The Renaissance of STONINGTON VINYARD
Same History, New Experience:
by RONA MANN/photos courtesy Stonington Vineyards
“I’ve never done it before, and I’ll never do it again; but I’m having more fun than I’ve ever had in my life.”
The previous words are spoken by the local “mistress of the grape,” Happy Smith, one half of the successful husband and wife team who have lovingly tended after the very popular and well respected Stonington Vineyards for more than 29 years. At the moment, however, Happy and husband Nick are currently up to their ears in drywall, crushed stone, two by fours, and delightful, delicious clouds of swirling dust as they attempt to pull off the facelift to beat all facelifts, the results of which will represent a whole new look and a whole new era for Stonington Vineyards.
This massive renovation wasn’t the result of years of long range planning, however. “It came out of boredom,” Happy laughs. “The place looked old and boring, I was bored, the staff was bored and stagnant. We needed a change. And a big one.”
Enter Rachel Edwards, the happy little firecracker who powers Dreamscapes Design Group in Essex and is also someone who possesses a successful history of marketing wines. To say Edwards is “an idea person” is like saying “Stonington Vineyards makes a few nice wines.” Edwards is energetic, creative, and very, very bright. She doesn’t just come up with ideas; she follows them through from inspiration to completion, and she was just exactly what Happy and Nick Smith needed to help them make that leap from “boring” to “wow!”
“We were sitting and talking about what we could do,” Rachel began. “I looked at where we were sitting inside, and everything was closed off. It was dark. You couldn’t see the vineyards outside, so I told them, let’s open it up.”
Like former President Ronald Reagan, Edwards essentially told the Smiths, “Tear down that wall!” and when they did, it opened them, their staff, and the entire vineyard to a whole new look, new attitude, and new perspective.
While many people would find remodeling tedious at best, Happy Smith embraces the trappings of renaissance. “I love the dirt and the dust. I keep finding new things for the construction people to do because I don’t want them to leave. I keep telling them, ‘Go for it!'”
And go for it they have, from contractors to stone masons to painters to the very talented Merry Bliss, who is creating a unique and graceful Japanese garden right on the property. Merry is one half of the Bliss team; her husband, Gil is general contractor on the vineyard project, and they live in nearby North Stonington. Nick Smith is steadfast and firm in his resolve to only hire local people to do the work on the vineyard. “It is important to us both,” echoes Happy, “to have a local investment in every way.” And so while the wind blows across the massive 58 acres that make up Stonington Vineyards, the saws hum, the hammers bang, the drills whine, and positively everyone there is getting ready to have the vineyard ready and waiting for the onslaught of visitors beginning in June. This is a year ’round operation unlike other vineyards who have just seasonal hours; so even while the work is being done, the Tasting Room continues to be open, and diehard lovers of their wines, plus the curious who happen by, are still able to taste and purchase Stonington Vineyards’ best.
Stonington Vineyards has always been known for their festivals; therefore wine tasting, music, food, and fun will continue to dominate following and complementing their renaissance. June 14th and 15th the ever-popular Summer Food & Wine Festival will again take place, but this time featuring two different bands each day, gourmet food trucks, father/child relay races, and events for the entire family. Tickets may be purchased in advance from the website or at the door, and picnics are also welcome. Of course no outside alcohol will be permitted, but why would you want to when you’ve got the best of the vineyard right in front of you, there for the tasting?
Rachel Edwards has also added Friday night concerts during the months of July and August, representing many genres of the music scene. What could be better than sitting under the stars on a warm summer night, sipping some of the best wines in the region and having a picnic, while losing all memory of the hard winter just past?
While Stonington Vineyards was always a popular place for weddings, parties, and corporate events, the “new” vineyard lends itself even more so with its natural beauty, carefully sculpted gardens, bright, airy tasting room with gas fireplace, and a host of possibilities for planners of parties, both big and small.
Even if there’s no occasion for a party, you can create a reason most any day to visit Stonington Vineyards. There are daily tours at 2PM; and the young, exuberant, and knowledgeable staff in The Tasting Room doesn’t just sell wine, they educate as well, making for what Happy Smith calls “the total experience.” She continues by pointing with pride to Mike McAndrew, the vineyard’s winemaker,”who has been here from the beginning,” just as loyal as the many customers who continue to make the easy mile and a half drive from Rt. 95 down Taugwonk Road.
Nick Smith, “master of the grape,” has always found a kind of peace and satisfaction in looking out at the rows of vines, the lush, rich acreage, and the open sky. Now he can look out from the inside as well because the drab, dark walls are gone. Stonington Vineyards is light, airy, smartly classic in design, and wide open in its beauty. Open to the new patio, to the festival area, to the Japanese garden, and to the rows of grapes that make for some of the best viniculture in New England.
Edwards offers, “Things like this don’t usually happen until new owners take over a business. It’s great that Nick and Happy, the ones who are here—who’ve always been here—are the ones leading the vineyard into the future. It’s the same history, but a new experience.”
Together they look from their old and soon-to-be-replaced chairs in the temporary tasting room to the vast expanse of pure, sweet land and vineyards soon to be swollen with grapes. “It all starts out there,” Rachel reflects, looking at Happy, “and ends in your glass.”
Find out all about the “new” Stonington Vineyards at www.stoningtonvineyards.com
And check them out on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram
Visit the tasting room soon at 523 Taugwonk Road, Stonington, Exit 91 off I-95. (860) 535-1222