Sampling Connecticut’s Finest

The last weekend of July found 14 of Connecticut’s vineyards sharing their wares at the Connecticut Wine Festival. Patrons lined up at the gates of the Goshen Fairgrounds, eager to sample the finest wine Connecticut has to offer.

The Big Guy and I are certainly not wine connoisseurs, only dabbling in the $10 or less bottles from our local package stores. But I had been meaning for a while to get better acquainted with the local wineries, so we checked it out. It took a little while at first to figure out the etiquette (we waited in what seemed to be a line for twenty minutes at the first booth, only to realize that people were stepping around to wherever they could inch their way up to the table, thus preventing the people ahead of us from moving forward), but once we got the hang of it, we pushed our way through the crowds with the best of them.

Connecticut Wine Festival
an absolutely gorgeous day at the fairgrounds

Yes, there were crowds. It was far more claustrophobic than I anticipated. And I avoid crowds like the plague, so I was a bit uncomfortable at first. But even then, once I acclimated, I managed just fine. Eventually, the tasters thinned out and it wasn’t too bad, after all.

The vineyards were divided into two buildings: one for Western Connecticut offerings, the other for Eastern Connecticut. We started with Western Connecticut, seeing as that is home. I was impressed by Sunset Meadow Vineyards, really enjoying their Blustery Blend and Cayuga White. The Woodlands White from Jones Family Farms Winery of Shelton was also quite good. DiGrazia Vineyards sampled the unusual Autumn Spice wine, which has nutmeg and pumpkin notes that urge one to grab a blanket and curl up in front of a fire. My favorite, however, came from Land of Nod Winery in East Canaan. We came home with a bottle of Blueberry-Raspberry Medley Wine and plans to locate their Chocolate Raspberry Dessert Wine in the near future. I’ve never heard of anything like it!

land of nod
jostling for a place at the Land of Nod Winery table

After making the rounds of the Western Connecticut wines, we took a break to check out the vendors. There were dresses, glassware, cutlery, limousines, gourmet food offerings, etc. We tried a sample of some delicious granola from Ola! Foods and, of course, grabbed a bag of kettle corn from Keifer’s Kettle Korn & Italian Ice–a must-have at any fair-type occasion. What caught my eye, however, was the green food truck parked at the end of the row.

Little Sister's Grilled Cheese
lining up for comfort food

Food trucks that sell what is not your ordinary roach coach fare are nothing new to me. I have a bit of a love affair for Rocket Fine Street Food, which launches from my hometown. This one with the longest queue of the concession area specializes in grilled cheese. Yes, this is the grilled cheese truck–more widely known as Little Sister’s Grilled Cheese. The Big Guy and I decided to give them a try.

Little Sister's desserts
not just grilled cheese--Little Sister's had dessert covered, too

The Little Sister’s truck is manned by two: one who takes orders, and the other who prepares them on the flat top. Waits for order fulfillment seemed to run 5-10 minutes, depending on how long the line was. They offered an assortment of grilled cheese options: the Caprese, the Veggie, Honey Bear, Italian… We selected the Little Miss Piggy, described as “Classic (Cheddar & Monterey Jack) with Shaved Ham.” Then, we waited.

While we waited, I watched preparations–and discovered that while we paid $7 for the privilege of this comfort food, the bread was some pre-sliced Italian bread you can buy at the grocery store. The fillings were likely not much better. Despite high hopes, the taste did not live up to the price tag. Rocket‘s grilled cheese is made on locally-sourced bakery bread with high quality ingredients, and this shines through with every bite. Their product tastes better and is more affordable. Sorry, Little Sister’s, my heart still belongs to the Rocket.

perfect day for a picnic
perfect day for a picnic

Having ensured that we no longer had empty stomachs, we moved on to the Eastern Connecticut building. There were less wineries to sample from–6, versus the 8 in the Western Connecticut building–so we got through much more quickly. We could not even get close to the Jonathan Edwards Winery table, so we did skip that one. Sharpe Hill Vineyard‘s Ballet of Angels stood out, as well as Gouveia Vinyard‘s Chardonnay Steel, which is aged in steel tanks instead of barrels. The Hard Cider that Bishop’s Orchards Winery poured was probably the best hard cider I’ve had yet.

As the sun began to sink lower in the sky, we bid a fond farewell to the Connecticut Wine Festival. The hustle and bustle was a bit annoying at first, but the opportunity to taste test from so many local offerings was worth it. I’ve left it a little wiser about wine and with some new favorites for the wine rack. Cheers!

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