On a recent Saturday customers at the Crystal Ridge Winery in South Glastonbury are sprawled across the lush yards on blankets and on the front porch of the winery, listening to the band Take 2 play crowd favorites.
It’s a near perfect day to be at a winery, the sky is a cloudless blue and a warm light breeze carries the delectable aromas emanating from the Greekin Out food truck from one side of the yard.
From the hilltop vantage point at Crystal Ridge it’s easy to see why the vineyard’s owners call it a “little piece of heaven.”
To the north, the panoramic views take in the Hartford skyline and beyond it, Massachusetts. To the west the multiple peaks of hillsides in Meriden are visible. Walk out on the second-story balcony of the building that houses the winery’s tasting room and venue spaces, and the view becomes nearly dizzying.
“Spectacular, isn’t it?” says Butch James, looking over his family’s 200-acre vineyard.
Butch’s parents, MaryAnn and Harry James, bought this Belltown Road land, nestled between fruit orchards and farms, about 30 years ago and in 2004 and began planting grapes.
The family owned a home construction business and built dozens of houses each year, bringing their children into the business over the years.
Co-owners Harry and Butch started the vineyard as a shared family hobby, but it grew into an enterprise whose wine products captured the interest of local restaurants.
So many people liked the wine the family decided to open a tasting room of their own.
“We started as a little hobby, and that was nice. And then we started sharing the wine and everyone seemed to love it. They were always running out. So then we did this to share it all with the community,” Harry says of the tasting room.
They built the 2,400-square-foot timber frame-style building on the hilltop and officially opened the tasting room to the public in 2018. Though MaryAnn passed away in 2016, Crystal Ridge has remained a family-run business.
Harry’s pride in the venture is clear as he ticks off the various roles each of his children, their spouses and even his grandchildren now, work in the vineyard business.
Harry and his son, Butch, designed and built the tasting room building, which features a large wrap-around porch (perfect for taking in those sweeping views), outfitted with rocking chairs and wine barrel side tables. They created a rustic feel inside the structure with huge timber beams and wood floors.
Harry’s daughter, Joanie James Barron, helped decorate the tasting room. She searches out antiques that lend the space just the right balance of refined and rustic chic.
Butch and his wife, Tina, run the tasting room and manage the events. Brandee James handles the social media and manges the tasting room. Denyelle James (Plenzio) is a sommelier who helps out with the production of the wine.
Harry’s other grandchildren, Dan Barron, designed the labels and Tyler Campise helps maintain the vineyard and process the grapes. Brandee and Denyelle help out as well.
Crystal Ridge has approximately 10,000 vines and offers about a dozen different wines, including several estate varieties, such as a chardonnay, a Vignoles and a Cabernet Franc. They offer nine varietals of red and white grapes.
Tom Mannello is the vintner at Crystal Ridge. The retired airline pilot said he’s had a passion for wine-making since he was a child and came to work here because he was impressed with the James’ family commitment to quality.
“They want to do things the best way they can. It’s a family that knows how to do things right. They’re willing to put the time and money into it.”
Crystal Ridge Vineyards is located at 257 Belltown Road, South Glastonbury. No outside libations are allowed. For liability reasons children and pets are not allowed. Tastings are $12 for four wines or five wines for $15. You can also build your own tastings at $3 per taste.
You can buy wines by the glass, bottle and case as well. Outside food is allowed, and the winery often features a variety of food trucks and live music. It also sells a small assortment of cheese and crackers, pre-sliced meats, such as capicola, prosciutto and salami. Visit crystalridgewinery.com or call the winery at 860-657-1004, for more information.
The vineyard is open 7 days a week and hours change seasonally, depending on the time of sunset. Check the website for current hours.