Napa on the Hudson

Wine-making in the region has really hit its stride- and homegrown fruits other than grapes are playing a big role, as our writer discovered in her tour of the Valley's vineyards.



Napa On The Hudson

 

Thanks to savvy winemakers and homegrown fruits (think apples, raspberries, and pears), the Valley¡¯s vineyards are really coming into their own

 

By Anitra Brown

 

It¡¯s a warm, sunny spring day, and 27-year-old Jason Grizzanti is outside in his knee-high Wellingtons, raking up brush from the grounds in preparation for the throngs that will soon be visiting the Warwick Valley Winery. It¡¯s a charming stucco building, with a green tin roof and a courtyard, at the end of Little York Village, a road of homes facing flat, open fields of black dirt on one side, rolling orchards on the other. Dr. Joseph Grizzanti, who bought this farm (with his wife, Katherine) back in 1989, started the winery because he needed to do something with all those apples and pears.

 

But it¡¯s his son, Jason, who is emblematic of the new energy in Hudson Valley winemaking. He¡¯s improved the entire range of wines, from the easy-to-drink Black Dirt Blush to Pinot Noir. He studied cider-making in England and France to develop a hard apple cider so spritzy and tart it was ranked one of the world¡¯s best by the New York Times. He¡¯s a pioneer in New York apple- and pear¨Cbased brandies called eaux-de-vie, which captured the attention of Bobby Flay¡¯s Food Nation. And he and co-owner Jeremy Kidde are committed to fun, with live music in the caf¨¦ every weekend, regular festivals, and two full-size bocce courts open to enthusiasts.

 

¡°Our cider is as good as any cider made in the world, and our eaux-de-vie are as good as any eaux-de-vie in the world,¡± boasts Jason. A quick taste backs him up. True, he can¡¯t make the same claim of the wines. But they are clean, well-made, pleasant, and, at $9 to $15, reasonably priced. They¡¯re also within driving distance, giving you a reason to take some of the prettiest back roads in the Valley on a fine summer day.

 

The Valley isn¡¯t the easiest place to grow wine grapes, especially the more delicate European varieties like Chardonnay and Pinot Noir (known collectively as vinifera). John Dyson pioneered Chardonnay in the region back in 1981, when he started Millbrook Vineyards & Winery. He was curious to see if the grapes, grown in Dutchess County soil, could produce quality wine. The answer is yes. Our warm days and cool nights are perfect for the fruit. But there¡¯s a rub: below-zero temperatures in winter, all too common in recent years, can kill off the vines.

 

     So wineries here have to be flexible. Millbrook and Whitecliff Vineyards grow plenty of grapes themselves, emphasizing vinifera types, but supplement their harvests with grapes from the Finger Lakes, Long Island, and (in the case of Millbrook) California. Many local wineries, such as Warwick Valley, buy all of their grapes, so they don¡¯t have the worry and expense of tending a vineyard. Others have settled on cold-tolerant French hybrids like Seyval Blanc, which has some of the elegance of European vinifera varieties (as opposed to the snout-full of grape jelly you get from American grapes like Concord). And everyone is figuring out that there are other ways to have fun with wine ¡ª using all that Hudson Valley fruit, for instance.

 

One of the region¡¯s newest wineries, Glorie Vineyards in Marlboro, makes a dry, refreshing pear wine that took a Gold Medal in the first Hudson Valley Wine Competition last year. Doug Glorie grows the fruit himself (along with French hybrid grapes like Seyval Blanc and de Chaunac) on his 52-acre farm. ¡°People who come to our wineries need to understand that we can¡¯t make a Cabernet Sauvignon like they do in California because our growing season isn¡¯t long enough for the grapes to ripen,¡± he says.

¡°I¡¯m trying to make wine from grapes that will thrive here.¡±

 

Dutchess County¡¯s Clinton Vineyards has found a niche with cassis, an intensely flavored liqueur made with black currants. ¡°We¡¯re the only people in the United States who are making cassis,¡± says Phyllis Feder, who adds that Clinton¡¯s version is the basis for a signature drink at the The View, the revolving restaurant in Manhattan¡¯s New York Marriott Marquis hotel. Clinton is also making a splash with dessert wines like Embrace and Desire, produced in small batches from fruits such as raspberries and blackberries.

 

Just up the road, Richard Lewit opened Alison Wines and Vineyards in a converted dairy barn in 2000. ¡°We¡¯ve been concentrating on Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, but we¡¯ve been branching out to Merlot and Cabernet Franc,¡± says Lewit, who apprenticed at Millbrook Vineyards in the ¡¯90s and spent some time at Ponzi Vineyards in Oregon. And while he loves Pinot Noir, the notoriously difficult, occasionally magnificent grape popularized by the movie Sideways, he also makes a strawberry dessert wine.

 

¡°So many people are afraid of wine,¡± says Lewit. ¡°People who know nothing about it should feel free to come in ¡ª and people who have a deeper background can enjoy our wines as well. You won¡¯t find us with our noses in the air.¡±

 

On the Wine Trail in the Hudson Valley

If you want to visit wineries in the Hudson Valley, you can follow all or part of two organized wine trails: the Shawangunk Wine Trail (www.shawangunkwinetrail.com) in Ulster and Orange counties, and the Dutchess Wine Trail (www.dutchesswinetrail.com). Participating wineries have banded together and created routes and signs to make them easier to locate. They also cooperate on special events (see sidebar). But there are others wineries throughout the Valley that are equally deserving of a visit. Feel free to drop into just one, or make up your own route.

 

The Dutchess Wine Trail

           

Alison Wines and Vineyards 231 Pitcher Lane, Red Hook. 845-758-6335

 

When Greig Farm shut down its dairy barn a few years back, there was a willing replacement for the 57 cows. Richard Lewit, who had apprenticed at Millbrook Vineyards, was ready to start his own winery. He buys his grapes from the Hudson Valley, Long Island, and the Finger Lakes, and while his bread-and-butter wines are Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, he¡¯s added Merlot and Cabernet. Still, he¡¯s no wine snob.

¡°Last summer, we made a strawberry dessert wine that was a huge hit, and we¡¯re getting into making hard cider,¡± says Lewit. His Ros¨¦ ($12) won a Gold Medal in the Hudson Valley Wine Competition.

 

Tastings/tours: $4 for four wines/tours conducted through the old barn, where you can talk to the winemaker

Picnicking/food: Alison can sell you the wine; next door, at Greig Farmstand, you¡¯ll find food and facilities.

Summer hours/Web site: June-July 4, Thurs.-Sun. 11 a.m.-6 p.m.; July 4-Labor Day, 11 a.m.-5 p.m./www.alisonwines.com

 

Clinton Vineyards 450 Schultzville Rd., Clinton Corners. 845-266-5372

 

This is an exceptionally pretty winery, with a house and barns dating back to the 1800s surrounded by perfectly groomed lawns. Owner and winemaker Ben Feder grows Seyval Blanc and specializes in sparkling wines made in the expensive M¨¦thode Champenoise, including Jubilee ($30), Seyval Naturel ($25), and Peach Gala ($25). But they¡¯re getting kudos for their cassis ($35 a half-bottle), a wine made from black currants. Add it to their sparkling wine and you have a wonderful Kir Royale!

 

Clinton Vineyards has also had great success with dessert wines made from fruits like raspberries or blackberries ($23.50 per half-bottle). Probably the sexy-sounding names ¡ª Romance, Embrace, and Desire ¡ª help a little. ¡°People are coming here from all over the place to try these wines,¡± says co-owner Phyllis Feder.

 

Tastings/tours: $7 for a tasting of all wines (including the Kir Royale)/no tours

Picnicking/food: ¡°Customers are invited to bring a lunch, but we don¡¯t have this as an open picnic grounds by any means,¡± says Phyllis Feder.

Summer hours/Web site: Thurs.-Mon. 12-6 p.m./www.clintonvineyards.com

 

Millbrook Vineyards & Winery Wing Shunpike Rd., Millbrook. 845-677-8383

 

This big, white converted barn on a hill was the first vineyard in the Hudson Valley to plant Chardonnay, in 1981, and they still make some of the finest wines in the region. Their Chardonnay Reserve ($17.99) won Best White Wine in the Hudson Valley Wine Competition last year, while the Tocai Friulano ($14.99) came in second overall. ¡°That¡¯s a wine that has developed quite a following and usually sells out quickly,¡± says Marketing Manager Stacy Hudson.

 

Millbrook has 30 acres of vineyards planted with Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Cabernet Franc, and Tocai Friulano. But John Dyson also owns vineyards in California, so you can sample Millbrook¡¯s Grand Reserve Pinot Noir ($21.99), made with grapes from his Vista Verde vineyard, or buy the very high-end wines ($30-$50) from his Williams Selyem Winery. New this year from California is a Pinot Grigio and a Gew¨¹rztraminer (both $14.99 ) from the California vineyards in the Central Coast. Finally, try the excellent Villa Pillo extra-virgin olive oil ($24.99 for 500 ml.) from Dyson¡¯s property in Tuscany.

Tastings/tours: $6 for six wines ($15 for ¡°Reserve¡± tasting of four wines)/frequent and free

 

Picnicking/food: Picnic tables (¡°It¡¯s a beautiful place to come and hang out,¡± says Hudson)/bring your own

Summer hours/Web site: Daily through Labor Day 11 a.m.-6 p.m. (rest of year, 12-5 p.m.)/www.millbrookwine.com

 

 

 

The Shawangunk Wine Trail

 

Adair Vineyards 52 Allhusen Rd., New Paltz (Ulster). 845-255-1377

 

This is as bucolic as it gets ¡ª a perfect, 200-year-old red Dutch barn with grassy lawns, a creek, and vineyards. ¡°We get a lot of repeat picnickers from the city and Bergen County,¡± says Marc-Vincent Stopkie, who makes all the wines. He has 10 acres planted with Cabernet Franc, Mar¨¦chal Foch, Millot, Seyval Blanc, and Vignole, and works with more grapes that he buys from a grower down the road.

 

His wines include Solitary Oak ($12.75), a blend of Seyval and other white grapes; Dutch Barn Red ($14.95), a blend of his own grapes aged in American oak for one year; and Rosalais ($11), a cross between a Ros¨¦ and a Beaujolais that won a Silver Medal in the Hudson Valley Wine Competition. Last year, he made a dessert wine from peaches called Peche ($21.75 for a half-bottle) that will be available later in the season. ¡°This year I plan on making a lot more because it was such a hit,¡± he says.

 

Tastings/tours: Free, except for large groups/no tours

Picnicking/food: A dozen tables in this prettiest of picnic spots/bring your own

Special events: Cajun Jamboree (Aug. 20), with blackened catfish, a crawfish boil, and a band. $35 per person

Summer hours/Web site: Daily 11 a.m-6 p.m./www.adairwine.com

 

Applewood Winery and Vineyard 82 Four Corners Rd., Warwick (Orange). 845-988-9292

 

The Hull family has owned this rolling orchard for more than 50 years ¡ª but now they use their apples to make Stone Fence Hard Cider ($5.95 for a 22 oz. bottle), which took a Gold Medal at the Hudson Valley Wine Competition. Owner Jonathan Hull also stays busy making nearly 25 wines from his own Cabernet Franc and Baco Noir vineyards, New York State grapes, and Hudson Valley fruit.

 

The line ranges from Wawayanda White ($10.50), a crowd-pleasing blend of Cayuga and Riesling, to a Merlot ($16.25). One of the best-selling wines is Blueberry ($12.50), which you have to snap up later in the season. (They¡¯re also adding a blueberry sparkling wine this year.) ¡°When we¡¯re up to our full list, it¡¯s hard for people to come and not find something they like,¡± says Hull.

 

Tasting/tours: $3 for a selection/by appointment and during special events

Picnicking/food: Tables in the courtyard/cheese and fruit platters on weekends

Special events: Lots, including a French Country Lunch (June 11) and ¡°Who Let the Dogs Out?¡± contest and parade (June 26), to benefit the Warwick Humane Society

Summer hours/Web site: Weekends 11 a.m.-5 p.m. in June, plus Fridays starting in July/www.applewoodorchardsandwinery.com

 

Baldwin Vineyards 176 Hardenburgh Rd., Pine Bush (Orange). 845-744-2226

 

In his converted dairy barn, winemaker Jack Baldwin produces about 18 wines (including a Chardonnay and Merlot, both $14) with grapes he buys from the Finger Lakes and Long Island. He also has two acres of his own Seyval Blanc and Vidal vines.

But it¡¯s his fruit wines that are wowing the Valley. Baldwin swept the dessert wine category at the Hudson Valley Wine Competition with his Black Raspberry ($22.50 for a 375 ml. bottle), Strawberry ($16 for a 750 ml.), Cherry ($15), and Blueberry ($12.50).

 

¡°We use 100 percent fresh fruit ¡ª no concentrate, no flavorings, no water,¡± says Pat Baldwin, Jack¡¯s wife. One of her favorite ways to use the black raspberry wine is to marinate sliced peaches in it, then spoon them over ice cream. ¡°It¡¯s a special dessert without any work, which I love.¡±

 

Tastings/tours: Free for most wines; $.50 for specialty wines (which is refunded upon purchase)/no tours

Picnicking/food: Tables/bring your own

Summer hours/Web site: In June, Fri.-Mon. 11:30 a.m.-5 p.m.; July-Oct. daily 11 a.m.-5:30 p.m. Or by appointment/www.baldwinvineyards.com

 

Brimstone Hill Vineyard & Winery 61 Brimstone Hill Rd., Pine Bush (Orange). 845-744-2231

 

Just a mile down the road from Baldwin is Brimstone Hill, set on a sloping piece of land that catches some nice light late in the day. It bills itself as ¡°a place where you can talk to the winemaker,¡± whose name is Dick Eldridge. He won Best Pinot Noir ($15.50) in the Hudson Valley Wine Competition, and makes a very good sparkling wine called Domaine Bourmont ($17), using the expensive M¨¦thode Champenoise. But his most popular, by far, is Cayuga White ($11.25), a semisweet wine made with native New York grapes. It just flies out of the tasting room.

 

Tastings/tours:$2 for table wines; $1 additional for champagne/no tours

Picnicking/food: Table by parking area overlooks vineyards/bring your own

Summer hours/Web site: Daily 11:30 a.m.-5:30 p.m./www.brimstonehillwine.com

Brotherhood Winery 100 Brotherhood Plaza Dr., Washingtonville (Orange). 845-496-9101

 

Brotherhood has been around since 1839, which makes it America¡¯s oldest winery. And it¡¯s a very popular destination: people come by the bus- and carload. They¡¯re attracted by the quaint, village-like atmosphere, as well as Brotherhood¡¯s  shops, art gallery, and restaurant. The signature fieldstone building burned a few years back, but there are still impressive underground cellars.

 

Brotherhood makes 30 wines, and you might be surprised to learn that their Cabernet Sauvignon and Pinot Noir (both $11.99) took Silver Medals in last year¡¯s Hudson Valley Wine Competition, while the Eiswein dessert wine ($24.99) took a Gold.

 

One of the best-sellers is a Holiday Spiced Wine ($6.99), a red wine made with six different grape varieties and 12 spices, traditionally served hot. But why wait until winter? In summer you can drink it cold or cut it with apple juice.

 

Tastings/tours: $2 for six to eight wines (premium wines an extra $2, which is refunded upon purchase)/$5 (includes tasting)

Picnicking/food: Plenty of tables/Caf¨¦ Nostalgia serves light fare (sandwiches and wraps) for lunch and dinner

Special events: International Chili Society cookoff (July 16)

Summer hours/Web site: Daily 11 a.m.-5 p.m./www.brotherhoodwinery.net

 

Demarest Hill Winery 81 Pine Island Tpk., Warwick (Orange). 845-986-4723

 

This fancy ranch house on a hill belongs to Franceso Ciummo, a native Italian, who makes 40 wines with his wife, Orietta. There are 10 acres of vineyards on the property (located just outside the village of Warwick), planted with Mar¨¦chal Foch and Sangiovese grapes. Franceso also brings in grapes from elsewhere in New York. Wines include a Cabernet Sauvignon ($14) and Chardonnay ($11), as well as a Mar¨¦chal Foch ($16) and Sangiovese ($15). And now he has a distillery, where he makes brandy, as well as orancella and lemoncella liqueurs.

 

Tasting/tours: $3 for 10-15 wines/free tours

Picnicking/food: Tables/bring your own

Summer Hours/Web site: Daily 11 a.m.-6 p.m./www.demaresthillwinery.com

 

Rivendell Winery 714 Albany Post Rd., New Paltz (Ulster). 845-255-2494

 

Set on a winding road outside New Paltz, Rivendell is named for the home of the elves in Lord of the Rings ¡ª and with 60 bottles open and ready to taste, it¡¯s a lure for New York wine aficionados. ¡°We only sell from wineries in New York State,¡± says Steve Bohn, wine cellar manager. ¡°You can come to one place and taste wines from up in the Finger Lakes or down on Long Island.¡±

 

 

Rivendell sells 15 of its own wines in a range of prices and styles, some made with grapes it buys. At last year¡¯s Hudson Valley Wine Competition, it won a Gold Medal for its Cabernet Sauvignon ($16.99), Merlot Reserve ($23.99), Soho Cellars Riesling ($12.99), and Northern Lights ($7.99), a white-wine blend of hybrid grapes (including Vidal and Riesling). Even more impressive, the Cabernet Sauvignon won the Gold Medal for Best Overall Red Wine.

 

Tasting/tours: $5 for five one-oz. pours (fee is refunded with purchases of $50 or more)/tours $7 per person (includes tasting) for groups of 15 or more by appointment only

Picnicking/food: Glass-enclosed porch overlooks grounds. Also gliders on the deck and lots of tables outside/Riven-Deli is stocked with NYS artisanal cheeses, smoked-venison sausage, chips and salsa, olives, and crackers.

Special events: Free ¡°Red, White and Blues¡± concert (July 4, 4-6 p.m.)

Summer hours/Web site: Year-round, daily 10 a.m.-6 p.m./www.rivendellwine.com

 

Warwick Valley Winery & Distillery 114 Little York Rd., Warwick (Orange). 845-258-4858

 

Surrounded by picturesque orchards rolling into the distance, this winery is one of the prettiest in the Valley. It¡¯s also the first distillery in New York to make apple and pear eaux-de-vie: clear, French-style brandies ($30 per 375 ml.) that give an overpowering whiff of fresh fruit. ¡°It takes 30 pounds of fruit to make one bottle,¡± says Jason Grizzanti.

Jason also creates a refreshing Doc¡¯s Hard Cider in apple ($4.99 for 22 oz.), raspberry, and pear ($5.99 for 22 oz.). And Warwick makes wines with grapes from the Finger Lakes, including a Chardonnay ($11.99), Riesling ($13.99), Cabernet Franc ($14.99), and two easy-drinking blends called Black Dirt Red and Harvest Moon (both $9.99).

 

Tasting/tours: $3 for six wines (eaux-de-vie $2 extra)/no tours, but you can see the copper German still through a picture window

Picnicking/food: Tables scattered throughout grounds for food from caf¨¦ only/Caf¨¦ offers patio and indoor seating where you can enjoy soups, sandwiches, and baked goods made by CIA-trained Katherine Grizzanti. Bakery open weekends 12-5 p.m.; live music 2-5 p.m.

Special events: ¡°Shakespeare in the Orchard¡± (July 8-10, 15-17, 22-24) by local Illustrious Theatre Company

Summer hours/Web site: Year-round, Mon.-Fri. 12-6 p.m., Sat.-Sun. 11 a.m.-6 p.m./www.wvwinery.com

 

Whitecliff Vineyards 331 McKinstry Rd., Gardiner (Ulster). 845-255-4613

 

One of the Valley¡¯s most ambitious wineries, Whitecliff has spectacular views of the Shawangunk Mountains and 25 acres of vineyards planted with vinifera and hybrid vines. Wines made by owner Michael Migliore range from easy-drinking Awosting White ($9.95) and Ridgeline Red ($11.95) to a new Bordeaux-style blend called Sky Island ($21.95). Their Chardonnay ($13.95) and Merlot ($17.95) both took Silver Medals in last year¡¯s Hudson Valley Wine Competition. There¡¯s also a Wine Club: buy a half or full case of wine (vintner¡¯s choice) in August and February, and get a 15 to 20 percent discount.

 

Tastings/tours: $4 for five wines/$6.50 per person (includes tasting) for groups of six or more by appointment

Picnicking/food: Deck with tables and chairs/bring your own

Special events: Special dinner (June 4) at Cedar Hill Farm pairs Brykill Farm¡¯s grass-fed, organic beef with red wines from Whitecliff. Jennifer Stack, a CIA grad and co-owner of Cedar Hill, will be chef. $85 per person ($75 for Wine Club members); event limited to 50 people. Call Whitecliff for tickets.

Summer hours/Web site: Thurs., Fri., & Sunday 12-5 p.m.; Sat. 11:30 a.m.-6 p.m./www.whitecliffwine.com

 

 

 

More Wineries and Tasting Rooms, by County

 

Dutchess County

 

            Cascade Mountain Winery & Restaurant 835 Cascade Mountain Rd., Amenia. 845-373-9021

 

Cascade Mountain has the most substantial restaurant of any Valley winery, serving up lunch specials like grilled flank steak with Cuban black beans, wilted greens, and fried plantain ($18), or maple-glazed quail on Gorgonzola polenta with cipollini onions ($16). ¡°I like to keep the prices reasonable so there¡¯s something left for them to purchase wine on the way out,¡± laughs General Manager George Cafiero.

 

In summer, the tasting bar is outside on the veranda overlooking the Berkshire Mountains and the vineyards. Owners Bill and Margaret Wetmore have 10 acres planted with French hybrids like Seyval Blanc and Mar¨¦chal Foch. Cascade makes eight wines, including a Vintage Private Reserve White ($14), a blend of Seyval Blanc and Chardonnay aged in oak. Right now, they only serve lunch, but ch

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