August 24, 2011

Nice Wine ... Without the Niceties?

Sipping wine in so-called Paradise.
The latest stop in my ongoing quest to obtain at least 16 stamps in my Connecticut Wine Trail passport was a winery newly added to the trail this year. Open only since this past May, it's called Paradise Hills, located in Wallingford, Conn., just down the road from the surprisingly impressive scenery of Gouveia Vineyards. At first glance, Paradise Hills has got all the key elements you'd think would make for a fantastic winery experience.

The problem was not the wine. It was the tasting experience, which, frankly, kind of sucked.

But let's talk first about what they've done right:

  • Lovely setting? Check. The owners of this winery have put effort into establishing some ambiance. Newly constructed buildings, set amidst the vines on 65 acres, have a design reminiscent of Tuscany. The tasting room's vaulted ceilings and distinctive bar of hammered copper have charm, and the covered outdoor seating area provide a view of the vineyard and a cozy spot where we could enjoy our wine even while it rained.
  • Semi-reasonable prices? Sure. Tastings cost $6 apiece and got us the requisite sips of five different wines. (Sadly, they'd already sold out of their sixth, the Cayuga White, which I'd definitely been looking forward to checking out after reading about it on this blog.) Buying a bottle of Paradise Hills wine will run you from $16.50 to $24.99. A tad on the high end in my opinion, but OK, let's give them the benefit of the doubt - they're new to the scene, after all, and have to start making a profit.
  • Accessible hours? Indeed. The winery's open Thursday through Saturday from 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. and on Sunday from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Works for me.
  • Fine wine? Pretty good, actually. We tried the Washington Trail White (light, citrusy, acidic), a Chardonnay made from grapes 100 percent Connecticut-grown on their property (refreshing and, to me anyway, it had a kind of pleasant, tart pear taste and very little oak - always a plus in my book when it comes to Chardonnay), the Washington Trail Red (I found this nicely jammy and drinkable, though it didn't have quite enough oomph for my husband), the President's Choice (another red, and the priciest wine of the bunch at $24.99, but for good reason ... we bought a bottle to take home), and finally one more white - sweeter and more complex - called the Vino Bianco del Paradiso. Pretty damn tasty.
But alas, all was not quite as idyllic as the setting.

I don't want to sound like some sort of super snooty wine lover, because I'm far from it. I still have plenty of trouble pinpointing individual aromas, can't always articulate exactly what I like or don't like about a particular wine, and often consider myself a fan of fruity, sweet wines that I find other people are quick to dismiss.

So where did they go wrong? 

Well, if you've got a brand-new winery, and you're really proud of that wine, and you are eager to sell people on its fabulousness, it would make sense to get some folks behind the bar who aren't only knowledgeable about the wine and enjoy it themselves - but in my humble opinion, they kind of need to enjoy people, too. 

We quickly found that the gentleman serving us was not very big on chitchat. There was no How are you? or Oh, I see you have a wine passport that's clearly been around the block, or even a mere Welcome to our winery.

I promise you, you don't need to talk my ear off by any means, but I drove all the way out here for the experience. I could've stopped at the corner liquor store for any old bottle of wine. So I'm kinda looking forward to learning a little about the wines and the history of the winery itself. Maybe just humor me. Instead what we got right off the bat was a rather robotic, unsmiling, and, well, patronizing lecture on how we really should to be sure to swirl and smell the wine, as if to say, "OK, kids, let me show you how to do this properly."

OK, fair enough. He's trying to educate. He doesn't know we're already 12 stamps in. Perhaps we don't resemble the traditional wine connoisseurs (whatever they look like).

But it didn't get much better from there. When I ask, for example, what the story might be behind the really cool copper bar where we're standing - not the sort of thing you really see every day - it feels a tad awkward when I receive a cool response like, "There's no story. It's just a bar."

The vino might have been suitably chilled, but this guy surely was not at the optimal serving temperature. 

I know, I must sound like a jerk. But there's one last thing I can't not mention. Each time our server would pour a taste of wine for us, I'd pick up my glass. My husband, apparently, was not quick enough; our server would pour his wine, hold the glass down on the bar, and take it upon himself to swirl my husband's glass for him. Nothing kills a buzz quite like repeatedly making a dude feel like he's incapable of swirling his own friggin wine glass.

Granted, we may have caught this guy on a bad day. Maybe he was suffering from the Sunday blues. But come on, how bad can life really be from behind the bar of a beautiful new winery? 


  1. You should give this place a try again.... The staff couldn't have been friendlier when my husband and I went there with friends recently.... Way better experience than gouveia and staff much friendlier.

  2. Good to know! I will have to do that, thanks :)

  3. They are not friendly neighbors either :(