Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Jonathan Edwards Winery

For Connecticut wine enthusiasts, there's a really unusual winetasting experience waiting for you at the Jonathan Edwards Winery in North Stonington. And, California readers may find this of interest as well.

My wife and I hit the Connecticut wine trail again last week, concentrating this time on wineries in the southeastern part of the state. Tasters may notice that many of the wineries in this vicinity benefit from some moderating influences of Long Island Sound. But, surprisingly to some, Connecticut's coastal weather doesn't matter one bit to most of the wines at Jonathan Edwards.

Turns out you can get a pretty reliable taste of Napa Valley in North Stonington by going to Jonathan Edwards, and if you've never been to Napa Valley you owe it to yourself to check out this place. But I'm going to warn you upfront -- you're going to pay for the privilege.

The Facilities
Jonathan Edwards is located in North Stonington farm country, but there is much about the winery that is more reminiscent of California than Connecticut. First of all, the white clapboard house and connected tasting room and barn are sundrenched. There is little in the way of trees near the winery, just sun-baked white buildings and vineyards. On the bright sunny day we were there I definitely was not thinking of typical New England ambience.

Best of all, when you get inside the tasting room, it feels almost as though you are right smack in the middle of Napa Valley. This warm tasting room has the look and feel of a western winery or farm with its modern style and heavy use of light oak. If you've ever been to Napa, you can get nostalgic here. Or, you can just go with it and enjoy the uncluttered, roomy environment. It's an atmosphere meant to make you feel immersed in Napa, and I think it works.

My wife thought the gift shop was subpar, but I think most people will find the atmosphere fun and inviting. I give the facilities 5 out of 5 points.

The Staff
Our pourer had an impressive knowledge of all the products they sell and what it takes to make great wines. She was stumped by no questions, and knew the ins and outs of the business. She also had a subdued enthusiasm for wine that would not hit anyone over the head, but would surely convince them of the depth of her passion -- with just a little probing.

The only problem we found was that it was hard to get her attention for very long, despite the distinctly uncrowded room. Phone calls and drop-in visits interrupted our tasting a couple of times, without apology, giving the occasion an alternatingly frenetic and neglected feel. For this reason, I give the staff a 4 out 5 score.

The Wines
This was such a fun tasting because the products are so unique compared to those served by other Connecticut wineries. But that does not mean Jonathan Edwards is an unqualified success. For starters, wine tastings here will cost you $6 a person -- seems like everyone is charging these days. The problem I have in this case is that my wife showed me a Rhode Island tourism booklet with an ad for Jonathan Edwards claiming winetastings here are complimentary. Definitely not cool.

The wines themselves speak to a philosophy openly voiced by our pourer: "We stick to what we do well, and they (California) do great reds out there." That means most of the winery's white wines are made here with Connecticut fruit. But most of the reds are Napa-sourced. Jonathan Edwards has long-term contracts with some Napa vineyards to supply fruit. Jon goes out to Napa in the fall and oversees harvest, crush and fermentation. The wine is then shipped back to Connecticut for aging in barrels.

So, the wines billed as Napa Valley Wines really do come from Napa. It's a confirmation of sorts that quality reds from Connecticut are a rarity. I found our pourer's admission rather refreshing, since I've heard some Connecticut winery workers dance dizzyingly around this issue.

The whites are another story -- they're often quite good. Jonathan Edwards' 20 acres are used for growing gewurztraminer, chardonnay and some cabernet franc. Or, in the words of our pourer, "whatever would do well in Germany." Only trouble is, you can't get any. There were no Connecticut wines available when we visited -- this year's release of Connecticut whites are already sold out (the gewurzt after just five days), and the cabernet franc won't be released until fall.

It makes you wonder a bit about their commitment to Connecticut wines, and it certainly makes it harder to properly review their wines. The only recourse I'm left with is to review the Napa wines vs what we've sampled at the Napa wineries we've visited. If I was reviewing these wines vs other Connecticut reds, Jonathan Edwards would be a winner hands down. Most of these wines are in fact very good, but there were a couple of issues.

2004 Napa Valley Chardonnay $19. A good California chard showing plenty of green apples with a smoky, toasty oak finish. Good acidity.

2004 Napa Valley Merlot $23. Ripe plum and cassis flavors with a medium finish.

2003 Napa Valley Zinfandel $25. Jammy black cherry but slightly cloying residual sweetness. Definitely lacks balance.

2003 Napa Valley Cabernet $32. Black cherry and cassis flavors and soft texture, but may be lacking in complexity for the price.

2002 Napa Valley Syrah $32. Lots of black fruit and a bit of pepper with a great zesty finish. My favorite red.

2003 Napa Valley Syrah Port $40 (half bottle). This is a good domestic port, showing black cherry, cocoa and blueberries. But this is a ridiculous price -- $80 for the equivalent of a full bottle? This is true vintage port territory price-wise, but with little of the true complexity you would expect from great vintage ports.

All in all, these are very good wines, though I would have liked a little more complexity for the prices. The cost of long-haul transportation is definitely built in. Still, price aside, I give these wines an 8 out of 10 score, though I'm tempted to knock off a point for the paucity of Connecticut wines.

If you are cool with the prices, I definitely recommend giving these wines a try -- especially if you have not been able to enjoy a real Napa Valley winetasting experience. On a sunny day, you'll get a nice glimpse of the Napasque-venue. I only wish the Connecticut wines were produced in sufficient quantities to demonstrate that they take these wines seriously as well. If so, and the wines are well made, this could have been my first 9 out of 10 score for wines. Regardless, Jonathan Edwards' total score stands at 17 out of 20 points.

NOTE: While most reviews tend to look only at the wines, I believe visiting wineries is as much about an "experience" as it is about the quality of wines. Wineries probably get more tourists than wine geeks for visitors, and I think they're looking for a combination of comfortable, wine-focused facilities, knowledgable and passionate staff, and enjoyable wines. So, I'm assigning scores to each winery on a 20-point scale. 5 potential points for enjoyable, mood-enhancing ambience; 5 for knowledgable, enthusiastic staff; and 10 for quality wines. The scores are purely a result of my personal judgment; I have no relationship to any of the wineries.


Anonymous wine lover said...

"It makes you wonder a bit about their commitment to Connecticut wines..." makes me wonder about your knowledge of the wine production process... from what I have been told by winery staff, they have every intention of making just as much CT wine as Napa Valley. It takes many years for a vineyard to reach it's full production potential and Jonathan Edwards Winery is a new vineyard. Given the amount of acreage they have, I would say they are doing quite well to have produced as much CT wine as they have done so far.

8:54 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I have been to the winery as well as others in CT and Napa Valley. As far as the staff is conerned I have never had a problem with not getting attention. I am understanding that thereare other people in the room and they too would like the same experience. The attention to a new winery is everyday of the year, and takes time. As wine lover you may know this. So the dedication or enthusiasm to the wines is not any less than the ones that may grow somewhere else, it just takes time to produce enough to not sell out so fast. In fact about 5 yrs or so till you find your vines are producing more juice. I do believe there is a lot more positive things to say abou the winerys' quality wines as well as the environment. I enjoyed it quite a lot! Great summer music, great people to meet there, understanding of the customer...and so much more!

11:25 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I love this winery. We've been there a couple of times. In the Fall of 2006, we went and had such a great time. Very crowded at the time, but a fantastic experience none-the-less. Fell in love w/ the Zinfandel at the time. We also just went a couple of weeks ago at the end of January. Smaller crowd, we brought some snacks this time and spent the afternoon tasting 7 wines, then we were able to taste the Cab Franc and the Gewurtz, both of which were phenomenal and we pre-ordered them ourselves. The staff was pleasant and knowledgeable. Can't wait to go back!!!

4:32 PM  

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