Shelton winery kicks off Passport program
Jamie Jones looked across his 10-acre vineyard as rain dropped down Friday afternoon for what seemed the sixth time this week.
“It’s not a problem yet,” he said, for his grape and berry plants. “But if (wet weather) continues, the harvest we could have reduced yields this year.”
The Jones Family Winery on Walnut Tree Hill Road is home to 19 different wines, 14 of which are made from grapes. The winery along with the 400-acre Jones Family Farms — where berries are picked in the summer, grapes and pumpkins in the fall and Christmas trees during the holidays —attract nearly 100,000 visitors a year.
It’s no wonder that Lt. Gov. Susan Bysiewicz and Agriculture Commissioner Bryan Hurlburt chose the Jones Family Farms as the place to kick-off the annual Passport to the state’s 40 Connecticut Farm Wineries.
This year there is a new twist to the program — visitors who use the passport to qualify for the more than six dozen prizes awarded can also win one of two, two-week trips to Spain.
And rather than fumble around with one of the 65,000 44-page paper booklets available, there will the option of using a mobile phone app. Six seniors in a University of Connecticut computer science course spent a year developing two apps — one for Android phones which will be released in the next week or so and another for Apple phones, that will be available later.
To qualify for prizes, participants must have visited at least 12 of the listed wineries and have either the booklet stamped or the mobile app marked by each winery.
That’ll get them two bottles of Connecticut-made wine. Those who visit 18 have a chance to win one of the Spain trips, a chauffeured limousine trip for eight to a Connecticut winery or an overnight stay at La Quinta by Wyndham in Danbury. And anyone who visits 35 wineries gets another chance to go to Spain.
The winery visits must take place between from May 3 and Nov. 3, and the winners will be drawn on Dec. 5, said Rebecca Eddy of the state Department of Agriculture.
Sales of Connecticut-produced wines have increased 120 percent since 2007.
That’s an amazing statistic,” said Bysiewicz, “..its great for state tourism and state agri-tourism.”
The Jones Family Farms came into existence around 1850 when, Jamie Jones said, his great-great grandfather, Phillip James Jones, arrived from Ireland to visit his brother in Bridgeport. Phillip saw the rolling hills in Shelton and fell in love with them. He bought 300 acres and began the family’s generations of farming here.
The Jones farms grew to 400 acres over the years. Jamie Jones added the vineyard in 2004. He got the idea while attending Cornell University, where he graduated with a major in plant science.
“I saw all these farms growing grapes there and thought, why can’t we grow them here and open a winery,” he said. “Now 15 years later we’re making 6,000 cases of wine a year and hosting visitors during the week.”
The Jones Wine Tasting room, reconstructed from their century old dairy barn, is open Friday to Sunday from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. When June rolls around, Thursdays are added, and in July and August, closing time is extended until 7 p.m.
“We want to have a family atmosphere,” said Tom Harbinson, the facilities and infrastructure manager. “We also provide wine education and tasting classes.”
Jones said it takes anywhere from nine months to a year to make a red wine and up to a year and a half to create a white wine.
While most of their wines are made with grapes, the farm also uses its own strawberries, raspberries and blueberries. Jones buys apples from Beardsley Cider Mill and pears from Bishop’s Orchards that are used in fermenting five other wine varieties.
“This is a Valley gem,” said Bill Purcell, president of the Greater Valley Chamber of Commerce. “Summer nights here remind me of what its like in the Napa Valley.”
But Jones admits the weather is a worry.
“Any extreme is a challenge for farmers,” he said. “We like our weather in moderation.’
Yet, still he sees the bright side in this rain.
“Our Christmas tree transplants are loving it,” he said.
(Information on downloading the mobile app is available at PassportToCTFarmWine.com)