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The Pioneer Valley in Western Massachusetts is a place I lived for four years, and going back is always a little like going home. While we live in the city, I long to live out in the country (preferably near a coast, ahem, Sonoma). Weekends away in the country are so incredibly rejuvenating, and on our 4th of July trip to the Berkshires, we spent some time in Southampton and Northampton, Massachusetts.

While on a wine trail event a couple of years ago, I tasted wine from Black Birch Vineyards, fell in love with the wine, and have been thinking about it ever since. Luckily we had plenty of time for a slow ride back from Lenox, and we found ourselves gazing out at the Pioneer Valley countryside with glasses of wine in hand, wanting to spend the day there.

Southampton, Mass

Black Birch Vineyards is a small winery and tasting room, surrounded by rolling green hills, vineyards, and horses. The countryside around the vineyard is jaw-dropping, and the wines at Black Birch are as well.

Southampton, Massachusetts

Before and after our wine tasting, we stretched our legs and soaked up the sun by wandering around the area.

Black Birch Vineyard

Black Birch Vineyard

Once we decided to go inside the tasting room, we went straight for wines by the glass, which we took outside and enjoyed on the Adirondack chairs and while checking out the vines. Sipping wine in Adirondack chairs is becoming quite the habit of ours.


I came to Black Birch Vineyards for their Cabernet Franc; it’s a favorite grape of mine, and it grows well in places like Long Island and areas of Massachusetts. The Cab Franc at Black Birch has the perfect amount of peppery spice and earthy funk, dried leaves, and a hint of dark berries. It is a beautiful wine.

A new favorite we discovered was the Traminette, a grape that I don’t think I have had before. I am simply in love with this wine. It’s full of rich honey notes but also has nice orange and pineapple notes, the perfect amount of acidity, and a weight that makes you want to swish it around in your mouth. It’s a great summer wine because of the acidity, but the richness means it would lend itself to going well with fall dishes.

Black Birch Vineyard

Black Birch Vineyard

Our visit to Black Birch Vineyards was pure bliss and another reminder that Massachusetts can make great wine. If you’re in the Western part of the state, I definitely recommend a visit!

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Tags: Massachusetts, Massachusetts travel, Massachusetts wine, tasting room series, vineyards, wine, wine bars, wine tasting, winery

Eventually, we had to leave Timber Cove Inn. Next time we are definitely staying for at least two nights. There is really nothing like sleeping with the sound of waves crashing outside the sliding door and waking up to a foggy morning on the Pacific Ocean. Take me back now, please.

Sonoma Coast

Often when we are visiting Sonoma and Napa, I overschedule our days. There are so many wineries to visit, and because of blogging, we ‘re fortunate enough to be invited to many. This time around I promised I wouldn’t overbook us, and for the most part, did a great job keeping that promise. On our first full day we had three things planned: a tasting at Flowers Vineyard, a tasting with the winemaker at Two Shepherds, and a night of live music at Garagiste.

Sonoma County

After breakfast, we had plenty of time to wander the forests and hills of the Northern Sonoma Coast. It was while doing that we stumbled upon Fort Ross Vineyard.  Fort Ross Vineyard was part of our original plan for the day prior, but our drive took longer than planned. We thought the tasting room was closed on Fridays, but luckily we were wrong, an we enjoyed a delightful wine tasting experience in a beautiful location.

Northern Sonoma

Everything around the tasting room was incredibly lush. The drive up felt like a fairy wonderland, with tons of green and trees lining the road. It was simply magical.

beautiful wine country

The tasting room is brand new, and it while modern, it is also perfectly rustic, making the most of its natural surroundings. It’s cozy chic, warm and inviting.

Fort Ross Vineyards

Fort Ross Vineyards

Fort Ross Vineyards

 Fort Ross Vineyards

The inside is just as nice as the outside, with simple furnishings and a beautiful stone tasting bar that has the option of underneath lighting that glows through at night. Fort Ross does evening events on the property; I can only imagine how beautiful those are. The best part? It’s hard to tell from this photo, but beyond the tree line is the ocean; it’s just spectacular.

Fort Ross Vineyards

We did our tasting with Dale, who was as sweet as can be. Our tasting including Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, and Pinotage, which is a cross between Pinot Noir and Cinsault. This Pinotage, a nod to the South African owners, is made from proprietary clones developed from bud wood brought from South Africa.

 wine tasting at Fort Ross Vineyards

I was really on the hunt for Sonoma Coast Chardonnay on this trip, and the 2011 was exactly what I was looking for. I can’t say it better than Fort Ross’s tasting notes:

The hazy pale lemon hue is evidence of subtle stirring of the lees and bottling without fining or filtration. The decadent texture intertwined with electrifying acidity and stoney minerality expresses the high elevation and cool coastal climate. Aromas of lemon tart, butterscotch, clementine, mineral, and marzipan soar from the glass. As the wine touches the palate, Bartlett pear, wet stones and golden plum flavors wrap around the energetic, linear, nervy core. The wine is elegant, with supple texture and a crisp expansive finish. This wine is certain to evolve for years to come.

And I really can’t say how lovely and balanced this Chardonnay is. Yes, it has some butterscotch and notes of vanilla in it. It’s slightly creamy but also oh-so-crisp. There’s so much going on, and now there are a few bottles in my possession.

We were also fans of their Pinot Noir and Pinotage. Tasting their Pinot Noir was fun; it’s always great to taste different vintages and fruit from different vineyards side-by-side to compare and contrast.

The Pinotage was also fun and delicious. It’s not something you find much of in Northern California, and we loved the juicy and bold dark fruit flavors that were tempered with a bit of earth and smoke.

Fort Ross Vineyard is a little off the beaten path, and it’s a drive from the rest of Sonoma County wine country. I will tell you though, it’s entirely worth the trip. The views, wine and hospitality are the perfect addition to your trip. Once you visit, you will know why we keep going back.

The Northern Sonoma Coast might be my favorite place on earth right now.

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Tags: chardonnay, Fort Ross, Northern Sonoma Coast, Pinot Noir, Pinotage, Sonoma, Tasting Room, vineyards, wine, winery

This weekend’s day trip took us a little further afield than our New England Day trips do. Though it sort of felt like the best of a few worlds, New England and Sonoma, the North Fork of Long Island was a gem all its own, just about three hours from Boston.

We left Boston at 8:00 am and made it to New London, CT, way in advance of our 11:00 ferry to Orient Point, NY. Next time, I would just leave a little earlier and book the 10:00 ferry instead of having to wait at the dock. There’s not much to do. Once you’re aboard the car ferry though, you can relax inside or outside, taking in some TV or the way better option, blue water and beautiful islands.

ferry to Long Island

Once in Orient Point, we drove off of the ferry and started exploring. First stop, obviously Sparkling Pointe, award-winning producer of all things bubbly, and only bubbly.

wine grapes, Long Island

Sparkling Pointe offers a few options for tasting, outside a large patio and sitting areas right next to the vineyard.

Sparkling Pointe tasting room

Inside offers a swankier experience with crystal chandeliers, art, and lots of white. We did our tasting outside.

Sparkling Pointe tasting room

Sparkling Pointe tasting room

We tasted through the NV Brut, the 2009 Topaz Imperial, the 2007 Blanc de Blancs, the 2002 Brut Seduction, the 2009 Cuvee Carnaval, and the beautiful 2008 Blanc de Noir. Our visit to Sparkling Pointe was only my second time tasting Long Island wine (the first was at Bin 26, I fell in love with Channing Daughters, from the South Fork of LI), and I was pleasantly surprised and impressed. Not that I was expecting the wine to not be good, but the East Coast doesn’t always get the credit it is due when it comes to wine. These wines could definitely change some of that!

My favorites were our first and last, the NV Brut which was super acidic with green apple and lemon flavors, perfect to cut through a humid day, and the Blanc de Noir, which had toasty notes I love, along with lots of berry flavor. Gorgeous. I could have stayed at Sparkling Pointe all day.

Sparkling Pointe NV Brut

Our itinerary was quite full though, so after a quick stop for provisions at The Village Cheese Shop, we made our way to a winery that came highly recommended from several people, Shinn Estate Vineyards. One of the reasons I wanted to come to Long Island was to taste wines made with Cabernet Franc, a grape that grows well there. Shinn, with its cozy, rustic tasting room, won me over with its dry rosé, a blend of Merlot and Cab Franc. This wine offers bold strawberry flavors without any sweetness. I love Shinn’s description:

Take a bottle of this wine in one hand, a lobster roll in the other and head straight to the beach!

Shinn Vineyards

We also tasted through Shinn’s Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, and Coalescence, all a little too sweet for how I was feeling. I think it was just the heat; I’d love to taste these again on a cooler day.

Shinn Vineyards

The other standout for us was Shinn’s Bordeaux blend, Wild Boar Doe. This wine is super peppery, another bold choice, and sitting in our wine fridge for a cool fall Sunday. I am thinking BBQ pulled pork sliders. wine tasting on Long Island

After Shinn, we made a visit to Harbes Family Farm and Vineyards, a place that deserves its own post just because it had so many different things to offer. Stay tuned!

Our final wine tasting stop of the day was at Croteaux Vineyards. My party ended up going to see an open house we passed, so I went in and tasted alone. I was excited to visit Croteaux because they make only rosés, 12 in total. I sat at a little tasting bar in the back garden and had a great time chatting to Nick, who poured my wine and shared some great information with me.

Croteaux Vineyards

Croteaux Vineyards

I tasted three different rosés, all Merlot, the 181 Rosé, 314 Rosé, and 3 Rosé, all named for the Merlot clone they come from. My obsession with the sea and summer meant that the 181, or summer in a glass, as Nick called it, my favorite. This wine has a slight bit of brininess to it, a kiss of salt on the finish. Since I had awhile to wait for everyone to return, I decided on a glass of Cuvée Sparkle and a wander around the tasting gardens.

Croteaux Vineyards


Croteaux Vineyards croteaux rose

Lots of trees, flowers, quaint tables, and Adirondack chairs make this outdoor tasting space a delight, and really relaxed as I sipped my bubbly.

Croteaux Vineyards


Croteaux Vineyards

Unfortunately, the end of my experience at Croteaux left a bad taste in my mouth. First, they did not want to let my husband and his sister in to find me. Then, when I was checking out and buying wine, the woman at the counter hastily said that only the payer could stay inside and everyone else could wait outside, basically kicking him out. The store/checkout area at Croteaux is tiny, but my husband was looking at the wines for sale and potentially would have picked up a few bottles based on my recommendation. The attitude was very much, “give us your money and get out”, which is unfortunate because up until then things had been so nice.  Croteaux should either invest in a larger checkout area or learn to more graciously ask people to step outside.

Overall, while we really enjoyed the stops we made, other than Nick at Croteaux, we didn’t really encounter anyone who was super friendly or interested in the wines they were  pouring. I shouldn’t compare to Napa and Sonoma, but as most of my wine tasting has been done there, I couldn’t help it. My sister-in-law suggested that many of the staff at the Long Island wineries might be seasonal, as opposed to year-round professionals in the Napa and Sonoma tasting rooms, a possibility and explanation for the quick pour and walk away that we experienced.

The winery clientele definitely had a little bit of NYC attitude. The North Fork was lovely , but you couldn’t help feel that bit of the city rushed coldness with the way people drove, didn’t hold doors, talked really loudly like they knew the most about wine ever, etc. (I’m obviously not saying everyone in New York is like this, just observing that there was a definite  hasty way about many of the people.) I’d definitely go back; there are dozens of wineries we missed and lots of great restaurants and inns to check out. Plus, I need to visit Channing Daughters!

Did you do anything fun this weekend?

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Tags: Long Island, rose wine, Tasting Room, Travel, vineyards, wine, wine country, wine tasting, wine travel

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