Valley Vineyards Come Of Age

As the economy struggles and wacky weather compromises this year’s harvest, Valley vintners are doing surprisingly well thanks to a little local love and another killer vintage



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Hailed as the Hudson Valley’s best growing season in 30 years, 2007 left some pretty big shoes to fill — and thankfully, though not as hot or long, 2008 managed to produce. “It was an excellent growing season, one of the best we’ve seen,” says Nancy Migliore, co-owner of Gardiner’s Whitecliff Vineyards. “It was definitely in the top 10 vintages, maybe even top five,” adds her husband Michael, president of the Hudson Valley Wine and Grape Association. This bodes well for Hudson Valley wine country, which — despite being the oldest wine-producing region in the country — still has yet to garner the national or international recognition it deserves. But with a couple of powerhouse vintages and (of all things) a national recession, things just may be looking up for Valley vintners.

Time magazine did a study of what was still selling in spite of the recession, and wine was number three,” says Migliore. While one could be quick to assume that people are drinking their financial woes away, the reason is actually much more wholesome: “People are having dinner at home more often,” explains Tim Buzinski, owner of the Artisan Wine Shop in Beacon. “Wine is the pleasurable part of that. Our sales have maintained their general level, but we’re selling less expensive wine.” Charles Derbyshire of the Olde Mill Wine Shop in Rhinebeck concurs: “The price point has dropped, sure. People are buying two $8 bottles instead of one $25 bottle. You’re still selling more wine.”

Benmarl WineryPhotograph courtesy of Benmarl Winery

In response to this shift in buying patterns, some wineries, like Whitecliff, have adjusted accordingly. “We looked hard at our prices,” says Migliore, “and found three wines whose prices we could pare down: Our high-end Bordeaux blend, Sky Island; our top-selling signature Awosting White; and our everyday ‘hamburger’ red, Ridgeline Red.” But don’t confuse markdowns or low prices with a decrease or lack of quality. Valley wines have never been better — Whitecliff’s popular Awosting White just won several awards, including a silver medal at the San Francisco International Wine Competition. And while their 2007 Gamay Noir (Buzinski’s top pick) was a huge success, earning a place on the wine list at New York City’s Gramercy Tavern, “in the barrel, the ’08 is tasting even better,” Migliore claims.

The recession is doing more for the Valley than moving bottles off the shelves. “Overall, the wine industry is doing better than the national economy because people are staying close to home and spending money close to home. There’s a push to eat local, drink local, vacation local. We’re close to millions of people in the city, just an hour and a half away — the Hudson Valley is local to them,” says Whitecliff’s Michael Migliore. Debbie Gioquindo of the Shawangunk Wine Trail has also recognized this trend, noting that “the Valley wine region is much closer than many people thought, and has good quality wine. So instead of flying to Napa they’re taking a trip to the Hudson Valley.”

And by no means should the Valley be thought of as second class. Though New York wines have gotten a bad rap historically, a period of growth and development over the past several years — spearheaded by the Finger Lakes region’s success with Riesling — has changed many a naysayer’s tune. Of this poor reputation, Phyllis Feder, co-owner of Clinton Vineyards, scoffs: “There’s lousy wine made everywhere, even in France. New York presents itself as a wonderful diversity of wine, more so than California. They have more acres, but we have more diversity due to our many microclimates. Climate conditions and limitations lead wine-makers to try new things, which means more innovation.”

To help draw some much-needed attention to the rich diversity and history of the Hudson Valley, a branding initiative started by the New York Wine and Grape Foundation (NYWGF), with help from the state Department of Agriculture and Markets and the state’s various wine-producing regions, was launched in September of 2008. The Web site hudsonvalleywinecountry.org offers visitors a chance to learn about America’s oldest wine region — whose vines were first planted in 1677 — and plan a visit. It’s hard to say whether the initiative is working yet, but it’s a step in the right direction for Hudson Valley agritourism, which is largely rooted in its wineries. “More people are coming, certainly,” says Feder, who is the former chairwoman of the NYWGF board of directors. “Is it because of the initiative, or just because things have built up? I don’t know. But the establishment of Hudson Valley Wine Country is a very good, positive step,” says Feder. “My guess is there will be measurable things in the not-too-distant future. More people are growing grapes, doing interesting things — there’s a spirit and organization in place that will carry forward successfully.” Let’s just hope the weather complies.

Next: Meet the King of Valley Vines

 

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