Last year, the fourth-generation farmers at Holmberg Orchards had an idea: What if they combined two of the most popular fall activities at their Gales Ferry farm for a 21-plus experience?
On a lark, siblings Russell and Amy Holmberg, whose great-grandparents originally purchased the 150-acre farm in 1896, decided to host a "grown-up" adventure, placing wine and cider-tasting stations throughout the property's intricate corn maze and encouraging visitors to find them all. The team pulled together the activity in about a week's time, and two Friday-night events sold out quickly, leaving visitors looking eagerly to 2017's schedule. The corn maze returns this season with dates on four consecutive weekends: Aug. 25 and 26 and Sept. 1, 2, 8, 9 and 15.
The Holmberg family is gearing up for another busy fall season, as visitors will soon flock to the farm for apple picking, wine tastings, tractor rides and cider doughnuts.
"Every weekend day in the fall here is like a mini-festival," says Russell Holmberg. "We might take it for granted because it's always around us, but people are just looking for fall activities. That's a really big season for people."
FEATURED AND NOTEWORTHY WINES: Holmberg's winery, which is open for tastings from May to November, is one of the farm's newer operations. In 2004, Russell Holmberg returned home after studying horticulture at the University of Connecticut, eager to pursue wine and cider production. After starting out in 2007 with hard ciders and wines made from farm fruits like apples and peaches, Holmberg planted a vineyard in 2009.
The farm now offers estate-grown pinot blanc wines: one that Amy Holmberg describes as a "lobster roll wine" with crisp, dry acidity and citrus and floral notes; the sweeter Thameside White balanced with soft residual sugar; and the champagne-style Bubbly Blanc, effervescent with notes of strawberry and grapefruit. Holmberg also expects to harvest its first crop of Gewurztraminer this fall, she says.
Food & Drink
A Bartlett pear wine, made entirely from Holmberg's pears, is described as "dry and delicate," and another wine crafted with estate apples gets a sweet and tart punch from cranberries. Holmberg's original hard cider is available for sale in six-packs of bottles.
PRICING: Wine tastings are $10 including a signature souvenir glass; glasses of wine are $8; hard cider is $5 for a 12-ounce single (to be consumed on the premises.) Wines by the bottle are priced at $12.99 to $21.99.
SPECIAL EVENTS: Tickets are selling quickly for the 2017 corn maze wine-tasting series. Guests are encouraged to bring flashlights or head lamps to traverse the maze, starting at 6 p.m., and they're invited to stay after to enjoy live music, wines by the glass and food for purchase, like pulled pork sandwiches, chili and cheese plates. Tickets are $20; visit findthewine.eventbrite.com.
Holmberg also hosts an annual spring festival each May, with a large farmers' market, food trucks, live music, wine tastings and tractor rides.
TASTING ROOM HOURS: Holmberg's winery is open for tastings on Saturdays and Sundays from noon to 5 p.m. The retail farm market, with produce, baked goods, wine and cider, prepared foods and other specialty products is open year-round daily from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. The farm's pick-your-own operations are open Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays, until Sept. 1, when they will be open seven days a week from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m.
Holmberg Orchards is at 12 Orchard Lane in Gales Ferry. 860-464-7305, holmbergorchards.com.
This wine season, we're providing a guide to what you'll find at Connecticut's farm wineries: signature vintages and special releases, live entertainment, gourmet food options, and a few surprises (wine slushies, anyone?). We will feature a different winery every two weeks.