CAPE COD, Massachusetts — There are 895 kilometres of unspoiled coastline, breathtaking scenery at every turn, the best fried clams in the world, an endless array of gorgeous and natural beaches, spectacular accommodations surrounding 15 distinct towns up and down the coastline, seaside golf courses and warm ocean breezes no matter where you lay your head for the night.
Cape Cod, without question, is a desired destination for vacationers who want to relax, kick back in their flip-flops but also crave the finer things in life.
A beautiful beach in Cape Cod.
And often that includes local wine. Yes, even in the most unlikeliest of places, such as the sandy, low-mineral soils of the Cape, not exactly optimum conditions for growing grapes, you’ll find brave souls who have turned the impossible into the possible with hard work and ingenuity.
Cape Cod is situated at the southeast corner of Massachusetts, stretching 100 km from the Cape Cod Canal to Provincetown’s Race Point. The Cape is 32 km at its widest point and completely surrounded by water: Cape Cod Bay on the north, Buzzards Bay on the west, Vineyard and Nantucket Sounds on the south and Atlantic on the east.
It is rich in U.S. history, beginning with the landfall of the Mayflower in Provincetown in 1620. The homes of long-ago sea captains dot the historic Old King’s Highway, and historic lighthouses have lined the Cape shorelines for centuries. The John F. Kennedy Museum in Hyannis celebrates the life and times of President Kennedy and his family on Cape Cod. And, at the tip of the Cape, Provincetown proclaims its living history as an artist’s colony and fishing village.
At the core of Cape Cod, and what draws the throng of visitors each and every summer, are the 115 public beaches from the calm and refreshing Vineyard and Nantucket Sound beaches to the glorious, beautiful beaches of the Cape Cod National Seashore.
An abundance of oyster shacks on the Cape.
But it doesn’t hurt that the area has such a diverse mix of unforgettable restaurants and dining experiences, ranging from upscale elegant eateries and waterfront restaurants to old-fashioned Cape Cod clambakes and seafood shanties. It is famous for its fried clams (with the juicy bellies included) as well as lobster rolls and just-caught fresh fish and chips at places such as Spanky’s Clam Shack and Baxter’s Boathouse.
But combine your day at the beach, golf outing or dining with a visit to one or two of the wineries on the Cape, and you’ve added some quality time to your vacation.
The Cape Cod Winery, in East Falmouth, about 4 km inland from the ocean, is a pastoral and quaint facility with eight acres of vineyards planted to Pinot Grigio, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon, Vidal and Seyval.
The winery was founded by the Lazzari family in 1994 with the vineyards planted on an ideal site with sandy gravel soil and gentle slopes. The biggest challenges for the winery is the unpredictable rains and stifling humidity that can cause the grapes to rot during the summer months.
Seashells and compost have been added to the soil to provide the minerals needed to craft premium wines.
The production is geared toward wines that match up with the finest seafood and gourmet cuisine available on Cape Cod. Fresh whites and lighter reds are made from a mix of grapes grown at the estate or grapes brought in from other regions. The winery also uses fruits from Cape Cop, such as the famous local cranberries and beach plums, to blend into some of the wines.
The winery only makes about 2,000 cases of wine a year, with 80% of sales generated by people who walk into the adorable tasting room at the winery and the other 20% sold to local wine shops.
Some of the wines I enjoyed during a tasting with James Edwards this summer include:
Cape Cod Winery Pinot Grigio 2010 ($17) — A tasty wine with melon, apple and pear notes along with a hint of spice.
Cape Cod Winery Nobska White 2010 ($14) — A blend of Seyval and Vidal that shows spritzy citrus and peach, a perfect match for fish and seafood.
Cape Cod Winery Nebska Cranberry Blush ($14) — The winery uses a neighbour’s cranberries in this blend with Seyval and Vidal. It’s delicious with cherry-cranberry flavours and plenty of fresh acidity.
Cape Cod Winery Beach Plum Chardonnay ($19 for 375 Ml) — A unique wine that blends Chardonnay with native New England beach plums. It shows wonderful sweet flavours of tropical fruit, pears and honey. A nice after dinner treat.
Cape Cod Merlot/Cab Franc 2008 ($19) — All from grapes grown at the estate and aged in oak for eight months. Flavours range from cherry and plums to blueberries, cassis and vanilla. Nice, smooth tannins.
Further up the Cape, towards the outer reaches of Provincetown, you will find Truro Vineyards in one the region’s most beautiful (and least populated) towns.
Truro Vineyards has been owned and operated by the Roberts family, who dreamed of owning and operating a vineyard together for years, since 2007. The vineyards and winery have been in existence since 1992 but the house and the estate date back nearly two centuries. Built in 1813, the square dignified Federal house was part of a farm from its earliest beginnings.
The gorgeous winery and tasting room is framed by a rare Chinese Mulberry tree that graces the property to the right of the front door and was brought to the cape by a ship’s captain around 1850. It has been carefully preserved and maintained.
The first wines were made in 1995 but, because it was unique for Cape Cod, and so far off the beaten track, only 12 cases of the 500 cases made were sold. “No one wanted local wines back then,” said Kristen Roberts during a tour of the property. The next few years were spent getting the name out there and attracting visitors to the property.
The original winery owners sold to the Roberts in 2007 and production has gone from 500 cases to 10,000 cases in 2010.
Six acres of vineyards are planted to Chardonnay, Cabernet Franc and Merlot with other grapes being brought in from California and New York State.
“Our goal is to make the best wines we can,” said Roberts, regardless if the grapes are grown on their property or brought in to blend with local grapes.
Some favourites from the tasting:
Truro Vineyards Estate Chardonnay 2009 ($25) — All the fruit is sourced from the estate. A lovely Chardonnay with creamy tropical fruit, vanilla notes and good acidity.
Truro Vineyards Triumph 2008 ($22) — A big blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Cabernet Franc with plums, black cherry, strawberry, spice and chocolate notes.
Truro Vineyards Lighthouse Series Cranberry Red ($17) — The tourists snap this up at an alarming rate, not only because the bottle is shaped like a lighthouse, but also because it tastes so good. Sweet notes of cranberry and citrus but not overly sweet.
The wineries of Cape Cod may not be world beaters in terms of quality and availability, but they sure are worth the trip when visiting. The wines are well made and strolling the vineyards with the ocean breezes and salty sea air all around is a unique experience you won’t soon forget.
And bringing home wine in a lighthouse-shaped bottle? Priceless.