BOLTON — Our mission: A lunch within two hours of Boston, worth the journey and distinctly New England.
Woodland homes gave way to modest houses and antique charmers in small towns as we drove west of Boston through Lincoln, Concord, and Stow on Route 117. Tractors plowed farm fields, chickens roamed around roadside barns, and horses grazed. Welcome to apple country.
With a little imagination, we could picture ourselves in French wine country or the Napa Valley. On 52 rocky acres in Bolton, Nashoba Valley Winery’s hillside apple and peach orchards, vineyard, brewery, and state-of-the-art wine-making facility seem far from city life. In a handsome wine shop those 21-and-over can taste Nashoba Valley grape and fruit wines ($5 for five ⅝ -ounce samples). On weekends from 11 a.m.-4 p.m., the wine-making operation offers guided tours ($7).
As the foliage turned, it seemed a great time to repeat the mini-road trip we’d enjoyed here last spring. We parked beside the vineyard and walked up to a 1920s-era country home adapted as J’s Restaurant. Which to choose? The patio, shaded by a vine-covered arbor was tempting. But cool weather nudged us into the farmhouse that is both sophisticated and rustic casual. It has wide board floors, abundant windows, and paneled walls and ceilings.
The menu changes seasonally and dishes incorporate or pair well with the winery’s bounty, from dry whites and reds to dessert wines, from semi-sweet blueberry merlot to chardonnay, and microbrews.
With a glass of pinot gris, I perused the diverse menu. Turkey melt with cranberry-apple chutney, French brie, and baby spinach on ciabatta ($12) happily recalled last spring’s grilled chicken salad half sandwich accompanied by warm, wonderful sweet pea vichyssoise. Autumnal pulled pork quesadilla ($12) was cousin to the Cuban sandwich my husband had enjoyed with amber Heron Ale, one of three signature beers. Wild game chili, a blend of wild boar, venison, duck confit, and cheddar, was a new contender ($13). But they had me at fondue: Smith’s Sage Cheddar Fondue with roasted garlic, pecanwood smoked bacon, and apple crumble ($12).
Executive chef Keith Desjardin, 28, told us his menu is influenced by what’s fresh from farms and bakeries within 50 miles, plus vegetables, herbs, fruits, and edible flowers grown in their own gardens, and regional seafood. “In the fall, we use a lot more of our own produce — apples, herbs, beets, tomatoes, and so on.” Nashoba Valley orchards grow 82 varieties of pick-your-own apples.
“We’re a destination restaurant,” said Desjardin. “Most visitors don’t just drive by. They come to pick apples or for the foliage, or to picnic in the orchard in summer. They come for tours and tastings. So we offer upscale comfort food but we do it in a refined way.” He noted they hold an annual bluegrass festival, an afternoon holiday tea, and a five-course, fixed-price New Year’s Eve menu.
After lunch, we ambled over to the wine shop’s Tasting Bar. There we met Suzanna and Brandon Magnuson, two young teachers from Ashland enjoying a rare day off. “We’ll definitely be back to try the restaurant,” he said. “Maybe for dinner, and for apple picking.”
NASHOBA VALLEY WINERY
100 Wattaquadock Hill Road, Bolton 978-779-5521, www.nashobawinery.com
Janet Mendelsohn can be reached at www.janetmendel