Yes, Virginia, there is such a thing as New England Wine Country. It isn’t a myth or legend of yore. It isn’t a fantasy I conjured up after one too many bottles of vino. Indeed, the quilt of New England towns nestled in Eastern Rhode Island and Southeastern Mass. do provide more than adequate ‘wine’ and quite beautiful ‘country’. This was real and I felt like I was on vacation, if only for six or seven hours.
We made the 1.5 hour drive from our home just north of Boston early on Saturday morning, a short drive to pay to get to our own little wine country. We started at the furthest winery on our itinerary – Sakonnet Vineyards in East Compton, Rhode Island – and worked our way back into Massachusetts, through Westport’s delicious Westport Rivers Vineyard. We ended our trip with a brief stop in New Bedford, Mass. to hit urban winery, Travessia.
The views weren’t Napa, California views, but they were pretty darn impressive for little ol’ New England. Westport Rivers also saw some pretty cloud formations overhead. I thought it was the wine hitting us all too soon, but indeed, the dark clouds were real and looming though, gratefully, never broke with rain.
I’m a sucker for a rock wall of any kind. And these towns were littered with rock walls from the last century or two. They adequately and beautifully kept all those vineyards in check, marking boundaries between growing areas and, ahem, drinking areas. We stayed firmly in the latter.
Sakonnet and Westport Rivers both had fairly sprawling estates with rustically manicured grounds. We got a kick out of all the funky metal art sprawled about Sakonnet Vineyards. And the big gray barns had playful purple doors. It was refreshing to see that these winemarkers made serious wine but didn’t take themselves too seriously. For those who’ve never been, Napa takes itself very seriously, so I tend to prefer the vineyards of Healdsburg, California. Both Sakonnet and Westport Rivers brought back faint memories of Healdsburg and definitely felt cute, kind of like the North Fork of Long Island.
Before the wine, I must do the appropriate food blogger dance and describe the food. We didn’t have many food options while traipsing around these farms. But, when you come across a little spot like Milk & Honey Bazaar, you don’t really think about food options as much as, cheese options!
With more than 100 varieties of cheese, I fell in love with this little shop. Reminiscent of a fruit stand, but with a back wall of fridges instead of fruit bins, Milk & Honey had everything for our impromptu visit – crunchy and chewy baguette, plastic knives and oodles of cheese, like this drippy, creamy Taleggio we smeared on one side of our bread. Served alongside a glass of Westport Rivers Chardonnay, the makeshift sandwich felt like a feast.
The wine down here was damn fine too! We weren’t as impressed with the red wine because, well, the short growing season just doesn’t produce enough flavor for hearty, familiar red wines. We tasted a lot of tart cranberry, which is fine, if you like to be reminded that many farmers think Massachusetts is only good for one thing – uh, cranberry.
We stuck with the whites and really liked the rose at Sakonnet Vineyards. The sparkling whites at Westport Rivers continues to blow us away and we escaped with a half case of their Blanc de Noirs sparkling that was peppery, dark and bubbly. Travessia showed some good wines, but I must be honest here, seemed to pale in comparison from a setting standpoint. It’s hard to be an urban winery within a short drive of lush vineyards that grab both your pallette and imagination. Travessia plans to release some reds later this summer, and we sure do hope to give it another try.
After a short day trip down to New England Wine Country, this little excursion is firmly on our list of things we tell friends to do as they climb into the region from the tri-state area. And, next time, we hope to hit a couple vineyards even further south, near Newport, Rhode Island and, gasp, down in Connecticut, where we hear the three extra growing weeks provide ample time for red wines to blossom.
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