History of Connecticut Wine Industry
Haight Brown Vineyard in Litchfield Connecticut is considered the state’s first commercial winery, established in 1975 by Sherman Haight. Haight worked with the University of Connecticut and Cornell University to grow the state’s first Vitis Vinifera grapes, Chardonnay and Riesling. In 1976 he built a winery high on a hill and the surrounding vineyards became Haight Vineyard (renamed Haight Brown in 2007). In 1978 Haight petitioned the state to pass legislation recognizing farm wineries which resulted in the Farm Winery Act. The purpose of the legislation was to allow Connecticut farm wineries to produce wine, sell it at retail, and distribute it to retail shops and restaurants.
Haight was not the only wine pioneer in Connecticut in the late 70s. In 1978 Dr. Paul DiGrazia, an accomplished and well-respected medical doctor, planted 45-acres of grapes in Brookfield, Connecticut and established DiGrazia Vineyards. The winery opened for commercial sales in 1984, with an initial release of four brands of wine. In 1979 Bill and Judith Hopkins converted their 225 year old dairy farm into a vineyard and along with Haight and DiGrazia became one of the first wineries in the now thriving Connecticut wine industry. Since then, Hopkins Vineyard, a now fourth generation family run winery, has consistently produced award-winning whites, reds, and sparkling wines.
Growth of the Connecticut Wine Industry
In the 1980’s as the number of wineries in the state of Connecticut grew, they came together to form the non-profit Connecticut Vineyard and Wine Association (CVWA). The goal of the association was to support each other and the new Connecticut wine industry through promotion, education, and advocating for legislation. In 1988, Sherman Haight conceived of the idea of the Connecticut Wine Trail, a driving route linking CVWA member wineries across the state and it opened in 1992 with five wineries. To further expand the promotion of wine in the state in 2008 the Connecticut Farm Wine Development Council, in the Department of Agriculture, created the Passport to Connecticut Farm Wineries program. The Passport program includes all the state wineries and today there are over 40 farm wineries to visit.
Types of Wines are Produced in Connecticut
Connecticut wineries are located throughout the state and there are three federally designated American Viticultural Areas (AVA). The climate and kind of grapes grown varies depending on where in the state a winery is located. The coastal regions near Long Island Sound and the Connecticut River valley tend to be warmer and allow for Merlot and Cabernet Franc to thrive. The highlands in the eastern and western sides of the state are cooler due to elevation and best suited for cool-climate grapes like Pinot Noir and Riesling. French Hybrid grapes such as Vidal Blanc, Chambourcin, and Marechal Foch are also grown successfully in the region and are used by wineries along with several Native American grapes to produce wines of all styles.
Some of the wineries in the state use grapes or juice from California or Europe to produce some or all their wines and this angers those wineries that grow all the grapes used in their wine production. To address this, the Connecticut Farm Wine Development Council agreed in 2014 to designate a wine made with 51% or more of Connecticut grapes as “Connecticut Grown” and the initials “CG” can be placed on the label next to the name.
This summer, plan a trip along the Wine Trail. There are wineries across the state of Connecticut and many offer food, music, and event space for weddings. Additionally, the Connecticut Vineyard and Wine Association hosts wine festivals in July and September.