From vine to wine; Taste the unique flavors of local Mass wineries and learn about the art of winemaking.
Chester Hill Winery
47 Lyon Hill Road, Chester
On dinner menus and in wine publications, the term “a hint of blueberry” is often used to describe the characteristics of a hearty Merlot or Shiraz. But winemaker Joe Sullivan asks, “Why have just a hint when you can have a whole bottle of blueberry?”
Sullivan, owner of the Chester Hill Winery, is on a mission to dispel the common misconception that fruit wines have to be sweet. He even challenged skeptics at a recent tasting event, giving them permission to throw the remaining liquid at him if they found his prize-winning blueberry wine too sweet.
Sullivan’s first experiment with winemaking, creating an apple wine from a do-it-yourself kit, ended with a bang when the bottle promptly exploded right after being corked. Undeterred, Joe pursued amateur winemaking for over 20 years before going pro in 2000. Operating out of the Sullivan’s modest-sized basement, Chester Hill produces 900 cases a year, putting it in the sub-boutique category (a boutique produces 10,000 cases per year, a small winery 50,000). Hand-picked blueberries, small batch production, and truly homemade wines make the Chester Hill Winery a treasure. After the berries are picked just four miles down the road at the Sullivans’ blueberry farm, they are crushed, soaked in the sun, then fermented with red wine yeast.
This simple process produces the first bottle of the season, New Blue ($12). Out in time for the Thanksgiving holiday, this young, fruity wine is made from sixteen varieties of early to midseason blueberries. Due to their levels of acidity, blueberries produce a tart and only slightly sweet wine (1.5% residual sugar) that is an exquisite complement to spicy foods. Because it is heartier than a Boujoule, this nouveau wine will last a bit longer, although ideally it should be consumed within a year.
A portion of the New Blue pumped into American Oak barrels and aged for four months. During this time, the oak mellows the high levels of natural tannins to produce a wonderfully smooth and dangerously drinkable wine that Sullivan calls his Best Blue ($13). Don’t be afraid to take a deep whiff — smelling like a warm blueberry dessert, Best Blue is so smooth that there is no abrasive alcohol scent.
The Bay Blue ($11) is perfect as an aperitif or after-dinner treat. At 18% alcohol, this combination of Best Blue and grape brandy is only distinguishable from a port by its mixture of blueberry and grape (true ports must have wine and brandy from the same fruit). I would choose a nip of this over blueberry pie any day — or better yet, why not have both?
Buffered from extreme cold and heat by its proximity to the Atlantic Ocean, southeastern New England experiences weather very similar to that of the Champagne and Alsace regions of France, where the maritime climate and extended growing season have helped produce some of the most celebrated sparkling wines in the world. Lucky for us, the Russell family also produces world class white, rose, and sparkling estate wines in Westport’s perfect viticulture.
The success of the Westport Rivers Vineyard lies in its specificity. By using only varietals and growing techniques that are suited to the conditions of the region, brothers Rob (vineyard manager) and Bill Russell (winemaker) have made a commitment to respecting the natural gifts and limitations of the land.
At first glance, Westport Rivers Winery looks like a quintessential New England farm. A weathered farmhouse is home to the wine store and tasting facilities and the winemaking equipment resides in a large barn. If you meander out past the picnic benches, you’ll encounter acres of open fields lined with rows of grape vines. Because of Westport Rivers’ variety and consistent excellence, anyone can find a wine to enjoy. For those who like their sparkling wines dry, there is the 1997 Blanc de Blancs ($22.95). Fermented five years, this ultra brut smells like bread rising and has a tart, yeasty flavor that is refreshing and distinctive. Slightly less dry is the 1999 Westport Blanc de Noirs ($22.95). This slightly sweet and buttery brut is made from two types of black c h a m p a g n e grapes and has a delicate peach color that makes it as lovely to behold as it is to sip.
My personal favorite was the 2000 Imperial Sec ($22.95). With its strong gold color and mouthfilling pinpoint bubbles, this is a truly festive sparkling wine. Westport Rivers’ most popular wine is their Chardonnay ($13.95), described by owner Bob Russell as “…the Chardonnay for people who don’t like Chardonnay.” Because it is not as strident as most Chardonnays, this dry white is easy to pair with food. Try to arrive in time for either the 1 p.m. or 3 p.m. weekend tour. Rob Russell guided our tour and I learned more about\ winemaking in those thirty minutes than I did during a weeklong pilgrimage to Napa.
Obadiah McIntyre Farm Winery
44 Old Worcester Road,
The Obadiah McIntyre Farm Winery is a great daytrip for couples, friends and families. This historic working farm doesn’t just offer wine, it has pickyour- own fruit and veggies and a farm store and bakery that produce goodies like homemade apple dumplings and cider donuts. The winery, although only three years old, has already put Obadiah McIntyre Farms on the map with its award-winning Black Gold Blackberry Wine ($14.99). Obadiah’s offers an array of fruit wines ranging from a sweet Shiro Plum to a light and citrusy Strawberry Rhubarb ($12.99), both nice for sipping or as desserts but too sweet to be considered drinking wines; the only exception is the 2003 Apple Wine ($7.99), which in a blind tasting could almost pass for a Pinot Grigio.
I highly recommend keeping a reserve of Crimson Gold ($9.99) in your pantry. This syrupy red raspberry wine is absolutely divine and can be reduced and served over anything from chicken to ice cream.
Obadiah also has a selection of grape wines made from juice delivered to the farm from New York. Slightly lighter than a Zinfandel, the Chambourcin ($12.99) makes a fantastic table wine. The Benjamin family is truly dedicated to their land and to the farming tradition. Most of their advertising comes from word of mouth, so head to Charlton for the Blue Grass Festival or for a relaxing day of picking and tasting and then go home and tell a friend about the Obadiah McIntyre Winery at Charlton Farms.