Rose Gold (Pt. 2)

Rose Gold (Pt. 2)

In yesterday’s edition, I explored North Branford’s 380-year-old Rose Orchards Farm: the critters, the creamery, the market and the grill. Today, after a return visit, I’m onto the farm’s other major attractions: the rustic, classic offering of seasonal fruit picking and its polished, modern counterpoint in Rose Vineyards and Winery.

When it comes to pick-your-own, or PYO, I’m definitely a dilettante. I live in awe of the people who pick 30 pounds of fruit in one afternoon so that they can bake, reduce to preserves and syrups, freeze and otherwise store their treat of choice for months at a time. One time I went apple picking, I had a basketful finished in five minutes and gave away three-quarters of it.

Berries are different. A lot more precision and patience is required. It takes persistent foraging to find enough perfect, gemlike raspberries or blueberries—or even what I call “uglyberries,” those less perfectly shaped specimens that are nonetheless just as ripe and delicious—to make the hunt worthwhile. This being June, my plan at Rose was to challenge myself to fill a two-and-a-half-quart container ($20) with strawberries. Visitors commit to a size before they start picking; the $5.50 pint or $8 quart options would have been more expedient, but I was feeling intrepid.

After years of taking the super-sized specimens at the supermarket for granted, my biggest surprise was seeing how petite these non-industrial fruits were. Picking strawberries with my own hands made me think of them as little miracles; suddenly, I was an earth mother studying every cluster like Matthew admiring the lilies of the field, delighting in the orderliness of the seed patterns on their skins. And picking season can be as delicate as the berries: Rose’s strawberry season has ended since my visit, and while things would normally pick up with blueberries in July, I’m told wildlife have feasted on them instead. The next chance for a PYO experience at Rose is expected in August, when the peaches should be ready.

Back in the strawberry patch, it took only an hour or so to reach my quota, and I rewarded myself further by heading for lunch at the picturesque winery, a modern barn-style structure that sits atop a vertiginous rock ledge overlooking the bustle of main-street North Branford. Designed and built in 2017 by Al Rose Construction, the building features an airy, high-ceilinged lounge with wood-burning fireplace, a wine cellar with wine library and an outdoor patio with pavilion overlooking the vineyard and the peach orchard. All of those spaces are available for private-party rentals.

The menu offers a list of sandwiches, salads and shareable bites like the Mezze Plate ($17) with hummus, lemon-herb orzo salad, tzatziki, mixed olives, vegetables and naan. Rose’s one-acre vineyard grows only one varietal, the hybrid red marquette grape, originally developed at the University of Minnesota and celebrated for its cold-hardiness and disease resistance. I tried the Estate Marquette 2021 ($30 bottle/$9 glass) and found it robust and fruity with a smoky finish—and was impressed to learn it was made from 100% estate-grown grapes, aged for more than a year in American and French oak barrels.

Eleven other wines featuring non-native grapes are currently produced here “from crush to bottle,” winery manager Ellen Rose notes. Whites, mostly priced at $28 per bottle and $9 a glass, include a 2023 Chilean riesling, a 2022 niagara ($27/$8) and two 2021 California rosés, one dry and one sweetish. The sweeter rosé proved to be the perfect contrast to the winery’s savory Cheese & Charcuterie Combination ($30), featuring an assortment of cheeses including Arethusa Farm’s silky Blue and Tapping Reeve with meats including prosciutto di Parma, sopressata and pepperoni.

Also featured were Marcona almonds, dried fruit, cornichons and condiments: red onion jam, whole grain mustard and a hunk of honeycomb. A bread-basket side with goodies from Hamden’s Bread & Chocolate and “everything” butter (as in bagel seasoning) completed the spread. For $4, I was eager to add the farm’s housemade Chicken Liver Pate (a larger portion can also be ordered solo for $10); alas, it was sold out.

A grilled cheese sandwich of the day ($14) combined Gruyère with sour cherry jam and arugula on sourdough bread. I tried this with a tableside wine flight ($15): that house Marquette; a dry, super-crisp 2022 California Sauvignon Blanc; and a 2021 California Symphony with a light and tropical perfume. I thought the Sauvignon was the best match, especially against the flavors of the hearty greens and sweet fruity jam. But I regretted not trying more of Rose’s red wines, particularly the 2020 California Merlot Reserve ($45/$13)—which reportedly has a big “kick” of raspberry—and the new 2020 California Petit/Petite ($32/$9), a “jammy” blend of Petit Verdot and Petite Syrah aged in oak for 24 months.

Desserts ($11-$12) change regularly and are mostly provided by the nearby gourmet bakery JCakes, whose cakes include delectable varieties like chocolate layer and cannoli. (Those I might pair with Rose’s seasonal strawberry, blueberry and peach wines, coming in July.) But you won’t be disloyal if you decide to travel the quarter-mile back to Rose Orchards Farm’s creamery for its homemade ice cream concoctions. Options that range from earthy to elevated help make the Rose family’s farm a destination worth visiting and, as in my case, revisiting.

Written by Patricia Grandjean. Images 1, 4, 6 and 7 photographed by Patricia Grandjean. Images 2, 3 and 5 provided courtesy of Rose Farm Orchards and Rose Vineyards and Winery.

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