About a decade ago, Bob and Carol Chipkin reinvented their lives when they bought some old Coventry dairy farm land to turn into Cassidy Hill Vineyard. They opened for business in October 2008 and now they produce about seven labels, including the just-out Jet's Red, a “fruit-forward” wine with a “jammy” flavor named for their dog.
Their biggest effect on the eastern Connecticut wine dynamic, however, is their popular, mini Tanglewood experience on Friday nights, minus Yo-Yo Ma, maybe, but otherwise right on key. Swarms of picnickers and wine lovers come with their friends and families, plant themselves near the vineyards, and enjoy live music while watching the sun set.
Bob and Carol and friend Loray Courchaine share all the jobs – working in the field, bottling, labeling and staffing the tasting room. On a recent Friday night, Bob was directing traffic to squeeze in the 100 or so cars of people coming for al fresco wine tasting and to hear Greg Zigmont, known as Ziggy, the live talent that night. And Bob was there at closing to help everyone back out safely.
“He said he never worked so hard in his life,” Loray says between pours on Saturday about Bob's transition from career insurance actuary at the Phoenix to vintner. (He retired in his 50s and didn't want to play golf every single day, she adds.)
Inside the log winery, for $6, tasters can sample about an ounce each of six wines and munch on crackers and chocolates. We just grabbed a chilled bottle of the lightly blushy 2010 Summer Breeze, which was perfect on so many levels and cost only $14.95, the going rate for most of the varieties. We parked ourselves near some imbedded rocks at the edge of the field, listened to the music and ogled the gorgeous vista around us.
Soon two energetic boys around age 4 or 5 (Cousins? Yes, we're cousins, they decided.) mounted the rocks as a base for staging their intrigues. We helpfully removed our handbags. Wars must be won.
And then we simply talked and got a little giggly, away from the fray of cell phones and bills, and (mostly lovable) children and husbands. This Friday night time between work and the closing about 8 p.m. is one magical happy hour, or two.
The Chipkins used to make wine from kits in their house, but learned the art for real from the UConn Extension Service, hired a winemaker -- David Hershberger, a young University of Connecticut grad -- and taught Loray the ropes. They got some friendly advice along the way from Maugle Sierra and Gouveia wineries.
“[David] and Bob do a lot of the chemistry, but we all kind of taste it by committee,” suggesting more sweetness or acidity, Loray says.
This coming Friday, July 29, the music from the front porch will be provided by the Jeremiah Long Trio, a mellow coffeehouse sound with two guitars and a hand drum. “He sings with a nice baritone voice, they tell me,” Loray says. And this dentist by career puts listeners in mind of James Taylor, ironically enough, as that is the act that packs them in annually at Tanglewood in Lenox, MA.
Tanglewood is one classy spot, but for a more neighborly experience, try a Friday night at Cassidy Hill.
Cassidy Hill Winery is open for tastings and sales 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. Fridays and 11-5 Saturdays and Sundays. The winery is at 454 Cassidy Hill Rd., off Exit 68 on I-84. For information, call 860-498-1126 or visit their Web site.