Spring in the Vineyard
I drove down to Westport, Massachusetts today to visit with Bill Russell at Westport Rivers Winery for an upcoming Yankee story. We’ve just awarded them a “Best of New England” award for their wine tastings and I’m a big fan of their products, especially the sparkling wines.
It was fun to see the vineyards in spring, right before the vines leaf out. When I remarked that the season seemed to be coming along more slowly here than in Boston, Bill explained that this was one of the reasons his parents, Bob and Carol, first decided to plant grapes here in 1986. The coastal climate means that the vines wake up later, after the threat of frost is past; they also last longer into the fall, since the first frost doesn’t usually hit until late October.
We talked about the challenges of running a winery in New England. It’s not hard to grow grapes or make wine here, Bill said. It’s the marketing that’s tough. People assume local wines can’t be good. They’re wedded to Europe or California. Even with this decade’s “Eat Local” ethos, it can be tough to persuade folks to consider drinking locally, too.
It’s frustrating, because the wines are objectively good. They win awards at significant competitions. Just this past week, their Brut won a blind tasting against Dom Perignon and Veuve Cliquot at the Boston Wine Riot. You’re not going to get big, ripe, fruit-bomb Cabernets from our cool climate, but you will find crisp whites with great aromas of citrus and tropical fruit and bright acidity.
So head down to Westport and stop by the winery, which offers tastings Monday-Saturday from 11am-5pm and tours on Saturdays. The town is foodie heaven, a place where many Boston chefs go to vacation, and yet it still hasn’t been discovered by most, thanks to the gravitational pull of Cape Cod. While you’re there, eat at The Bayside or Back Eddy. Get your hands on some Hannabelles, the tiny, thimble-shaped soft-ripened cheeses that are made at Shy Brothers Farm in town. And if you’re of a mind to taste more wine, check out Travessia Urban Winery in downtown New Bedford, where Marco Montez is making very impressive wines from mostly local grapes (he does produce one red blend, called Jester, from California fruit). Drink local!