Wine from Connecticut? Yes indeed. Touring Connecticut's farm wineries is a great weekend excursion, right along with apple-picking and pumpkin patches. Most vineyards harvest their grapes this time of the year and host special events along with regular wine tastings and tours.
Connecticut currently boasts about 30 farm wineries across the state -- from Hopkins Vineyard in Litchfield County to Cassidy Hill in Coventry. The number has almost doubled since 2007.
Haight-Brown in Litchfield opened in 1975 and is one of the state's oldest vineyards. New additions include estate-bottling boutique Northwinds in Watertown, and Saltwater Farm Vineyard -- which has a WWII-vintage airport hangar -- in Stonington.
"In the current economy, I've been hearing that a lot of small businesses say they are hurting. I hear the opposite with wineries," said Jaime Smith, marketing representative for the Connecticut Department of Agriculture. "Business is up and [it is] one of the busiest years.
"In a time where a lot of small businesses are closing, you have farm wineries that are opening and offering jobs, especially during harvest time when they might hire extra help," said Smith.
Winemaking is one of the fastest growing sectors of the local economy. Smith says Connecticut has varying "microclimates" that make it great for grape production.
Connecticut's agriculture department has an entire lab dedicated to grape production. From these experimentation stations, the scientists work with several farms, suggesting what grapes would grow best in their regions.
Several farms have also staved off this year's early frost. Many producers reported an early yet plentiful harvest within their microclimates. Smith said Taylor Brooke Winery in Windham County, located at a high elevation, wasn't affected by the early snow.
Cassidy Hill Vineyards in Coventry is celebrating its first year. Robert and Carol Chipkin opened it at the end of October 2008. Since planting their first vines in 2002, the Chipkins have been busy ramping up production to keep up with demand.
"We're harvesting the rest of the grapes over the next week," said Robert Chipkin. "And everything looks pretty good and we're going to make the best wine we can with the grapes that we have. It's on par with last year, which was a rainy season and our fruit looks very nice and clean. We're hopeful that it will come through in the wine of the next year."
Cayuga, Seyval, St. Croix and Chambourcin are some of the 10 varieties of grapes grown in the Chipkins' vineyards. Along with well-known Merlots and Chardonnays, Cassidy Hill has unique blends of red and white wines.
Winemaking was a hobby that grew to a passion for the Chipkins after retirement. They spent a year looking at property that would double as a home and as a suitable spot for a winery.
"Frankly, we didn't pick the location for business reasons, but because we love the property that we live on," Robert Chipkin said. "Toughest part was to find a suitable site to live and grow a winery. We interviewed several towns and Coventry was very enthusiastic to having us. We were lucky."