernet Franc), as well as Chardonnay, Muscat, and Gewurztraminer. Pinot Noir is too difficult to grow, even though it likes cool weather. This past year, Jamie’s wines were over 80% Connecticut grown. Jamie anticipates that his wines will be 100% Connecticut grown in 5-10 years. This is no small feat considering how difficult it is to grow grapes in Connecticut. So difficult, in fact, that in 2004 the Legislature reduced the home-grown requirement from 51% down to 25% after determining that many of Connecticut’s farm wineries were unable to meet the 51% standard.
Jamie drives us to where his winemaker, Larry McCulloch, is at work on the second stage of winemaking, vinification. Larry, a horticulturist and experienced winemaker, made the move to Jones Winery from Chamard Vineyards in Clinton in 2008. He agrees with Jamie that they are growers, first and foremost. He says his job is to not ruin what Jamie has grown, but to guide it through the vinification process. They seem like a perfect team. As I listen to the two men talk passionately about their wines, and their similar philosophies, I am struck by something. I share my thoughts with them. They are a new world winery with a rather old world philosophy. They are all about terroir and making wine that is a pure expression of a perfectly grown grape, not the result of tinkering done during the vinification process. Jamie seems to like this description. Of course, as a businessman working with already challenging conditions, Jamie is not willing to leave everything up to Mother Nature. He uses cultured yeasts, a different kind for each wine. He does not trust the wild yeasts. Before we leave, I watch Larry lower the stainless steel fermentation tank temperatures from 55 to 50 degrees in order to capture more aromas.
As I drive away from the Jones Family Farm, several new purchases happily clinking together in my trunk, I feel truly excited about the future of wine in Connecticut.
Wines to Uncork
Although I would recommend ‘any of Jones Winerys wines without reserve, here are a few that tickle my fancy right now.
Pinot Gris 2010 a well-balanced, exceptional dry white wine from an exceptional year.
Strawberry Serenade this bubbly treat made from 35% estate grown strawberries and 65% California grown Chenin Blanc absolutely bursts with strawberry aroma. Light, elegant and not overly sweet.
Rosé of Cabernet Franc a new, limited release made from 100% estate grown Cabernet Franc. Classic European style.
Cabernet Franc 2009 earthiness, mushrooms, and red berries with hints of spice leap from this blend with merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon.
First Blush a popular sweet fruit wine made from apples, black currants, and pears with a pleasing bite from the currants. The pears are from Bishops Orchards.
Black Currant Bouquet a slightly sweet, slightly tart dessert wine with great intensity made from 100% CT grown black currants.
Renée B. Allen, Founder and Director of the Wine Institute of New England (WINE), is a Certified Specialist of Wine and member in good standing of the Society of Wine Educators, the internationally recognized accrediting organization.
An avid wine collector and student of cooking, Renee decided to parlay her passion for fine wine and food into a career. Her mission? To provide people with the language and confidence necessary to feel comfortable in the world of wine. Whether helping consumers more fully enjoy wine by making it more accessible, or assisting professionals in acquiring education and credentials useful for careers in the wine industry, Renee seeks to guide others along their journey to epicurean enlightenment.
Certified Specialist of Wine
Wine Institute of New England
P.O. Box 606
Guilford, CT 06437