Time For Wine
A Farm Turned Vineyard Is Ready for Guests
There’s a vineyard tucked away on a 500-acre property in Washington that rivals the most remarkable regions in Tuscany or Burgundy in its exhilarant beauty. It’s located on Whittlesey Road—a narrow, curvy, designated scenic route—and has only been open for tastings and tours to wine merchants and restaurateurs by appointment.
But owners Timothy and Stephanie Ingrassia are making their wines more available to the public this summer. They have purchased seven contiguous lots totaling 114 acres that connect the land down to Bee Brook Road (Route 47), in Washington Depot, and in late July, are opening a new entrance to the tasting area at 292 Bee Brook Road. The entrance uses a long-existing bridge over the brook that’s been locally known as “The Bridge to Nowhere.” Until now.
“We’re just so excited,” says Joline Audet, manager of Spring Hill Vineyards, which the Ingrassias began cultivating in 2006. In a large open field bordered by ancient stonewalls, dramatic hills and woodlands, the Ingrassias have installed a historic silo that was relocated from their farm, and set up an Airstream trailer as “a retro tasting room,” Audet says. They have made use of an old dirt road that connects this land to the vineyard property. This will enable visitors, by appointment, to tour the glorious grounds and learn about the intricate winemaking process.
And that’s not all that’s happening at the new Bee Brook property this summer. The world-famous, Washington-based modern dance company, Pilobolus, is set to run a Five Senses Festival July 21 to August 11. “So, people can come in, experience these amazing performers, and do a little wine tasting.” Audet says.
Pilobolus marketing manager Bridgid Pierce says of the Spring Hill property, “It’s an incredible, magical space. The Ingrassias have been so supportive and wonderful. They wanted to have sort of a firecracker, creative, kickoff celebration. There will be sunrise hikes, meditation, movement classes, talks, community meals, and of course, the wine.” Spring Hill has also hired John Bordeau, owner of The Owl Wine Bar in New Preston, to promote sales and plan events at the vineyard. “We’re hoping to do some really fun things,” Audet remarks. “That’s how impressed with our wines he is; he wants to be onboard.”
The vineyard property is a historic farm started in the 18th century, even before the town of Washington was founded. The Ingrassias bought it in 2005 from the Seymour family, who had farmed hay and tended livestock there for three generations. “For well over a decade before we acquired the farm, we found ourselves randomly choosing to drive down Whittlesey Road to catch a glimpse of this magical valley abutting Steep Rock and running alongside the Shepaug River,” says Stephanie Ingrassia. “Still, years later, the view of Spring Hill Farm and Hidden Valley takes our breath away.” Stephanie Ingrassia, vice chairwoman of the Brooklyn Museum, started the vineyard with her father, Andy Johnson.
The vineyard is nestled in quilted hills, and gently slopes down to the Shepaug River, providing an opportune terroir for growing grapes. “The river carries cold air out, and we’ve got the nice southwestern exposure and the well-drained soil; it’s like our own, perfect little microclimate here,” says Ben Sterry, the 33-year-old winemaker who oversees “everything from ground to glass” at Spring Hill.
Sterry grew up in the area, and loved playing outside. “I was always running around the farms; didn’t catch that video game thing,” he says. He attended Shepaug Valley High School with Stephanie Ingrassia’s younger brother, who recommended him for the position. “Tim and Stephanie are such good people. They wanted someone who could grow with the vineyard, and they took a chance on me,” says Sterry, who studied Earth Science at Southern Connecticut State University and worked for three years at nearby Hopkins Vineyard on Lake Waramaug.
The vineyard spans ten acres, on which five varieties of grapes are grown: Marquette, cabernet franc, pinot noir, chardonnay, and Riesling. The Marquette is “basically a pinot noir that’s been crossed with a complex parentage of cold-hardy North American species,” Sterry says. It’s able to withstand shorter growing seasons and frigid winters, which is why Spring Hill has devoted four of the ten acres to this variety, one of the largest plantings in the country, he says. The vines, now 12 years old, have matured to produce “a dark, exuberant wine with a spicy nose filled with plum and raisin,” Sterry says.
Spring Hill’s Marquette and cabernet franc wines, among others, have won numerous awards at wine festivals. “Our wine has really come around; it’s phenomenal, actually,” Sterry says. Many Connecticut vintners buy grapes from California to bolster their own crops (state law requires that 25 percent of a vineyard’s produce be grown on site), but Sterry says, “100 percent of our grapes are grown right here. I monitor the vines every day. I touch every plant, check for diseases, insects. I’m incredibly lucky, because I love what I do. I even get to bring my dog.” Spring Hill Vineyards wines are sold at about 20 restaurants and package stores around Connecticut.