AWG Correspondent

Anthony Marocco

Carolyn's Sakonnet Vineyards Photos

Carolyn's Sakonnet Vineyards Review

Regions: Southeastern New England AVA, Rhode Island

Reviewed: December 27, 2014 by Anthony Marocco
Published: April 14, 2015

Many of my articles are focused on Virginia wineries or wineries in whichever state I have the luxury of traveling to during my work trips. For those who are not aware, I grew up in the smallest state in the United States - Rhode Island. When most people think New England, they think cold winters, great beaches and awesome seafood, and it just so happens that many Rhode Island wine offerings are crisp, clean whites that pair absolutely perfectly with many of the seafood dishes that this gorgeous state offers.

One of the most popular wineries in the state is also one of the oldest. Located in Little Compton on the East Bay side of the state is Sakonnet Vineyards. Sakonnet encapsulates 170 acres of land along the Sakonnet River and has been in operation since 1975. It was the first Rhode Island winery to open after the Prohibition era. Of the 170 acres, about 50 acres are planted with multiple varieties of grapes to include Gewurztraminer, Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Merlot, Vidal Blanc and Chancellor. The vineyard site is very similar to the Northern France wine regions of Loire Valley or Alsace, and the wines are very similar in style.

The vineyard operation was owned by Susan and Earl Samson until a couple of years ago when it was purchased by Alex and Ani President Carolyn Rafaelian. Since the purchase, a transformation and expansion has begun at Sakonnet, including a name change to Carolyn's Sakonnet Vineyards. Over the years, the Samsons have carefully researched the vineyard site, identifying the grapes to grow and wines to make given the area's short growing season and cool conditions. During the summer months, food is catered by local business Russell Morin Fine Catering, and future plans include expansion to a year round operation and cafe. Currently, the winemaking duties are handled by long-tenured winemaker, Elaine Bernier.

Getting to Sakonnet is a bit of an adventure, and the roads take you past a slew of antique and mom and pops shops, including a great cheese shop (a recent discovery). Many clam shacks and other small restaurants, some of which have appeared on Diners, Drive-Thrus, and Dives, are also on the path to the winery.

A driveway of white crushed seashells greets visitors and guides them up the windy, scenic driveway to the main vineyard building. As you approach the front of Sakonnet during in the summer months, there are usually small bistro tables set up on the front lawn. Walking into the front door, we instantly noticed the minor changes to the storefront area. To the left, a small fire rages, while the register and wines are on the right behind the cornered-off register station. Immediately in front of you are stairs that lead up to what I would assume is the event space. To the left of the stairs is a hallway to the restrooms and to the right an entrance to the long, rectangular tasting bar, which happened to be packed on the day of our visit.

The wine offerings chalk board was hoisted high on the wall next to the Sakonnet Boston Celtics jersey signifying Sakonnet's new partnership as the Boston Celtics official winery sponsor. Along the walls, there are various wines, gift baskets, Sakonnet trincuits and scattered fashion items, such as scarfs, bags, blankets and totes available for purchase. Sakonnet's tasting fee is $10 and allows visitors to choose any six wines and take home a sweet souvenir glass. Tours are also available with a tasting on the hour between noon and three PM. During past visits, I remembered the tasting sheet consisting of close to twenty wines. On this visit (the first since Carolyn bought it), we had about nine wines to choose from. I'm not sure if the reduced number of wines was due to a conscious effort to focus on quality over quantity or a lack of stock. I'm hoping it's the former.

We started our tasting with the Vidal Blanc 2012, which sells for about $13.95 per bottle and was one of our four favorites on this particular day. This Vidal is the perfect wine to pair with traditional New England seafood dishes as it displays a light body and a crisp, mineral-driven structure. Hints of white stone fruit waft upward from the glass while ripe, crisp apple and mineral flavors carry the palate to a clean and pleasing finish. Our next favorite wine was the Petite White NV ($13.95), which is a semi-sweet blend of Vidal Blanc and Gewurztraminer and boasts plenty of tropical fruit character. Pineapple and mandarin orange dominate this white, juicy blend, but it finishes exceptionally clean and crisp with a hint of pineapple juice. We opted to bring this light, summer sipper home with us in the event we experience one of those typical early DC Spring heatwaves.

Hopping around, we began our red tasting with an old vine Pinot Noir 2012 ($24.95). I have to admit that I was a bit surprised at this Pinot Noir, especially as it was produced in Rhode Island. Toasty oak and creamy cherry aromas lead while the palate carries much of the same qualities, adding in hints of spice and dark berry. The finish is quite plush with nuances of dark chocolate and smooth, silky tannins. The show stopper was the last wine we tasted - the Winterwine 2010 Ice Wine made from 100% frozen Vidal Blanc grapes ($32.95). Not huge fans of sweet ice wines, we were both taken by surprise by the wine's impeccable balance and very high residual sugar. Made from Sakonnet's third harvest of Vidal Blanc, this rich and honey-drenched ice wine exhibits plenty of apricot and brown sugar and carries a light veil of floral notes on the finish. The wine's bright acidity balances out the intense sweetness. We couldn't pass it up and had to take a bottle home.

When visiting Sakonnet on the weekend, be sure to stop by some of the local shops to pack a picnic, but also plan for large crowds. There has yet to be a visit where the entire tasting bar was not completely occupied, though the service is pretty attentive so that guests don't wait too long. Be sure to stop by Sakonnet and experience the evolution of Rhode Island wine, with the help of the new ownership. You won't regret it.

Address & Contact Information: 162 West Main Rd. Little Compton, Rhode Island 02837. Telephone: 800-919-4637, email:, website: Tasting Hours: Thurs-Sat 10:00-8:00, Sun-Wed 10:00-6:00.

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