The Hudson Valley’s Wine Industry Reaches Critical Mass
May 1, 2019 – Chronogram
By Carrie Dykes
While the Hudson Valley’s robust craft beverage scene may seem like a new phenomenon, this fertile region is actually home to America’s oldest winery and its oldest vineyard. In the past few years, local beer and spirits may have overshadowed wine, but the Hudson Valley vintners paved the way for so many others and their work is finally gaining recognition.
In 1677, the French Huguenots planted the first vines in New Paltz, but it was some time before commercial wine production began. Brotherhood has been continuously operating in Washingtonville since 1839, even throughout Prohibition, staking its claim as the oldest winery in America. “Working together, the wineries of New York have been able to make a name for ourselves, being recognized as a wine region of substance,” says Hernan Donoso, President of Brotherhood Winery.
Not 20 miles away, Benmarl Winery is America’s first vineyard—a 37-acre estate that holds the first New York Farm Winery license. Benmarl’s former owner, Mark Miller, pioneered legislation in 1976 advocating for a law that would allow small grower-producers to sell directly to consumers while reducing certain fees and providing tax and marketing advantages.
Another pioneer of the Hudson Valley wine industry is Whitecliff Vineyards, which has earned global recognition for their vintages. The family-run business will celebrate 20 years in operation this summer and will be opening a second tasting room in Hudson overlooking the river later this year. In 2018, Whitecliff started and ended the year with a bang, earning double gold for estate wines at both the Finger Lakes International Wine Competition (Gamay Noir) and at San Francisco International Wine Competition (Cabernet Franc).
A Signature Grape
The most important grape on the local wine scene right now is Cabernet Franc. Famous as one of the five permitted red grapes of Bordeaux, this superstar is on its way to becoming the Hudson Valley’s signature grape, championed by the Hudson Valley Cabernet Franc Coalition (HVCFC) and the eight local wineries that have joined the cause so far.
“For decades, the Hudson Valley winemaking scene has suffered from a lack of identity, sidelined by the Finger Lakes region, which built its reputation on Riesling over that course of time; and Long Island, which did the same with Merlot,” says Linda Pierro, cofounder of Hudson Valley Wine Magazine and HVCFC. “The Hudson Valley Cabernet Franc Coalition is unifying the Hudson Valley’s winemakers and creating an identity for the region that consumers can embrace.”
With a growing selection of award-winning winemakers and a stunning natural backdrop, the Hudson Valley is also gaining popularity as a destination for wine tourism. The region has put together useful maps and information on the wine trails in the area, as well as focused advertisements, so that when out-of-towners are visiting Storm King Art Center or Dia:Beacon or coming for a hike, they might pop into a winery as well. An upcoming boost is the addition of City Winery in Montgomery—a nerve center of wine, with locations in major cities across the US. Each City Winery has a restaurant, concert venue, and winemaking facility. Some host classes and offer “make your own wine” experiences.
The local wine trails host events year-round, and there are a number of tours that can shepherd groups safely through a Hudson Valley winery crawl. The Little Wine Bus will pick groups up in Manhattan and drop them off after a day in the vineyards. “Here in the Hudson Valley, wineries are personable,” says Monica Pennings, owner of Christopher Jacobs Winery at Pennings Vineyards. “Visitors can actually meet the vintners, the growers, and the owners while enjoying their tasting.”
A New Style of Wine Enthusiast
Hybrids, low-intervention, natural, and biodynamic wines are the sort of innovation that is propelling the region forward. Hybrid grapes are crosses between the European vine and various native American species. They are grafted together to make disease-resistant vines that can tolerate specific climates. Once thought to not hold the gravitas of European varieties, hybrids are finding a niche in the market. Bon Appétit wine writer Marissa A. Ross recently declared, “It’s about time the industry’s much maligned crossbred species get their due.”
“I think paying attention to what does well in an area and allowing the wines to express—that is the future of any region,” says Todd Cavallo, owner of Wildarc Farm in Pinebush. “It’s even more important in a place that has maybe tried for too long to emulate other regions.”
Whitecliff’s Traminette is a shining example of what hybrids can be; made entirely with estate grapes, this white offers bold tropical notes of lychee and grapefruit, like its parent grape, Gewurztraminer. Whitecliff’s most popular bottlings are the Awosting White and the Red Trail—both made with hybrids, both blends.
Another interesting take on the Traminette hybrid is Wild Arc’s Luca. A skin-contact Traminette, the juice is left on the skins for a period of time to impart textural qualities and complexity. Wild Arc Farm, a small, biodynamic winery in Pine Bush, is a prime example of adventurous, low-intervention winemaking happening in our valley. Their on-farm tasting room is slated to open later this year.
It’s truly an exciting time for wine in the Hudson Valley. Time-honored styles are being perfected, while fascinating, newer styles are being developed. The region is honoring its own distinctive journey with hybrids, and the world is finally taking note. It’s the perfect time to uncover the bounty we have right in our neighborhood and share our pride in our local wine region.