GOSHEN >> Like many of their contemporaries, Maria and Manny Miranda do much more than make wine at their vineyard.
At various times at Miranda Vineyard, one can relax on the back porch while sipping one of 10 varieties and overlooking the scenic vines, shop for a few gifts, come for some live music, enjoy a farm-to-table dinner or attend a farmer’s market.
On Friday afternoon, U.S. Sen. Chris Murphy paid a visit to the vineyard to learn a little about the business, its effect on tourism and to tout a little-known agriculture program.
Maria and Manny Miranda bought the property on Ives Road in 1999, began planting in 2001 and opened the vineyard in 2007.
Manny, a “retired” building contractor, comes from Portugal, where his family made wine.
“I remember it from when I was 16 years old and I always wanted to do this,” he told Murphy on Friday afternoon.
Maria joked the she was “just along for the ride” on her husband’s dream but also called it a “labor of love.”
The couple wanted to start a vineyard in the late 1970s but didn’t have the means. Years later they discovered the Goshen property while living in a home down the street. When it came up for sale, they took the plunge.
Today, grapes are grown on approximately 10 of the property’s 30 acres. The couple planted 20 varieties, 10 of which survived. Correspondingly they just received federal approval for their 10th wine variety.
The couple told Murphy about some of the benefits and challenges of running a winery.
The industry has grown dramatically since Sherman Haight established the state’s first in the late 1970s in Litchfield. In 2007, there were 20 in the state. Now it’s up to 33, 25 of which are part of the Connecticut Wine Trail, said Maria Miranda, secretary of the Connecticut Vineyard and Winery Association. Making wine can be a time consuming process. Bringing a red wine to market, for example, is a six-year-process — four years from planting to harvest and another two aging the wine.
“Making the wine is not the hard part; it’s growing the grapes,” Maria Miranda said.
However, one huge factor in the success of vineyards was the development of cold hardy varieties, developed at Cornell and elsewhere, Manny Miranda said.
At Miranda, Manny goes for a traditional approach, still using oak barrels to age the wine, although they are more expensive — approximately $500 — than newer stainless varieties and only last about five years.
Maria said the state’s vineyards add a lot to the economy, attracting out-of-state visitors that frequent local restaurants and often stay overnight. She praised the state’s “Passport” program in which vineyard visitors carry a booklet to different vineyards. Those who get stamps from at least 16 by Nov. 8 can win prizes, including a trip for two to Spain.
But while pointing out that she realized Murphy is at the federal level, she did tell the senator that business in the state is challenging in some ways, such as the cost of payroll benefits.
“It’s a heavy load for small businesses,” she said.
In addition to learning about the vineyard, Murphy said, he did want to point out one federal program the state has used very little. Value Added Producer Grants, administered by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, are 50-percent matching funds for innovative bio-products or marketing. It was a $30 million program for 2015 and has been around for at least six years.
Very few in Connecticut have been funded, Murphy said. One of those that did receive 2010 grant was Freund’s Farm in East Canaan. Freund’s Farm is known for their innovative cow pots, made from composted cow manure.
Murphy said it’s the kind of program he’d like to see more local producers look at and one that could be a model for the future.
“It’s a perfect example where the farm bill can move away from subsidizing big corn growers in the midwest and help small producers in New England,” he said.
So while winemakers are already contributing much to the state, there might be even more opportunities, Murphy said.
“I think it’s a big part of Comneccinst‘s economic future,” he said.