Article By: Harvey Finkel, MD
The four wineries range from northerly, near the border of Vermont, to westerly, near New York State, to southerly enough to approach Connecticut. They share the terrain and climate of the Berkshire Hills, too severe for home-grown vinifera grapes, but, as we'll see, they make laudable potables from fruit other than grapes, from French-American hybrid grapes and from vinifera grapes grown under more gentle conditions elsewhere. Hard cider contains 3 to 6 percent alcohol, fruit wines about 7 percent (unless sugar is added to the fermentation). Grapes contain the highest concentration of any fruit, so, after fermentation, the most alcohol.
The Berkshires do support the growth of flavorful fruit, and are host to a vast array of cultural and recreational resources. The wineries herein addressed offer various tasties in addition to wine tasting and sales, and promote attractive special events. Specific information and directions are available from the respective websites and by telephone.
West County Winery, founded in Colrain in 1984 by Terry and Judith Maloney, is helping to preserve the Massachusetts cider tradition. Cider, the traditional beverage of English and French settlers of New England, has retained its niche in part because of our abundant, flavorful apples. Practitioners of wicca, believing in the benefits of locally grown products, are said to favor cider. Two of the most esteemed heirloom apples, Baldwin and Roxbury Russet, were born in Massachusetts. Hard cider and fruit wines are low in alcohol, and go well with food.
Colrain, population 18OO, is located amidst peaceful hills and forest in traditional cider and applejack country. Cider mills have graced the hill towns around Shelburne Falls as long as anyone remembers. Fruit is obtained from the Maloneys' own trees and from local orchards (they grow one-third to one-half of their needs).
The Maloneys met at University of California, Berkeley. Terry, a native of Buffalo, went to medical school in San Francisco. Judith, who grew up in Berkeley, previously did some teaching. Their vague interest in wine engendered in the Bay Area of California was crystallized in Colrain by the neighboring orchards.
Ciders and wines are made artisanally in small batches. Sugar is not added. Annual production averages close to 4OOO gallons, which are sold throughout Massachusetts (see website). The winery is open these days for a few selected weekends (see website). Annual Cider Day, the first weekend in November, is put on by West County and five other orchards. It is worth attending (www.ciderday.org). North River Winery over the line in Jacksonville, Vermont is not far.
Produced every year are Dry Baldwin, dry and light, Baldwin, full flavored and long, and Organic McIntosh (one I tasted some time ago was delicious, even elegant). Other varietal ciders are produced depending on a given year's characteristics. Currently, a Blueberry-Apple Wine, a 5O/5O blend, is also available.
West County Winery 248 Greenfield Road P.O. Box 29, Colrain, MA O134O, 413.624.3481, www.westcountycider.com. Open only as designated on website.
If Furnace Brook Winery were any further west, it would be in New York State. Owner/winemaker John Vittori, following a career that included running a restaurant in Gloucester, bought Hilltop Orchards, which surrounds and supplies the winery, eighteen years ago in partnership with his sister Wendy (she continues as a financial partner) - odd for two urbanites who grew up in Brookline, Massachusetts.
John and his wife Julie operate the orchard, the winery and the tasting room, which sells wine, cider and tasty goodies. (I can personally endorse the peach melba pie.) The Normandy Gazebo on the hill outside provides a pleasant, protected setting to enjoy the products offered.
Twenty-four varieties of apples and some pears grow on the 2OO acres. Fresh grapes are supplied by long-term agreement with Laurel Lake Vineyards, planted in 198O in the North Fork of Long Island.
John studied cider making in England and chemistry here. He gets helpful advice from Mark Daigle of the Brotherhood Winery in the Hudson Valley and from Caesar Baeza of Laurel Lake Vineyards.
Hard ciders have been produced since 1995, wine since 1999. There are two: French-style Cidre from Golden Russet is dry and very well made. American-style Johnny Mash, from McIntosh and Northern Spy, is moderately sweet and quite pleasant. The grape-wine cast is Chardonnay, a light and delicate Pinot Noir, Merlot with ample berry fruit, a spicy Cabernet Sauvignon, a Johannisberg Riesling with abundant pure fruit, a Blanc de Blancs sparkling wine made by a carbonation of Chardonnay and Seyval, a White Zinfandel (grapes from California), and a bright and happy, low-alcohol fizzy Muscato that resembles Moscato d'Asti. Annual production is about 2OOO cases of cider and 1OOO of wine, which are available at the winery and at shops and restaurants in Berkshire County.
Furnace Brook Winery at Hilltop Orchards 5O8 Canaan Road (Route 295), Richmond, MA O1254, 8OO.833.6274, www.hilltoporchards.com. Open year 'round,
Friday through Sunday from 9 to 5.
Chester Hill Winery, in the Hidden Hills above Chester, is the focus of Joe and Mary Ann Sullivan's transition from Manhattan - the city that never sleeps - to this quiet eastern face of the Berkshire Hills. Chester was on New England's first route west to the Hudson Valley, the Jacob's Ladder Trail. This is blueberry country.
Joe, a reformed civil engineer and home winemaker, and Mary Ann, formerly a nursery-school director, helped by daughter Julie, raise and sell 6.5 acres of blueberries and operate the winery founded in 1999. He makes the wine while she handles marketing of the 9OO case annual production, sold at the winery and in the four western counties of Massachusetts. Chester Hill's production is 75 percent blueberry wines from fruit home-grown at 14OO feet. (A quarter to a fifth of the blueberries go to make wine.) Mary Ann likes to point to the research that has demonstrated how rich blueberries are in healthful polyphenolic antioxidants. The rest is made from Finger Lake grapes and from apples grown in Granville, Massachusetts.
The quality of the wines attest to that of the fruit and to Joe's skill. Apple Pie is a satisfying apple wine from a mix of varieties. Mountain Laurel, made from Seyval and Vidal, is fresh and attractive. The Riesling is a superb achievement, intense, mineraly, long. New Blue, early bottled blueberry wine, evoking the berries and, strangely, pumpkin pie in its aromas, would drink well with spicy food. Best Blue, nearly dry, is fuller and of more serious mien: I imagine it accompanying roast duck with blueberries. Baby Blue is a well-made blueberry Port.
Chester Hill Winery 47 Lyon Road, Chester, MA O1O11, 413.354.234O, www.blueberrywine.com. Open June through December, on Saturday and Sunday, from 1 to 5, or call for appointment.
Les Trois Emme Vineyard and Winery, named for Wayne and Mary Jane Eline's three eldest granddaughters, Megan, Madison and Mary Katherine (who are depicted on the labels), was initially planted in 2OOO on an old dairy farm outside of Great Barrington, in the southwest corner of Massachusetts. Wayne, formerly a chemistry teacher, then a school principal, has focused his retirement on growing grapes and making wine. His first vintage was 2OO3. The wines and a number of attractive items assembled by Mary Jane are sold, thus far, only at the winery.
Wayne is a straight-talking and engaging man. He was a light-beer drinker until 1996, when, like many of us, befuddled by restaurant wine lists, he resolved to learn about the mysterious potion. Like many of us, he fell in love. His chemistry background helps. He consults with Wayne Stitzer, of Connecticut, on technical problems. The Wayne twain clearly has learned quickly. The rest of the family has become involved in the project - the wine bug is contagious. Wayne built much of the neat little winery with the volunteer help of neighbors - like an old-time New England barn raising.
The plantings, now occupying just over three acres, are limited to French-American hybrids: Marechal Foch, Seyval Blanc, Cayuga White, Chancellor, and Traminette - the last a recently developed white hybrid. Some grapes may be purchased from a Finger Lakes vineyard. Vinifera is not grown: the inland location and 18OO-foot elevation would preclude ripening. A few vinifera grape varieties have lately been acquired from California, but I've not tasted their wines. French and American oak barriques are in play. About 24OO gallons are produced annually.
Because Mary Jane and Wayne strongly believe in the partnership of food and wine, they serve tidbits of her food to visitors tasting his wines. (He calls her the expert palate of the outfit.) The fine finishes and polish of the wines in my tasting attest to high-quality winemaking. Seyval Blanc is tasty, refreshingly grapefruity and toothsome; Cayuga White soft and easy, with good fruit; Nick Jackson Blush, name for the grandson, has balanced berry fruit and good mouth feel; Marechal Foch, regular and Reserve, have good fruit potential and show their oak heritage.
Les Trois Emme Vineyard and Winery 8 Knight Road, Great Barrington, MA O123O, 413.528.1O15, www.ltewinery.com. Open April through December, Thursday through Sunday from noon to 5, or call for appointment.