Jonathan Edwards Winery in North Stonington calls itself "bicoastal," fusing New England charm with Napa style.
In the late 1990s, Jonathan Edwards, a speech pathologist, was considering a career change at the time his father, Robert, a chemical engineer, was heading into retirement. Jonathan was inspired by a friend who had started a brewery in western Massachusetts, and approached his father about a possible new business venture.
"We wanted to manufacture a product together and do something with our hands," he says. They quickly decided that product would be wine and spent time in Napa Valley, connecting with wine industry figures, buying grapes and fermenting them at a custom crush winemaking facility.
The next step was to find a winery building on the East Coast. Edwards looked at sites in Virginia and Long Island before settling on the long-closed Crosswoods Winery in North Stonington. The family purchased the winery — formerly a dairy farm — in 2000, replanting acres of overgrown vineyards.
Edwards says the winery's bucolic setting has "heart and soul." "It just had a great vibe ... it was here when we showed up. We saw it, we sensed it. People sense it when they come up the hill. A lot of wineries are pretty, but I think ours stands out because to me it's just absolutely screaming New England icon-type beauty."
In 2002, Jonathan Edwards Winery opened to the public, at first serving and selling exclusively California wines until its estate Connecticut grapes were ready to harvest. Today, the Edwards family continues to ferment California grapes on the West Coast, and then brings the juice east to North Stonington to finish in stainless steel tanks or age in oak barrels. The California wines complement the winery's four estate-grown varietals, which thrive in a cool Northeastern climate.
FEATURED AND NOTEWORTHY WINES: Sixty percent of Jonathan Edwards' wines are made from California grapes: Napa Valley cabernet sauvignon, merlot, chardonnay, sauvignon blanc and petite sirah; pinot grigio from the Russian River Valley in Sonoma County and a Lodi zinfandel. But the winery's estate-grown Connecticut chardonnay is the number-one seller, Edwards said, followed by its own pinot gris, Gewurztraminer and Cabernet franc.
Edwards, a fan of "big, huge red wines," says he wasn't sure how customers would react to the mid-weight, lighter estate red, but they've loved it. The winery's first attempt at a California riesling this year was another big hit, as Edwards realized there was a market for sweet wines.
Two wines are earmarked solely for distribution at restaurants and package stores: the winery's Bordeaux-style blend Stone Table Red, and its Stone Table White, a blend of Sonoma County pinot grigio and estate Connecticut chardonnay.
Jonathan Edwards has also found success through keg distribution, offering three of its wines to be served on "tap" by the glass at restaurants, bars and breweries in Connecticut and Rhode Island. Each keg holds the liquid equivalent of two cases of wine.
"If you're really going to expand your brand outside the tasting room, you need a glass pour," Edwards says. "It's very difficult to meet the price point that restaurants demand, with a local product, consistently. It's just expensive. This is one way to sort of level the playing field, to lower your packaging costs, and get you into the restaurant for an attractive price."
Jonathan Edwards' wine clubs have become increasingly popular, offering quarterly or biannual collections for shipment or pickup with a variety of special benefits like discounts, complimentary tastings and member-only events.
FOOD: The winery offers local packaged cheeses, charcuterie and crackers for purchase, but encourages guests to bring picnics.
PRICING: Tastings are $15 for seven wines and $7 to $14 by the glass. Wines by the bottle are $23 to $55.
SPECIAL EVENTS: The winery hosts a yearly festival to kick off the summer season in early June, and its annual harvest festival returns Sept. 30 and Oct. 1 from noon to 6 p.m., with wine tastings, food and live music. Tickets are $25. Jonathan Edwards also hosts regular summertime concerts, welcoming prominent musicians like Martin Sexton and G. Love and Special Sauce in 2017.
TASTING ROOM HOURS: Jonathan Edwards is open seven days a week, year-round, from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. From mid-May through October, the winery closes at 4:30 p.m. on Saturdays to accommodate weddings. Closed Thanksgiving and Christmas Day.
Jonathan Edwards Winery is at 74 Chester Maine Road in North Stonington. 860-535-0202, jedwardswinery.com.