There’s no need to make a trip to Napa Valley this fall, when just a short drive or even a bike ride away is our own small-but-mighty wine country. These three local vineyards have earned a spot on several wine trails with their own distinct personality, flavor, and experience, so make sure to sample, savor, and take home a bottled souvenir for chilly at-home evenings – because wine not?!
Ask any Rhode Islander worth their salt in grapes if the state has a winery and Sakonnet Vineyard instantly comes to mind. Founded in 1975, the Little Compton business, which sits on 150 idyllic acres, has produced award-winning wines for decades and is the oldest in New England. The name change to Carolyn’s is more recent when Carolyn Rafaelian, founder and president of the Cranston-based Alex and Ani jewelry company, purchased the vineyard herself in 2012. Through the transition the rooster logo remained along with winemaker Elaine Phipps, who first joined Carolyn’s Sakonnet Vineyard (CSV) as a field worker in 1984 and worked her way up. Grapes are grown locally, picked by hand, and then barrel-aged in French, Hungarian, Russian, and American Oak. CSV is known for their reds, whites, rosés, and dessert wines, but one blush stands out: Eye of the Storm – a wine described as celebrating the harvest that survived hurricane Gloria in 1985. Online ordering and curbside pickup is available, but consider making a reservation to visit the scenic property and enjoy a bottle or two along with lite bites. “We offer an escape from the day to day,” says General Manager, Cynthia Rocha, who encourages visitors to “sit back and relax in one of our cedar Adirondack or rocking chairs.” Picnic blankets welcome, but currently, not pets.
Carolyn’s Sakonnet Vineyards sells stemmed and stemless wine glasses, each with their logo of a Rhode Island Red, the state bird originally bred in Little Compton, once the poultry capital of America. Impress your friends with that nugget. Back at home, be sure to check out their Vine Sessions playlist on YouTube, music performances recorded live on the CSV grounds. Rocha adds, “Don’t forget to pick up a couple of extra bottles as gifts for the upcoming holiday season.”
Autumn is perfect for warming up with a glass of red, and with its garnet hues, deep aromas of dark chocolate, cranberry, raspberry, and cherry, the Aiman is as stunning to behold as it is to imbibe. Rocha says that as a Pinot Noir it pairs well with cozy fall dishes like sweet potato shepherd’s pie. In signature Rafaelian, the wine is described as darkly exotic: Sip this wine and hold fast to what you create in the world, guarding what you hold dear.
162 W Main Road, Little Compton • 635-8486
What started as a farm back in 1863 has a long and winding history that includes a razed barn, stable-turned-tasting room, 27 acres of grapevines, 75 acres of land, and six generations of working the land. Today, Nancy Parker Wilson owns the farm, now a vineyard, built by her distant relative John Barstow, along with her husband William and son Bill. They started as growers for Sakonnet Vineyards in 1982 before vinifying their own batches in 1993, and now all of their wines are made with grapes grown exclusively from their property. In place of traditional tastings, find samples in wooden flights of glass carafes. “It’s almost a self-service wine tasting,” Nancy explains, “and it’s been very satisfying because you can talk amongst yourselves; you don’t have to be listening to someone else.” The outdoor grounds, now the sole setting for sampling, feature a newly expanded wine garden where patrons lounge on blankets under the shade of trees or gather at picnic tables, perfectly capturing the communal experience of wine tastings past.
Greenvale Vineyards sticks with their quality wines when it comes to their shop offerings, but they’re known for their weekly jazz series, now with an improved sound system, so you can sip vino to the backdrop of smooth standards and grab a bite from food truck vendors for as long as the weather allows.
One of their more unique offerings, the 2019 Pinot Gris Ramato has an almost salty finish that pairs well with chicken or charcuterie. “It’s got some tannins because of the skin contact that gives it the auburn color,” says Nancy. “Pinot Gris looks like a red grape when you go to pick it, although we all think of it as a white grape.” A new release in time for autumn is the Unoaked Chardonnay, a bright, fruit-forward choice that’s all about experiencing the grape.
582 Wapping Road, Portsmouth • 847-3777
This Middletown winery has roots reaching back to 1917, when owners John and Paul Nunes’ great-grandfather obtained what was then a farm. Fast forward to today – long after the first vines were planted, a second farm acquired, and wine portfolio perfected – and Newport Vineyards is a wine lover’s destination. The more than 30,000-square-foot building nestled on the roughly 100-acre property now boasts a marketplace, tasting room, Taproot Brewing Company, and Brix Restaurant, which features “farm-forward” cuisine from local farms, plus produce from their own garden. During the pandemic, the vineyard, like so many others, embraced curbside pickup, and with restrictions still in place, creatively transformed their bar-side tasting experience to table reservations with flights. Plus, this fall, “guests can expect to get a sneak peek of the winemaking action during harvest,” says Director of Sales & Marketing Cassandra Earle, describing tractors driving bins of grapes and the crushing process in the Tank Room. “It’s truly the best time of year!”
Not only does Newport Vineyards offer a full-bodied wine experience, but they also sell specialty vino (think port and ice wine), customizable labels (perfect for gifting), stylish branded merch (hello, sweater weather!), and Cru Club memberships.
While Earle cites their fuller-body white wines like Gewurztraminer, Riesling, and Chardonnay as popular autumn picks, she’s excited for the fall debut of their brand-new Great White Rosé. “And we can’t forget about our hard cider and pumpkin beer!” adds Earle, referring to their Rhody Coyote Hard Apple Cider and Taproot Brewing Co.’s Wicked Squashed Pumpkin Ale.
909 East Main Road, Middletown • 848-5161