Steve Virgadamo - varietals to grow in Se Connecticut

Thinking of planting small vineyard in southeast ct. I am not sure what varietals to plant. Is the ct growing season long enough for Cabernet?

Thank you for ant references or help.

Steven Virgadamo

Hi Steve,

Take a look at what is growing on Long Island to give you an idea of what will do well in your area. How much are you planting?

Assuming you don’t want to use a consultant, I’d start by calling your state’s agricultural department and then follow-up with a call to a local university with an ag department. The idea of growing grapes without consulting experts from your area strikes me as insane.

Depending on how close to the coast you are, your climate will be similar to, but probably a bit more continental than, the folks growing on the SE Mass coast. So you may want to look at what Westport Rivers does.

The Long Island climate will not be indicative - your temps will be a bit cooler and your growing season shorter.

My hunch is that Cab Sauv would be impossible, and you may need to use hybrids unless you’re a ninja.

Have you thought about White Merlot or White Cabernet Sauvignon? How about Blueberry Bliss?

How southeast are you thinking? I’ve tasted some decent seyval blanc from CT, but from more inland locations.

Either Nova Vine or Vintage Nurseries has a sales rep for the east coast. He is a great resource for what should work in your area. You will also want to ask about root stock. Not sure if 101-14 or riparia is the standard up there or not but that is what is most common these days in Maryland and VA with some looking at 420A. I will look for his name and number/e-mail when I have time but I am leaving town so it may be next week. PM me a reminder if I don’t have anything to you by next Wednesday.

Only decent wines I have ever tasted from grapes grown in CT were from Seyval Blanc.

Ha! oops, South East Ct, basic geography before coffee is not recommended.

FWIW, the last couple of vintages at Hopkins Vineyard, up in NW CT, have been dramatically better than the wines they were making in the past, especially with respect to the straight vinifera bottlings. Even the Cab Franc isn’t terrible.

Maybe its time for another trip on the CT wine trail, its been a few years. IIRC I always found Gouveia Vineyards’ wines to be the most palatable.

Interesting. especially true since you are about the last person I would expect to say anything good about CT wines.

  1. I’m going to assume that Pierce’s Disease won’t be a problem for you [hopefully that’s not a bad assumption].

  2. Before you do anything else, BUILD YOUR DEER FENCE! Don’t waste any money on plants until your entire growing area is completely cordoned off behind a fence which is at least six feet tall [and eight feet would be better].

Also, you are going to need MAXIMUM SUNLIGHT up there in Connecticut, so build your deer fence in an area which gets ZERO SHADE during the day.

And make sure that the area enclosed by your deer fence gets good drainage - don’t waste your time trying to grow grape vines in any low-lying area which even remotely resembles a bog [and honestly, simply walking through the area and getting mud on your boots after a rainstorm is probably going to indicate that your drainage is too poor].

  1. Seyval Blanc can make some fantastic wines, but they will be very strongly AFWE. Just go ahead and kiss goodbye any possible fantasies that you might have been harboring about attaining brix levels & fruit esters which could have produced Parkerized wines.

  2. If you feel like doing some background reading about cold-hardy strains, then here are some places to start:




  1. The biggest grape supplier on the East Coast is probably Double A [they’ve got Seyval Blanc in both ungrafted and grafted versions]:

And Grafted Grapevine has some cold-hardy strains of Riesling and Scheurebe:

Konstantin Frank used to have a nursery which was open to the public, but it seems to have disappeared from [u]their website[/u]?

And if you’re walking through the garden section at your local Lowes or Home Depot, and you see a cold hardy strain which interests you, like Norton or Seyval Blanc, then go ahead and buy some pots. Once you get those plants established, you can take your pruned wood off of them each year and use the clippings to root new plants.

Or you can bend the plants over and “root” them right there in the garden, the way that Thierry Puzelat does:

[Scroll down to where it says “marcotage”.]

  1. Finally, remember that you will not be allowing your vines to produce fruit until the third season. So you do not want to have gone to the expense of

a) building your deer fence
b) planting and trellising your vines
c) sitting around and waiting for several years until the vines are mature

only to come to discover that you have wasted all of your time and your effort and your money on a strain which ultimately proved to be unsuitable for your climate - if you were on the oceanfront, then it might be the presence of Pierce’s Disease; if you were up in the hills, then it might be the late frosts which consistently kill all of the blossoms on your vines and leave you with no possibility of fruit setting.

Always do your homework and be darned near 100% certain that you are planting a strain [or strains] with an extremely high probability of surviving and thriving in your specific terroir.

One other thought about the strongly AFWE experience produced by non-vinifera strains: These wines need MASSIVE EXPOSURE TO AIR.

Think of the meanest, nastiest, most-acidic tannin-laden mess which you have ever tasted in your life - maybe Henri Gouges from a cold vintage with the greenie meanies ? - and how much oxygen exposure that wine needed before it opened up, and then multiply that experience by a factor of ten.

Non-vinifera wines are packing so many anti-oxidants [or maybe it’s so few oxidants?] that they can easily take a week or more [after first opening] before they soften up enough to be able to show their true selves.

You forgot Ripple! :wink:

Here’s a latitude line for the town of Romulus, NY, which produced the Riesling [u]that John D. Zuccarino enjoyed so much[/u] earlier this year:

And it’s way north of the entire state of Connecticut, so IN THEORY you have enough sunlight to grow anything which grows up there in Romulus.

IN PRACTICE, however, you’ll still be restricted to the specifics of your micro-terroir:

  1. Can you get a good angle on the sunlight [preferably a small rise on the northern end of the property, facing south]?

  2. Are they any obstructions [trees or buildlings] which would cast shadows and block sunlight?

  3. Are you near a body of water [maybe a large mill pond?] which would emanate enough warmth to help protect you against late season frosts?

One other thing - while you’re waiting through the first two seasons with your vines, when you have to drop all your fruit, until you can allow the fruit to ripen in the third season - you could be purchasing fruit and practicing your vintnery skills in anticipation of someday growing your own grapes.

If you can develop a relationship with someone up in the Finger Lakes, who has some nice fruit to sell, then when it comes to picking day, you hop in your cargo van, and drive up there, and have them take the forklift to put a “pallet” of grapes in the back of your van, and then you drive back home, and dump the grapes in the big vat in your garage, and take off your shoes and socks, and jump in and start squishing away all night long.

Or you could go in the other direction - if you could develop a relationship with someone out on the North Fork, then you could take the Bridgeport ferry down to Port Jefferson, and drive out to receive your grapes, and then hope that on the way home, the combination of “van + grapes” doesn’t exceed the weight limit for the return trip at Port Jeff.

Otherwise you’d be looking at driving a van filled with grapes through NYC in the dead of night, which doesn’t strike me as being more fun than a barrel of monkeys.

Looking at that map, the North Fork isn’t such a bad idea. They do good Chenin Blanc out there and other whites, so that’s what I’d look at, and I might call some of the folks up in the Finger Lakes. I really wouldn’t be thinking about Cab and Merlot and Grenache and Syrah and other warm-climate grapes. I might look at what they do in Austria and Hungary - maybe Olaszrizling or something not planted many places. I would also call Cornell - they have a department that specializes in cold-climate wine making. Your specific climate and weather patterns and soil and exposure might be uniquely strange, but your sunlight hours and distribution wouldn’t be so different from what other people are getting. If you were ever so slightly warmer or less humid and wet than the North Fork, you might do pretty well.

Worst case, plant Chardonnay or Sauvignon Blanc - those seem to be what everyone else plants. Or let the deer come and eat the grapes but shoot the deer and make really good deer sausage and deerskin gloves and jackets.