Massachusetts isn’t exactly known as a cradle of winemaking. We have just 95 licensed wineries, according to state data, compared to California’s more than 4,500.
But our traditionally blue state thoroughly enjoys its reds and whites. And Bay State oenophiles don’t have to travel far. One visit to the Massachusetts Farm Wineries & Growers Association Wine Shop at the Boston Public Market will bear this out. They stock over 90 native wines, by makers from Truro to Pittsfield.
Or you could simply stop by a winery close to you, maybe as a Valentine’s Day date with your loved one. Just within an hour of Boston, there are tasting rooms in Plymouth and Pembroke, Lincoln and Franklin, and Rowley and Ipswich, to name a few.
“Not every winery in California can produce the quality of wines I produce,” said Donna Martin, who owns Rowley’s Mill River Winery. She’s also the current vice president of the growers association.
Martin, who has a doctorate in analytical chemistry, has been in business since 2011. She takes pride in the fact that her wines are made with a minimum of preservatives.
“People can taste the freshness,” she said. For Valentine’s Day, Mill River is releasing this year’s dry rosé called Flight, a big hit last year with the shop’s wine club members.
Occupying the historic former storefront of Dodge’s Cider Mill on old Route 1 that once boasted a 125-acre apple orchard, Mill River has a 3½- acre vineyard.
“We use every blade of grass,” Martin said.
Like many local winemakers, the staff at Mill River use both their own grapes and others sourced from vineyards outside the state. Martin notes that researchers have been developing new hybrid grapes better suited to cold climates like the Northeast.
Plymouth Bay Winery owners Pam and Michael Carr specialize in “fruit-forward” wines that reflect the traditional crops of Massachusetts, including two kinds of cranberry wine. They also make a “Colonial Red” from the diamond grape, an offshoot of the venerable Concord grape from the town of the same name.
“Our wines scream ‘New England summer’ throughout the whole year,” said Mike Carr.
Located “a stone’s throw from Plymouth Rock,” the Carrs’ winery gets a good deal of tourist traffic, he said. They cater to that clientele with an extensive selection of wine jellies and sauces. For Valentine’s Day, they’ll offer a dark chocolate bark with dried cranberries soaked in cranberry wine, a partnership with Hingham’s Puopolo Candies.
The Carrs took over Plymouth Bay from its previous owner eight years ago. Like many of their peers, they got into the business in part because they’ve always loved to entertain.
“Wine is a shared experience,” Carr said.
The couple encourage their customers to share the drink recipes they concoct using Plymouth Bay wines. “My wife is known as ‘Dr. Sangria,’” he said with a laugh.
For some, like Bob Vozzella at Franklin’s La Cantina, winemaking is part of a family tradition. He grew up watching his grandfather, an Italian immigrant, make wine at home in the basement. Now Vozzella and his family run a business that offers a winemaking co-op — a club in which participants get to join the process “from grapes to glass.”
“For us, it’s really about bringing people together and supporting the community,” Vozzella said.
Since opening in 2015, La Cantina has benefited from its proximity to the Wrentham outlets, which are just a few minutes away, Vozzella said. For Valentine’s Day, he’ll offer two-for-one deals in his tasting room, with a special promotion on bottle sales through the weekend.
Like his counterparts in the local wine world, Vozzella aims to please. La Cantina currently produces 13 varietals and blends.
Because “the most popular wine in the world,” he says, “is the wine you like.”