Wine lovers Cara and Andrew Sawyer spent time traveling and visiting wine regions in the United States and abroad, daydreaming about the possibility of opening their own winery someday.
They talked about plans, jotting down notes on a bar napkin, and brought up the idea to Andrew's parents "half-jokingly" one holiday, Cara says. "Then we started getting property listings."
With the help of their parents, the Sawyers sought land for a potential vineyard in Connecticut's southeast corner, capitalizing on the location close to a cluster of wineries in Stonington and Ledyard. In 2008, the year they married, they purchased the 61-acre property that would become Preston Ridge Vineyards, planting six acres of vines on the land that once supported a dairy farm.
The learning curve was huge, Cara Sawyer says, but at the same time exciting and challenging. They learned quickly that there was much more to the process than visiting with guests in the tasting room.
"There's a huge farming aspect to it, and then also a science aspect, when you talk about the actual winemaking, a lot of sciences and formulas and testing that has to go into it."
In late 2012, they opened the winery to the public, welcoming guests to the tasting room in a classic New England gambrel barn. A wraparound deck overlooks the vineyard and boasts views of the countryside — and pretty amazing sunsets year-round, Cara says.
"We tried to create something like an affordable luxury. We want people to be really comfortable and I think we achieved that."
FEATURED AND NOTEWORTHY WINES: Preston Ridge offers 10 wines in its tasting room, highlighting several estate wines from its own grapes: a "light, crisp and refreshing" vidal blanc; a "harvest blend" with traminette, riesling and chardonnay; a cabernet franc aged in French oak and the Stone Valley Red, a twist on traditional cabernet franc that's aged only in steel.
The winery offers two versions of rosé, both of which blend estate baco noir and cayuga grapes from the Finger Lakes region. The semi-dry Sunset Farm has a "floral aroma and tart cherry flavor with a crisp mineral finish," and the best-selling Zundell Farm rosé, a sweeter selection, has notes of cranberry and green apple. Preston Ridge has also released estate chardonnay and riesling in 2017.
FOOD: Guests are welcome to bring their own picnics, and from mid-May to mid-October, food trucks regularly park on the property Friday nights and Sunday afternoons. Recent truck visitors include Captain Scott's, Archie's Wingz & Things, Greekin' Out and Curb Your Appetite. Preston Ridge also sells cheese from Brooklyn's Meadow Stone Farm and boxed crackers.
PRICING: Tastings are $9 for a sampling of five wines; keep the signature glass for $13. Wines are $6 to $10 per glass; $17 to $38 per bottle.
SPECIAL EVENTS: Preston Ridge is a popular destination for weddings, hosting one event per weekend. The winery introduced a Sunday brunch series over the summer with On the Spot Catering, pairing its wines with a buffet full of breakfast dishes. Family-friendly nights have featured s'mores by the property's fire pits, lawn games and live music, and "vinyasa in the vineyard" yoga classes that benefit local charities.
The winery will again feature a tree and vine lighting this holiday season, adorning a large oak tree and fields of vines with sparkling lights. Once the lights go up in mid-November, Preston Ridge will be open for extended hours until 7 p.m. on Saturdays through the weekend of Dec. 9, Cara Sawyer says.
The winery hosts a farm-to-table vintner's dinner with On the Spot Catering Nov. 11 at 6 p.m., featuring estate wines (one not yet released) paired with each course. Details are still being finalized; information will be available on the winery's website in the coming weeks.
TASTING ROOM HOURS: Preston Ridge is open Friday from 1 to 9 p.m. and Saturday and Sunday, 11 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. The winery closes for the season Dec. 17 and will reopen in March 2018.
Preston Ridge Vineyard is at 100 Miller Road in Preston. 860-383-4278, prestonridgevineyard.com.