Published June 26. 2014 4:00AM Updated June 27. 2014 10:38AM
It has all the ingredients for an ideal summer: a trip to a new place, where you can explore local flavors and watch stamps fill up the pages of your passport. This summer you can do just that, with lots of good wine but without the expensive flights.
The Connecticut Vineyard and Winery Association's annual wine passport program is back, rewarding wine lovers for visiting at least 16 of Connecticut's 33 participating vineyards. After 16 stamps, visitors are eligible to win prizes ranging from a two-week trip to Spain to certificates for bottles of local wine. Wine-lovers who hit every Connecticut winery are eligible to win additional prizes and automatically receive a free ticket to the 2015 Connecticut Wine Festival on July 26 and 27 at the Goshen Fairgrounds.
Those interested can pick up a passport at any of the participating vineyards and can turn in their completed passport at any participating vineyard before Nov. 9 to enter the drawing for prizes. More information on prizes is available at www.ctwine.com.
"Every licensed Connecticut farm winery participates in this program, so this is a great chance for people to travel the state and see all the wine trail has to offer," said George Motel, president of the Connecticut Vineyard and Winery Association. "The shoreline offers a nice concentration of wineries that folks could visit in a close geographic area which is a nice in planning a day trip."
With six wineries or vineyards in Gales Ferry, Ledyard, North Stonington, Preston and Stonington, southeastern Connecticut is more densely populated with wine producers than other areas of the state, and for good reason, according to Nick Smith, owner of Stonington Vineyards.
Smith says that the area's proximity to the ocean and air temperatures coming off of the water act as a "moderating influence," allowing local grapes a long, cool growing season.
"It give the vines more chance to fully mature the fruit, so that when it comes time to harvest, all the grape sugars and other aspects that we're looking for our wine to have are fully flavored," said Smith.
Smith has owned and operated Stonington Vineyards with his wife for 28 years and helped to start the Wine Passport program around 10 years ago. He says the incentives have been a great driving force for new customers to go to wineries they might not have been aware of, particularly some of the newer businesses or ones that are farther away.
One newer business that has benefited from the program is Preston Ridge Vineyard in Preston.
"It definitely helped," said Cara Sawyer, who purchased the vineyard in 2008 and opened the business in 2012. "Especially the first year because we were the new winery so people came to check us out."
What drew Sawyer to the property was its proximity to other wineries, which is difficult to find in other areas of Connecticut.
"One of the difficulties in Connecticut is that our wineries are very spread out," said Smith. "If you go out to Napa Valley… there is another (vineyard) every hundred yards or so. Here in Connecticut, you have to do a fair amount of driving to get around to all of the wineries."
Sawyer said the easy drive between vineyards in southeastern Connecticut makes visiting them a great summer weekend trip for the crowds who already come to the area for the beaches.
"You can make it whatever you want. You can visit as few or as many as you want," said Sawyer. "They all have their different strengths and experiences. Every winery has a different personality to it."
Smith said that by providing incentives, the passport program helps to create greater interest in local wines, which spurs healthy competition between the local vineyards.
"We have an expression … we compete with each other, not against each other," said Smith. "The passport program is the epitome of doing just that."
Holmberg Orchards & Winery
12 orchard Lane, Gales Ferry
Jonathan Edward Winery
74 Chester Main Road,
Maugle Sierra Vineyards
825 Colonel Ledyard Highway,
Preston Ridge Vineyard
100 Miller Road, Preston
Saltwater Farm Vineyard
349 Elm Street, Stonington
523 Taugwonk Road,