Saturday, September 09, 2006

Gouveia Vineyards

Part of the fun of exploring Connecticut wineries is encountering the unexpected. Last weekend, we were amazed to discover a truly unique and enjoyable setting at Gouveia Vineyards in Wallingford. It's the kind of magical spot that can help turn your winetasting outing into an exilerating experience, if awesome vistas are your thing.

But, if it sounds too good to be true, of course you know it probably is. The problem is that the winery has been open to the public for only about two years. And, the growing pains are evident. Gouveia has a ways to go in some respects, but with experience and a location-to-die-for there's hope that this winery may someday live up to its true potential.

The Facilities
Gouveia is located on the open crest of a hill that provides winetasters with a 360-degree view of some lovely Connecticut scenery. There's a beautiful pond with a wide deck on the near-shore for sitting and soaking up the views. In another direction, you can look out for miles over rolling hills and woodlands. There truly are gorgeous views in every direction; one hardly knows where to look first.

The winetasting room is located in a beautiful new stone building with a steeply pitched roof that is crowned with a widow's walk -- a trademark of many an upper class coastal or river town home. Trust me, you'll want to move in.

Inside, the facility is probably the most perfect I've encountered yet in Connecticut. There's a lengthy oak winetasting bar for sampling wines, and plenty of tables spread out if you're more inclined to linger over a glass. With a stately stone fireplace adding to the charm, there's plenty of space in which to move around or just relax. And, move around you should because in another room (perfect for functions) you may find some nibblies to snack on.

Then there's the back deck, perfect for taking in some of the views I mentioned earlier. There's no doubt about it -- my favorite location so far in which to enjoy Connecticut wines. I give the facilities a 5 out of 5 score.

The Staff
Gouveia is such a great setting, it struck me as an outright shame that anything might spoil the experience. But it did not take long.

Our pourer was without a doubt the most disappointing individual we have encountered on the Connecticut Wine Trail so far. Without being outright rude, she was terse and completely unexcited about the wines she poured. How could we but feel the same?

Question after question was met with a one-word answer. She looked bored out of her mind and inconvenienced-- or was it the sandwich at a nearby table that grabbed her attention? I just couldn't understand why she's in a people position when she has all the enthusiasm of a teenager on an outing with parents.

Now, I freely admit the limitations of my scoring system. Restaurant reviewers usually visit a restaurant at least three times before reviewing it so they can put anomalies in perspective and get a better picture of patterns and routines. I don't have that luxury. Because of limitations on time and money, I visit each winery just once. I could have a completely different experience one day vs another, but that doesn't make our experience any less valid.

There it is. My one experience in this case made me wish I was somewhere else. I give the staff a 2 out 5 score. Another pourer nearby who seemed much friendlier was the only thing preventing me from handing out a score of 1.

The Wines
Gouveia offers the usual lineup of white vinifera and hybrid-grape wines, but I was surprised to see they also offer a couple of reds made from vinifera. This should be interesting, I thought. I plunked down my $6 tasting fee and was off.

Chardonnay Oaked $16: This chardonnay gets 12 months in oak, producing some nice vanilla and spicy oak notes. However, it has a acidic finish most Americans probably are not used to. I liked it.

Seyval Blanc $14: This crisp, slightly lemony wine is supposed to be one of their biggest sellers. I found it simple and pleasant but not distinctive in any way.

Chardonnay Steel $15: Aged entirely in stainless steel, this chardonnay had the acidic, lemony finish I expected but not much else. Not an entirely pleasant chard.

Stone House White $14: This sweet wine blends chardonnay, seyval blanc and vignoles that is simply, well, sweet. Not for me, but it might appeal to white zin drinkers.

Whirlwind Rose $14: This blend of cabernet franc, chardonnay and seyval blanc has a blush color and a pleasant raspberry nose. It's a bit sweet, but not a bad effort.

Stone House Red $17: This red wine blends merlot and cabernet franc with some of the winter-hearty hybrids that are so common around here. I was surprised and delighted by really nice plum and berry aromas, but reality set in when I tasted it. The fruit just dies mid-palate. Disappointing after sniffing those aromas -- perhaps a different blend or a better vintage would make the difference.

Merlot $19: Not a bad effort at all. Made principally with purchased grapes, I'm sure, this merlot has a medium body with nice blackberry aromas. A lot less jammy and sweet than California merlots, but still a pleasant wine.

Overall, I thought Gouveia wines show promise, but many are underripe and lacking any kind of finesse. I rated these wines a 6 out of 10.

Gouveia may need some time to develop more sophistication and character in its wines, but it has the facilities and setting to make this a real destination right out of the gate. Need a place to just get you in the mood for wines or to just relax with a drink and a stunning view? This could well be what you're looking for. I can only hope that they will continue to learn and develop the fruits of their 140 acres. And, that they work a little more with their staff on presentation. I definitely want to come back in a couple of years. My total score for Gouveia, 13 points out of 20.

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 Anonymous said...

Nice Blog, some interesting info and thoughts, a bit radical for me at times but thats ok.

3:43 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Nice Blog, some interesting info and thoughts, a bit radical for me at times but thats ok.

6:40 AM  
Blogger g58 said...

JD, you radical you!

I love the anonymous comments -- so nice they gotta be said twice!

At least you sign your winery reviews!

9:53 PM  
Blogger Papa Bill said...

Hey JD, miss you in class. My wife and I visited this vinyard and share your opinion, great setting, lousy service, and wines too raw and undeveloped. I also agree with you that the Oaked Chardonnay and the Merlot were the best of the lot, but I think 13 out of 20 is too high a rating. You should also mention that no metal nails were used to build the place, only wooden dowels.It's worth the visit just to see that.

7:06 PM  
Blogger JD said...

Hey, Bill. I'm glad we largely agree. Guess you're a tougher grader than me, though. I almost gave them a 12, but I really do get a soft spot for people trying to make it in the wine business. So, I'm easy. But the important thing is to look at my scores in relation to each other -- my highest scores have been 15-17; the lowest 12-13. Regardless of whether you think the lows are low enough, you can tell which ones I think warrant a visit. By the way, I would have mentioned the interesting construction tidbit, but our pourer told us next to nothing. I didn't know. Hope to see you on campus sometime.

Marcus, I thought the anonymous stuff was funny as well. I'm not sure exactly what it means. If you want a real radical you should check out Papa Bill's personal blog. Here's a guy who marched in '60s peace rallies and he hasn't lost his edge. He's constantly chiding our young classmates for being too placid.

7:27 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I agree with you completely. The setting is absolutely beautiful, the service is terrible. I purchased a shorter tasting (5 wines) and did not love any of them. The flavors were bland, not rich, mediocre. I really wanted to like one of the wines and was tempted to purchase a bottle of the rose, but the server was so unfriendly, that I decided not to. Oh well.

6:22 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I went to the vineyard in the middle of October and it was wonderful. First the views themselves are breathtaking, the changing colors of the trees only add to the beauty. The expanded wine tasting room is really great to sit with a family and enjoy a pizza or other dinner and have a great bottle of wine. Overall the wines keep getting better each year. The staff was really friendly and knew a lot about the wines and the wine making process. Our server went out of her way to explain to me about the families background and interest in wine. Also, when I asked for directions to other wineries she gave me both a direct route and a scenic route, which was very helpful. Overall, Gouveia Vineyards is a great place to sit enjoy a bottle of wine and to watch the sun set.

2:47 PM  
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