You'll often hear "Welcome to Paradise!" when you enter the tasting room at Wallingford's Paradise Hills Vineyard & Winery, and that greeting is likely to come from a member of the Ruggiero family.
Founder Richard Ruggiero and his brother Albert Jr., who now serves as co-owner and president, first started growing grapes and making wine at their Hamden home more than 30 years ago. The family planted vines at its 65-acre property on Windswept Hill Road in 1997, producing its own wines while also growing grapes for other Connecticut farm wineries. In 2011, the Ruggieros opened their Tuscan-style winery and tasting room to the public.
"We love making wine; we love growing grapes," says Richard's daughter Margaret Ruggiero-Mena, a winery co-owner along with her uncle, her mother Brenda, and her sister Natalie.
"This is what we love to do and we're fortunate enough to be able to share it with the public. That's the fun part about it."
The Ruggiero sisters grew up with an early appreciation of the winemaking process. Ruggiero-Mena, who remembers crushing grapes as a kid, studied agriculture at Lyman Hall High School and then went on to the University of Connecticut's horticulture program. The sisters established a scholarship fund at Lyman Hall in 2006, to be awarded to a student hoping to pursue a career in agriculture.
The winemaking process is a group effort. Before Paradise Hills introduces any new wine, the family has to collectively agree that it's ready to go.
"We all have to make sure that we're in agreement that this wine is ready, it gets our stamp of approval and then it gets released," Ruggiero-Mena says.
FEATURED AND NOTEWORTHY WINES: Paradise Hills' vineyards feature nine acres of vines with estate grapes like vidal blanc, seyval blanc, vignoles, cayuga, chambourcin, chardonnay, traminette and landot noir.
The winery produces a collection of Washington Trail wines, a tribute to the route George Washington took through Wallingford to Durham in 1775 in search of provisions for the Continental Army, Ruggiero-Mena says. The Washington Trail White is a blend of estate chardonnay and seyval blanc and the Washington Trail Red is a blend of merlot and chambourcin. Every February on Presidents Day, the winery also releases its President's Choice, its premiere full-bodied red with aromas and flavors of blackberry. (Its grape blend is a winery secret, Ruggiero-Mena says.)
The Vino del Bianco Paradiso, a "semi-sweet wine, is full of fruit flavors with hints of citrus throughout," blends vidal blanc, seyval blanc, vignoles and cayuga grapes. The Trio and Riomonte reds are the winery's "international" wines, Ruggiero-Mena says, with Chilean grapes like carmenere, cabernet sauvignon and malbec representing the blending of the Ruggiero and Mena families. Marcelo Mena, Margaret's Chilean husband, is a full-time winemaker at Paradise Hills.
PRICING: A tasting of six preselected wines is $10, or $15 to keep the etched logo glass. Tastes of additional wines are $2 apiece. Glasses of wine are $7 to $11.25; bottles are $15 to $34.75.
TASTING ROOM HOURS: Paradise Hills is open Monday through Saturday, 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. and Sunday, 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. The winery often features live musical entertainment on weekends. Guests are welcome to bring their own food; no outside beverages are permitted.
Paradise Hills Vineyard is at 15 Windswept Hill Road, Wallingford. 203-284-0123, paradisehillsvineyard.com.