By Renee B. Allen
It was a perfect summer day for the throngs of people who streamed into the Goshen Fairgrounds to partake in the third annual Connecticut Wine Festival this weekend. Over 8,000 attendees trod on the grounds during the course of the weekend, a remarkable 50% increase from last year’s event according to Festival Chairman George Motel. Mr. Motel’s winery, Sunset Meadow Vineyards, was one of fourteen Connecticut wineries represented, all of which are members of the Connecticut Wine Trail. (http://ctwine.com/) Specialty food vendors, jewelers and musicians were also represented.
Upon entering the grounds, friendly women clad in purple tee shirts handed out programs, wine totes and wine glasses etched with the words “Connecticut Wine Festival.” This would be the one and only glass I would use throughout the event so I made sure to baby it as I headed out on my wine quest. The wineries were set up inside two buildings, segregated by their location in the state – Eastern Connecticut and Western Connecticut. One hour into the event the crowds were already gathered four rows deep in front of every table. Each winery was strictly limited to pouring only four of their wines. Most wineries opted for a combination of white and red wines, with the occasional rosé making an appearance. Water pitchers and spit buckets were at the ready. Friendly and knowledgeable staff poured briskly, trying to keep pace with the eager tasters. Many of the winery owners were pouring the wine themselves and answering questions. If a taster found something she particularly cared for, she could opt to buy a glass of it for drinking right on the spot, or purchase a bottle to consume on the grounds or at home.
As I navigated the lines from winery to winery, I stopped to chat with as many people as I could to find out where they had come from and what wines they were enjoying the most. All corners of the state were represented and every guest had their own wine preference – some sweeter, some drier, some fruity. Some guests seemed knowledgeable about Connecticut wineries, already professing a favorite from prior visits along the Connecticut Wine Trail, while others were discovering our state’s wineries for the very first time. One Connecticut resident out supporting local agriculture on Sunday was Governor Malloy, who made a personal appearance at the Festival and visited all 14 of the wineries. Apparently, he was so inspired by what he found that, after the Festival, he paid a visit to Sunset Meadow Vineyards for a tour, and returned to the Governor’s mansion with at least a few bottles in tow.
Overall, the crowd was very young, comprising approximately 60-70% of the total guests. According to Mr. Motel, last year’s group comprised a similar makeup. I stopped to talk to two women taking a momentary hiatus from imbibing. Lynn Allen and Carrie Traverse, from Wallingford and East Haven, respectively, were visiting the Festival for the second year. And although they remarked, as many did, on the large number of people present, it was clearly not an obstacle to an enjoyable time. They were especially appreciative of the appearance of the electric fans cooling the buildings this year. Both women had previously been to the two wineries in Wallingford, Gouveia Vineyards and newcomer Paradise Hills Vineyard, and were hopeful to see Paradise Hills included in next year’s Festival.