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The Cellar: Westport Rivers Vineyard + Winery

Saturday, October 13, 2012


The bounty at Westport Rivers is well worth the expedition. And now's the perfect season to visit. Photo: Westport Rivers Vineyard.

This summer and fall, GoLocalProv's wine writer Steffen Rasch is exploring Southern New England’s Coastal Wine Trail. This week he visits Westport Rivers.

The last stop on the Coastal Wine Trail brought me to the beautiful family owned and operated farm that is Westport Rivers. The original 40-acre Estate was planted in 1986 with Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Riesling and Grüner Veltliner. Since then, additional vines have been planted; today the combined acreage is more than 80, spread over 12 different vineyard blocks. While Chardonnay and Pinot Noir remain the majority of the crop, other varietals have since made their appearance including Pinot Gris, Muscat and the ancient Georgian vinifera varietal Rkatsiteli (try pronouncing that three times fast!).

At Westport Rivers Winemaker Bill Russell make a lot of different Estate wines including white, rosés and reds. He also makes a lot of different styles of wines including aperitifs, still wines, slightly sparkling to fully sparkling. They even make some fortified wines and a luxury Vermouth made from more than 15 native herbs and plants. All that being said, what Westport is most famous for is its vintage sparkling wine program.

Bill is minimalistic in his approach. His wines are all about reflecting what goes on in the vineyard. Bill’s job is simple, according to himself: don’t mess up the delicate flavors vineyard manager (and brother) Rob has worked so hard to develop. This is one of the reasons why you won’t find one new oak barrel anywhere in the winery. If and when neutral oak is used it is done so carefully so as to not infringe on the fruit.

Traditional method

All of Westport’s bubbles are made the labor intensive ‘Traditional Method’ where the second fermentation (the fermentation that gives the wines its bubbles) takes place inside each individual bottle. After this secondary fermentation is complete, the wine is then left to age on the dead yeast cells for a number of years. The long interaction between the wine and the yeast sediment (known as sur-lie aging) softens the wine, adds a creamy texture as well as the yeasty and toasty notes that quality bubbles are known for.


Westport’s flagship sparkling wine is their vintage Brut named ‘RJR’, of which they make around 1.600 cases annually. The base wine in this sparkler is a blend of approximately 60% Pinot Noir and 40% Chardonnay, which undergoes a second fermentation and is left to age for a minimum of 4 years before it is released. The current release is the 2006 vintage ($30) and it is absolutely delicious. I would put this wine up against any Champagne in its price range any day! This smooth effort has an undeniable roasted hazelnut note on the midpalate and finishes with mouthwatering acidity making you crave another sip. I would be remiss not to mention the 2004 Vintage Rose ($30) sparkling wine made ‘frizzante’ style displaying ripe red berries and a gorgeous soft mouthfeel. This wine is just a hair off-dry making it a very easy sipper and one I think most people will enjoy.

The 2011 Chardonnay

Come down next week and ask for their 2011 Chardonnay which is scheduled to be released any day now (just needs labels on them) and while you are at it, ask to taste the Grace Pinot Noir; this wine can be sipped as an aperitif, or after a meal. It is made by blending a brandy made from Pinot Noir with fresh Pinot Juice – all Estate-grown fruit – and aging the blend in French oak barrels. The result is a delicious wine filled with caramel, dates and nutty notes. It is only medium-plus bodied with a fresh dose of acidity preventing it from being over-the-top rich.

These are some well-made wines that are distributed in Rhode Island, as well as in Massachusetts. Be sure to check out Westport Rivers’ website for upcoming events, which includes the Annual Open House on November 24th. Westport Rivers is open for tastings Monday through Saturday and for tours on Saturdays. 417 Hixbridge Road in Westport, MA. Phone: 508-636-3423


Steffen Rasch CSW is ready to answer any wine-related questions, comments or concerns you may have. Feel free to email him at [email protected]. And as always, don’t forget to follow GoLocalProv’s Wine Cellar on Facebook and sign up for one of his tastings through the Providence Wine Academy.


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