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Lunch before CT Wine Trail

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For my birthday this August I'm inviting a small group of friends to join me for an afternoon of wine tasting on the CT Wine Trail. The goal is not for people to become wasted, so I'd like to have everyone meet for a nice (and moderately priced) sit down lunch before hand.

Here's what I'm looking for:

(1) I'm coming from New York and most of my friends are coming from Massachusetts. Where is a nice "meet in the middle" place (Hartford, perhaps?), not too far from the wine trail, for lunch? Looking for something a little more substantial than sushi, yet not as heavy as burgers. I like all cuisines, but am partial to New American and French right now. No more than $20 pp would be ideal.

(2) While I'm not vegetarian, some of my friends are. The place should have more than one veggie-friendly option.

(3) Unrelated to lunch, what are your favorite vineyards on the Wine Trail? I've never been to any of these vineyards before, but I'm partial to full-bodied wines (not really a fan of sweet or dessert wines). Don't worry, I'll do my research, but figured I'd ask for opinions while I'm here.

Thank you in advance!

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  1. The Connecticut Wine Trail is vast, so you'll be better served to pick your wineries, then decide where to eat based on that. Here's a thread you should find valuable in making your picks:
    http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/613148

    If you're interested in Heritage Trail, you could eat there and continue wine touring at Sharpe Hill, for example. Take a look and hit us back with questions. :)

    9 Replies
    1. re: kattyeyes

      Agreed - - - touring CT is not like Napa or Sonoma (or even the North Fork of LI for that matter) where you can exit one winery and be at another within a minute. There is considerable driving around the CT wineries so you should pick your course first.
      Personally I like Jonathan Edwards the best and they are also fairly close to Stonington Vineyards (maybe only 20 min away). Jonathan Edwards will easily be the best pick for you if you want full bodied wines. They make a great, new Cab Franc from CT plus they also make a very nice CT Chard. In addition they also own contracts to grapes in Napa so they taste and sell some Napa bottles as well (Zin, Syrah, etc). Stonington's best stuff is white blends.
      These places are very far up I95 almost near the RI border, so its not a short ride coming from NY. But you could probably plan a trip where you drive out to Stonington first and then tour your way back south down I95. If you do that you can definitely hit Stonington, Jonathan Edwards, Chamard, and Jones.
      There are a couple others along that I95 path (Maugle, Saltwater Farm, Bishops Orchards) but I haven't been to those so I can't weigh in on their quality/style.

      1. re: foleyd7

        Foleyd7 is spot on. The trail is not what you would expect - they are rather spread out. I too would recommend the more eastern vineyards: Sharpe Hill, Jonathan Edwards, and Chamard. If you are going to stay west - the only "slightly decent" IMO is McLaughlin Vineyards. How about this - just go to a liquor store in CT that sells all the wines, buy a bottle from every vineyard and get hammered at a BYOB!!!

        1. re: fcmenutalk

          As almost nobody would argue, CT wine is not much to get excited about. But certainly wine tasting is a fun outing. Therefore, I'd pick a vineyard based on the experience and surroundings vs. the quality of the wine - which, as somebody mentioned can be picked up in any wine store. (And if you're going to a store to buy wine, you'll have much better options than CT wine!).

          For tops in scenery I'd say head to Hopkins Vineyards. It's on Lake Waramaug - simply gorgeous. You can get cheese and small plates in the cafe upstairs from the tasting room, and there's also a small inn and restaurant on the property. For a more ambitious meal the restaurant at the nearby Boulder's Inn is terrific. And Oliva Cafe in the little town of New Preston at the foot of the lake is very good.

          http://www.olivacafe.com/
          http://www.hopkinsvineyard.com/
          http://www.bouldersinn.com/

          There's a small state-run park on the shore of the lake which is a nice picnic spot.

          And if you indeed head to the Litchfield area there are terrific options for dinner or strolling through cute towns (Litchfield, Kent, etc

          )

          As others have said, once you pick out your destination then many of us CT hounds can suggest a lunch meet-up spot.

          1. re: Uncledave

            Uncledave, not so fast...there is plenty to excite me on the Connecticut Wine Trail. Napa or Sonoma it ain't, but that doesn't mean there's no room for some very pleasant surprises...like the chard at Heritage Trail for one really good example...or the sangria at White Silo, which would go down oh so nice on a hot, sunny day like today, sitting in those Adirondack chairs...for me, it's the whole idea that this can all be found in my own backyard. I've been to Napa a couple of times and it's a whole different league...but there are some gems here in CT. You just have to look a little harder for 'em.

            I have always wanted to eat at the Boulders Inn, but never had the chance. Any recent experience you can share? I do agree you nailed the scenery component of Hopkins. It's especially beautiful in the fall when all the leaves are changing.

            1. re: kattyeyes

              I've had dinner at Boulders a couple of times, but the highlight was having my wedding there five years ago. We were about 25 adults, rehearsal dinner a la carte in the restaurant and then we had the whole dining for an early Sunday supper with a set menu with several options. Outstanding food and service for the event, couldn't have been happier. We brought a couple of cakes from Carole Peck's, since I'm crazy about their pastry chef.

              I'd definitely recommend you take a trip there, and stay overnight if you're looking for a deliciously romantic time.

              Regarding your point on CT wine, no doubt much fun can be had. It's hard to beat a day of berry-picking at white silo, followed by sipping wine and viewing the art. There's plenty of pleasantly drinkable choices around the state. The point I tried to get across is that, in my opinion, the best approach for a day of wine hopping around the state, since the vineyards are so spread out, is to select destinations by desired scenery/leisure options first, and the actual quality of the wine second.

              1. re: Uncledave

                Thanks, uncledave. I can only imagine what a gorgeous wedding that was at Boulders...and that an overnight stay would deliver on your promise above as well. ;)

                I also appreciate your clarification on CT wine...and need more than one stamp in my passport, so thank you for the reminder I've got "work" to do!

            2. re: Uncledave

              Thanks for the feedback! I clearly have my work cut out for me in selecting which vineyards to visit.

              I spent my birthday last year with my SO traveling from vineyard to vineyard on the North Fork, and it was wonderful. I assumed CT would be similar in that the vineyards were moderately close together. As soon as I figure out a route, I'll update for lunch suggestions that are close by!

              1. re: Uncledave

                Started out leafpeeping today in overcast weather, but the sun broke out just as we reached the Hopkins Vineyard. We were the only ones there, and unfortunately the young clerks were not too knowledgeable about the wine, and said their "cafe"s only offering that day was one kind of cheese. Bought some wine anyway, haven't tasted it yet.

                And if you want lunch, the nearby Hopkins Inn has a good upscale restaurant. Lunch from 12-2. Even though the weather was iffy, it filled up fast, so reservations (which we did not have) are probably a good idea. Only Hopkins vineyard wine on their winelist was the chardonnay.

                And an alternative luncheon idea is to get food at the deli in town and then picnic on the tables at the park on the northwest shore of Waramaug Lake. The scenery is eyecatching.

              2. re: fcmenutalk

                HA HA HA HA re your last sentence! Nothing beats drinking at home...or at someone's home where sleeping over is an option! ;)

          2. I'd suggest lunch at 85 Main in Putnam, then on to Sharpe Hill. The wineries in the Stonington area are then fairly close.

            Also see http://www.ctwine.com/

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            85 Main
            85 Main St, Putnam, CT 06260

            4 Replies
            1. re: TrollKing

              Any additional info on 85 Main? It's a haul from my house and if I'm headed all the way out there, I totally love Sharpe Hill and would need a good excuse NOT to make that reservation. ;)

              1. re: kattyeyes

                85 Main is really really good. I've never eaten at Sharpe Hill, so I can't try to strong-arm you into missing it. 85 Main has a really interesting menu, very seasonal (last fall they were doing this excellent stuffed buttercup squash w/Indianish seasonings), very pretty, comfortable interior and great outdoor seating that they keep open well into the fall.

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                85 Main
                85 Main St, Putnam, CT 06260

                1. re: kattyeyes

                  How about Still River Cafe in Eastford? I've been wanting to try it for the longest time, but it's tough to get out that far. My friends that would be the type to be interested lead pretty busy lives, kids sports, etc.

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                  Still River Cafe
                  134 Union Rd, Eastford, CT 06242

                  1. re: JaneRI

                    I hear you, Jane. Both places have sounded very tempting to me for some time, but I have yet to get to either. :( Would be such a pretty day trip right about now, too.

              2. This actually might solve all my problems: http://www.ctwine.com/index.php?events

                There is going to be a CT Wine festival on the day we we're planning on going! Might not need a lunch rec if they're serving decent food inside.