“Bill and Rob said the next time we’d be able to make a red would be when pigs could fly,” Wine Enthusiast and tasting host CJ tells me, “but ten years later in 2010, along came another consistantly-hotter-then-average summer, and here we are!” She motions to a bottle of Pinot noir printed with a winged pig on the label; the co-owning brothers seem to keep their promises.
I know from their brochure that Westport Rivers Vineyard & Winery is a beautiful place. Yet even reading that it was voted “Best Winery in New England” by Yankee Magazine doesn’t prepare me for seeing the Southeastern Massachusetts property in real life. Or tasting what’s made there. Walking up a cobblestone path to the terraces overlooking a sprawling, lush field of grape vines, it is easy to feel like I am a plane ride away from Boston instead of an hour drive, save for a bright American flag waving in the breeze. As I head inside the Company Store for a tasting session with CJ (who holds the title of “Wine Enthusiast”), I am greeted by friendly faces and many bottles of estate grown and wine. The vineyard specializes in “crisp dry whites and is known for their sparkling wines”, CJ tells me, and their most popular sparking wine is the “Bubbly.” Made in the traditional French Method of Champagne or Methode Champenoise, it has been featured in Oprah’s O Magazine and even served in the White House. I taste six of the vineyard’s varieties – white, red, rosé, two sparkling whites, and a dessert wine – and all are exquisite. The hype around these wines exists for good reason. The whites are dry but not too dry, the rosé more sophisticated than ones I’ve had prior. The dessert wine is perfect.
Part of the reason for Westport Rivers’ success seems to be the genuine amount of passion for wine that the Russell family owners have had since starting their business.”Bob and Carol Russell looked all over the world to purchase a property to pursue their dream of owning a vineyard,” CJ says, but the native New Englanders couldn’t find a place that beat the maritime microclimate
of coastal Westport. “The vineyard has excellent irrigation and is very fertile due to its coastal location,” which means their vines have a delayed bud break, and no fear of crop-damaging frost. The Russell family bought the property in 1982, transforming its 375 acres from its previous use as a potato and dairy farm into fields of “lazy grower” grape vines grafted from Long Island (both locations share a glacial terrain), which they began planting four years later.
Now operated by their two sons, Vineyard Manager Rob and Wine Maker Bill (who also makes beer nearby), it is clear that the family business has remained true to its roots. “Even on Saturdays we only have five people on staff,” CJ says, also telling me that “Bill got a wine making kit from his parents when he was eleven years old!”
Summer 2012 Food Warrior