Jack Kramer / ctnewsjunkie
Gov. Dannel P. Malloy and Agriculture Commissioner Steven K. Reviczky (Jack Kramer / ctnewsjunkie)

SHELTON, CT – Governor Dannel P. Malloy took a break from Connecticut’s fiscal mess Thursday afternoon to enjoy a glass of wine.

But the glass of Pinot Grigio was actually part of Malloy’s job – as he toasted by Agriculture Commissioner Steven K. Reviczky as part of a promotion of the state’s Passport to Connecticut Farm Wineries program – the annual promotion offering incentives to visitors who support the local businesses.

A press conference was held at Jones Winery in Shelton, one of the 37 farm wineries in the state that participate in the promotional program.

“We want to continue to grow the wine industry in the state,” Malloy said, adding that Connecticut has seen more growth in the industry than any other state in New England.

“We made 800,000 bottles of Connecticut farm wine last year,” Malloy said, adding that over 60,000 passports were distributed under the program last year, helping to generate an estimated $1 million in direct sales for the wineries.

“This is a great time of year to visit a vineyard, and Connecticut is a great destination for people looking to explore quality, farm wineries,” Malloy said. “We have more than three dozen vineyards that produce a number of high-quality wines. Our state’s Passport to Connecticut Farm Wineries program offers folks a perfect opportunity to explore the diversity that each of our unique farm wineries have to offer.”

To participate, guests can obtain a booklet – which was designed to look like an actual passport – at any of the state’s 37 farm wineries.  Each time they visit a new winery during the season, they should bring the passport with them and have it stamped.  Once they have obtained at least 16 stamps, they can enter to win a number of prizes, including a two-week trip to Spain.

A complete listing of Connecticut’s wineries and additional information is available at www.passporttoctfarmwine.com.

“This program really highlights the diversity of what each of our unique farm wineries has to offer,” Reviczky said. “It’s a great way to promote the hard work of our growers and to encourage visitors to make these wineries a destination.”

Participants must be at least 21 years of age and can only submit one passport per person in the drawing. The program is operated by the Connecticut Department of Agriculture and runs from May 5 to Nov. 5, 2017. The drawing will be held on Dec.  7, 2017.

Jack Kramer / ctnewsjunkie
Jones Winery (Jack Kramer / ctnewsjunkie)

Malloy is no stranger to the Jones family farm, which is now in its seventh generation.

“I’ve cut my Christmas tree down here for the past 33 years,” the governor said.

Jamie Jones, who is from the sixth generation of Jones’, runs the wine operation for the family

“The passport program is really important to our business,” Jones said. “We’ve probably doubled our wine business in the past six years,” pointing out that’s the amount of time that Malloy has been governor.

Malloy came to Shelton after giving an address at the state’s annual tourism conference in Hartford.

Malloy’s budget calls for $8.3 million in tourism spending next year, which is an increase from this year’s $6.5 million but nearly $4 million below what the state spent in 2014.

Connecticut tourism industry officials are worried that the state’s multi-billion deficit could lead lawmakers to reduce tourism spending even below the level recommended by Malloy.

They add that ideally the state would go back to its old system of funding tourism, which was setting aside 3 percent of the state occupancy tax on hotel rooms and other lodging to be dedicated, solely, to promoting tourism.

Malloy said he understood that concern, but added that “before I became governor, we spent zip, nada on tourism.”

“I am proposing spending $8.3 million. We should be spending $15 million,” Malloy said. “That money would pay for itself if the legislature would let it,” instead of taking money that tourism brings in redirecting it into the general fund.

The tourism budget was cut back in 2009 when Connecticut faced a two-year more than $8 billion deficit, which is smaller than the $5.1 billion two-year deficit it currently faces.

That year, former Gov. M. Jodi Rell toured the state promoting the idea of a “Staycation,” where Connecticut residents would remain in the state and visit its attractions, state parks, museums, and other destinations.

That was the same year that Rell allowed the budget to go into effect without her signature on Sept. 1. It was the longest Connecticut had been without a budget since the 1991 when they first adopted the income tax.