Finding new ways to enjoy a Saturday afternoon.
As spring crawls out from its winter hibernation, bringing the first color of the season and taking the edge off of the chill, we opted for a road trip along a stretch of New England’s coastal wine trail. This “trail” is made up of over a dozen wineries along the edge of southern New England.
Carolyn’s Sakonnet Vineyard is one such winery, located in Little Compton, Rhode Island. It absolutely did not disappoint, featuring great wine in an almost other-worldly environment.
Little Compton is on the eastern side of Rhode Island, surrounded by the Sakonnet River, the Watson Reservoir, and the mouth of Buzzards Bay, with the open Atlantic Ocean beyond. Unlike so many coastal towns, it’s not heavily developed; there are farms and open land that stretch down to the shoreline. It’s also very flat. This quiet combination creates a significant open expanse of land unlike most places someone could visit.
The vineyard was founded in 1975, making it one of the older ones in the area. Its location creates a microclimate and soil condition allowing for slower-developing grapes that have low sugar levels and high acidity. You’ll mostly find white wines, with a rose, blush, couple of reds, and couple of dessert wines to round out the offerings.
Sakonnet Vineyard is designed to encourage you to linger; there are more tables and chairs outside than I could count, mostly filling up a rock wall-lined field. The far side of the field creates plenty of privacy from the scrub trees so commonly found by the coast. On warm summer days, it would be hard to not spend a couple of hours sitting around and enjoying good wine and conversation, and taking in the ambiance. With a gift shop and café, there’s even more incentive to stick around for a while. On the day we visited, there was a chill in the air so we stayed in the tasting room.
That tasting room created a different but complementary feel to the outside fields. It featured a lot of stonework, large pieces of artwork, music in the background, and a large bar with several staff tending to the tastings. It creates a feel of an upscale wine bar that you might find in a city, but it maintains an intimate feel.
Sakonnet’s tastings run $13 for seven samples. With more than seven wines, you can choose the ones closest to your preferred wines, but still with some room to experiment. We found the overall lineup to be solid from start to finish. The whites were a mix, with both a lighter and heavier chardonnay for whichever season you’re in; and the vidal blanc seemed perfect for an upcoming a summer’s afternoon after the beach, or with a seafood dinner on the back patio.
Sakonnet’s rose was particularly strong, with a deeper pink hue than many, and flavorful for a rose, with notes of strawberry and cranberry, which would allow it to be perfect not just in summer but also for Thanksgiving.
Our favorite turned out to be the “blessed blend red”, a mix of cabernet franc, lemberger, merlot, and cabernet sauvignon. This wine has been winning medals for several years running and it’s easy to see why. It evidenced tastes of dark chocolate and cherry. It was flavorful but not heavy, as some blends can be. This was bold enough to be a good wine in winter, but still light enough to work well in warmer seasons and to accompany barbecued meats on the back grill.
We finished with a dessert wine, their Winterwine. It’s an ice wine that was unusual and great, served very cold. It’s thicker, with honey and apricot flavors and a very long finish, and is a perfect after-dinner wine during these colder months. While the warm weather is now approaching, it’s still worth buying and setting back for when the cold months return.
We purchased the blessed blend red, for $30, which was on the high end, as Sakonnet’s wines run $19-$30, not counting the Winterwine at $40. On this day, the store and café were closed, and the café was in the process of getting a facelift. With a couple of bachelorette parties making appearances, and with the weddings and events that Sakonnet can host, it’s clear that it will be a busy season for them. But, again, the amount of seating and open space are conducive to still feeling as if you’ve got your own space to enjoy an afternoon of peaceful and enjoyable conversation and wine.
I've found my new favorite barn!
The tasting room itself is in a renovated barn from the late 1800’s. It’s kept a lot of the old wood and so much character, making it a uniquely interesting building. However, you can sit outside or stroll the grounds if you choose but don’t go too far. Down the hill sits one of the older homes in the area, which is still a private residence to this day. They also host live jazz every Saturday afternoon from May to November.
Greenvale Vineyards itself was founded in 1982, so the oldest vines have matured over the course of 36 years. They produce about 3,500 cases (all estate grown) per year from 27 acres of grapes. While they lost a lot of grape leaves in a storm a few years ago, which hurt the yield that year, the vines all bounced back with even better production since then. The tastings covered seven wines and a vermouth, with an eighth wine being sold out. What was great about the tastings was that they covered the entirety of the wines produced. Sampling the full range offered a broader understanding of the winery and left no opportunity for buyer’s remorse.
Like other vineyards in the area, there were more whites than reds due to the climate and soil. However, over five whites and two reds, we found a nice variety, and wines that would combine to cover any occasion and pair with any food. The chardonnay was particularly interesting, with two versions. One paired newer vines with reused oak barrels; the other combined the oldest chardonnay vines with new barrels. Vermouth was their bigger experiment, which was unexpected but fun to try. The cabernet franc topped our list, with a classic taste – flavorful but light, good for any season. With springtime beginning and barbecue season not far away, this wine will pair very well with grilled meats.
Greenvale Vineyards is quiet and off the beaten path. But with the live jazz and historic feel, it’s a great location for functions, or bachelorette parties, a couple of which we saw during our stay. However, it likely wouldn’t ever feel crowded and cramped. The staff also were excellent: knowledgeable of the product, friendly and attentive, and they truly hustled hard and went out of their way to make sure our experience was as great as possible.
New England's Vineyards & Wineries
You don't need to fly to the west coast to find estate-grown wine. There are plenty that are just a drive away. Plenty more may import the grapes, but it's the winemaker's "special sauce" that leaves you wanting more!