Stonington Vineyards: 30 Years Of European-Style, 'Easy-Drinking' Table Wines

Stonington Vineyards, the state's third-oldest winery, celebrates the big 3-0 this summer.

The coastal winery was founded by owners Nick and Happy Smith in 1987, and winemaker Mike McAndrew, who joined the business in July of that year, is still at the helm, crafting its European-style table wines.

About 40 years ago, East Coast wine was virtually "unexplored, except for the Finger Lakes," McAndrew said. "No one was really growing grapes in Connecticut, or Rhode Island, or Massachusetts. A little on Long Island, but not much. We were all just trying to figure it out."

The property's vineyards now feature about 10 growing acres of chardonnay and cabernet franc grapes, which are influenced by proximity to the Atlantic Ocean and Long Island Sound. That ocean effect often moderates the weather, McAndrew said, with less chance for extreme high and low temperatures.

FEATURED AND NOTEWORTHY WINES: Stonington features two estate-grown chardonnays, one traditionally oak-aged and the other a "sheer" chardonnay, which is fermented in stainless steel tanks. A riesling with "notes of pineapple and tropical fruit," featuring grapes from Massachusetts' Westport Rivers Winery, is described as "delightful" with spicy food.

The estate-grown cabernet franc, a medium-bodied red, features "complex toasted oak notes with a backbone of ripe berries and spice," and the summery Triad rosé is a blend of cabernet franc, vidal blanc and chardonnay. Stonington's signature wine, though, is its customer-favorite Seaport White, a Cayuga blend described as "refreshingly balanced." "It's just an easygoing wine, very approachable," McAndrew says.

That "easy-drinking" Seaport attracts people who don't believe they like wine, says tasting room manager Ebbie Young, as well as people who normally only drink reds.

PRICING: Tastings are $12 a person for a sampling of 6 wines based upon availability, with signature glass included. Tastings of limited-release wines are an additional $2 when available. Wines are $6 to $9.50 a glass and $12 to $30 a bottle.

FOOD OPTIONS: Picnics are welcome. Stonington encourages guests to bring their own food, and occasionally hosts food trucks on weekends.

SPECIAL EVENTS: Stonington kicks off each summer season with a two-day weekend festival in May, featuring music, food trucks, wine tastings and artisans, and hosts a similar event every September to mark the harvest season. A summer concert series, held every Friday night in July and August from 6 to 9 p.m., features live music on the patio and food from the Brick & Basil pizza truck.

The winery celebrates its 30th birthday on July 22 with a party, with food trucks, live music, yard games and cupcakes. Stonington also sets up a big screen on the grounds for a movie night on Aug. 26, featuring a 21+ showing of "Bridesmaids"; tickets are $22 in advance ($25 at the door) and include popcorn and a glass of wine.

TASTING ROOM HOURS: Stonington Vineyards is open daily and year-round from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. (excluding some holidays.) The winery is open extended Saturday hours (11 a.m. to 7 p.m.) June 1 through Oct. 1. Tours are available at 2 p.m. daily during peak season and on weekends in the winter.

STONINGTON VINEYARDS is at 523 Taugwonk Road, in Stonington. 860-535-1222, stoningtonvineyards.com.

This wine season, we're providing a guide to what you'll find at Connecticut's farm wineries: signature vintages and special releases, live entertainment, gourmet food options, and a few surprises (wine slushies, anyone?) We will feature a different winery every two weeks. Find the entire series here.

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