The Days of Wine and…Fungus?
From insects to deer to freezing cold nights, making wine in the Valley is no easy feat. Thankfully, these hardy souls persevere
with a lot of ingenuity… and a little luck
By Christopher Rowley
It’s one of summer’s signature pleasures: exploring the wine trails of the Hudson Valley. What’s more fun than cruising the region’s back roads, locating a winery, and realizing that in just moments you’ll be inside the tasting room. There — among the corkscrews, aprons, books, and colorful prints — is the real reason for this pilgrimage: rows and rows of shiny wine bottles, each with a spanking fresh label. After a sip or two at the counter and some chat about the nose (aroma to you and me), the legs (streaky lines that form on the glass when the wine is swirled), the structure and the price, we buy a few bottles. We don’t actually drink them, of course. Instead, we save them for a dinner party or next Thanksgiving, so we can tell our friends what fun it was (and what a great deal we got) when we drove out to the country and scored a case or two of Chardonnay and Cabernet Franc directly from the winemakers. It’s our own little Napa on the Hudson.
The ever-expanding number of wineries throughout the region continues to attract more attention — and win more awards — each year. But how often do we spare a thought for what actually goes into making wine? Think, for example, about the vineyard proprietor, sitting up late on a bitterly cold January night. The Weather Channel is on TV, with those doom-laden bands of bright color streaking right across our area of the map. Perhaps he, or she, is sipping some Scotch (or chewing off fingernails, one by one). “The cold is our number-one problem,” says Michael Migliore, owner of the 25-acre Whitecliff Vineyard near New Paltz. Although the winter of 2006-07 was a mild one, “the past few years have been really tough,” he says. “We have a cold site, and have lost tons of production every winter.”
The damage done by chilly temperatures is called winter-kill. A game of degrees, it’s done in plenty of eager, would-be winemakers. At 4Â° below zero, the buds for next summer’s Merlot die. At 6Â° below, the Pinot Noir buds freeze. At 8Â° below, the Chardonnay is gone. At 9Â° or 10Â° below zero, even the hardiest vinifera — the Riesling and Cabernet Franc — develop telltale brown spots in the center of their buds, indicating that no grapes will grow on those vines.
How bad can winter-kill be? Just ask Stephen Osborn at Stoutridge Vineyard in Marlboro, the new kid on the Hudson Valley wine scene. “We planted 2,000 Sangiovese vines in 2003,” he recalls. Then came that particularly brutal winter, with seven straight days of temperatures below zero Fahrenheit. “Young vines are particularly vulnerable to cold. Every subzero night we lost more of them. In the end, maybe 100 of those Sangiovese survived. It was devastating.” But Osborn has learned how to cope. “I don’t go in the vineyard at all in winter,” he admits, “because you can actually hear grapevines pop… and I don’t like to hear that. At that point, there is nothing that can be done.”
Compounding the problem at Whitecliff, says Migliore, is that “our vineyard is flat and we don’t have good air drainage on those cold nights.” Air drainage? It’s a phrase you hear again and again when talking with local vineyard managers; basically, it refers to the ability of cold air to flow downwards and away from the precious vines, rather than just settling in place on top of them. Benmarl Winery, perched on the edge of the high ground overlooking the Hudson River in Marlboro, enjoys great air drainage — the frigid air sinks right down towards the river. But according to winemaker Kristop Brown, there are other advantages. “Our site is a little exposed here, but that works well, because there’s a constant breeze. Even on those cold, still winter nights, we get a bit of wind up here that moves the air around. Combined with the good air drainage we get, that protects our vines from the worst.”
Of course, the midwinter chill is only one threat. From Millbrook on the eastern side to the Shawangunks on the west, growers across the Valley face a shifting palette of problems. For John Graziano, the winemaker at Millbrook Vineyards and Winery, the biggest difficulty is of the four-legged variety. “The deer, no question about it,” he says. “Deer are eating machines. They can do incredible damage, and once they smell sugar in the grapes it’s a battle to stop them.” The solution? Extensive fencing (and — inevitably — hunters, who help to keep the numbers down). But deer rarely plague the folks at Benmarl. “Probably because here in Marlboro, we’re in the middle of a major fruit-growing area,” speculates Brown. “So the deer have a lot of choices and fallen fruit to eat before they turn to us.”
Up the road at Stoutridge, the deer show an interesting set of preferences, says Osborn. “In our first year, we planted Riesling, and those vines were very attractive to the deer. The only way we could stop them was by putting up a seven-foot-high electrified fence — and they would still press against it! Over time, as those vines matured, they’ve lost interest. However, the really interesting thing is that the deer have never shown the slightest interest in our Sangiovese vines. I see them walking through that vineyard all the time, and they don’t eat anything.”
Then there are the insects. Benmarl has to fend off the infamous grape berry moth. It’s the moth larvae that do the damage, eating the flower buds that would have gone on to become grapes. At Millbrook, they wage war against the leaf hopper; at Stoutridge, it’s the Japanese beetle. “They’re a huge problem,” says Osborn. “If we didn’t battle them, they’d destroy the vineyard.” Birds offer some relief, as they regularly munch on insects — although they too like to dine on grapes. While some growers put up netting, Graziano prefers a propane cannon and bird distress calls “to keep the birds moving. So far that’s been enough to prevent any heavy damage.”
Next obstacle? Disease. “This is the fungal capital of North America,” says Migliore, noting that our humid summers promote four dangerous fungal diseases: powdery mildew, downy mildew, black rot, and botrytis bunch rot. The worst is black rot, which sounds horribly medieval and is completely deadly to grapevines. Infected leaves form brown patches surrounded by a black fringe, which grows until the leaves die. The grapes turn into shrivelled “mummies,” which must be collected before they drop onto the soil and infect the rest of the vineyard. Not far behind black rot on the things-wine-growers-dread list is botrytis cinerea (known as grey mold or botrytis bunch rot). This fungus attacks a number of plant species. In the vineyard, the affected grapes turn brown, become shrouded in grey mold, and are completely useless for making wine. Yet, in one instance, bunch rot can actually be desirable. “If you’re making a late harvest wine like Sauternes, then you want botrytis at the end of the growing season,” says Osborn, “but it’s a nightmare in any other situation.”
The mildews can be controlled (more or less), but the black rot and botrytis are harder to suppress. The answer is spraying. “There’s no way to grow grapes in this part of the world without spraying against these fungi,” says Migliore. He has recently invested in a special vineyard-friendly tractor with a closed cab. “Finally, I don’t have to worry about spraying myself,” he laughs. “It’s Murphy’s Law. You try to spray so that the wind carries it onto the vines. But as soon as you start, the wind changes and blows the stuff over you!”
This year, however, Migliore has been out cutting into buds here and there across his vineyard with something akin to joy in his heart. “They’re green all the way through. It’s a great feeling. You breathe this huge sigh of relief. And then,” he smiles, “you go have a nip of grappa to celebrate!” /
Welcome to the newest Valley Vineyard
Fruit-infused vodka? Gravity-free wine production?
This summer there’s a new stop on Ulster County’s Shawangunk Wine Trail. Marlboro’s Stoutridge Vineyard celebrates the release of their first wines (one white, one red, one rose), which will be available for tasting and sale. Proprieters Stephen Osborn and his wife, Kimberly Wagner, look forward to welcoming visitors to their lush new winery complex. Stop by one of the tasting rooms, with “enough space to hold two or three busloads,” says Osborn; gaze at the surrounding scenery from the vast rooftop patio; or visit the barrel room, where special dinners catered by local restaurants are slated to be held. And you simply can’t leave without admiring the three giant, gleaming pots which later this season will be put to use producing fruit-flavored vodka.
Osborn and Wagner have been hard at work behind the scenes at Stoutridge for several years. They built their winery on the site of a historic farmstead where a commercial winery existed from 1880 to 1920. After purchasing the property in 2001, the couple set out to restore an old farmhouse and return grapes to the fertile soil once again. Osborn, who has been involved in many facets of the wine industry (“making wine, the wholesale end of things, retail in Boston and New York”) since he was 19 years old, knows the process takes time. “You have to be patient. It is not really a fast-return business. You have these timelines, but nature doesn’t always behave,” he says.
The pair plan eventually to produce up to 15,000 cases a year of German-style whites and light reds from the Italian Sangiovese varietal. Osborn is “especially fond of the white. That’s because it is going to be a Hudson Heritage White.” A group of local winemakers, Osborn explains, are joining forces to make regional wines; these vintages will have restrictions regarding which grapes are included and the way in which the wine is made. “That’s what the French do. They name their wines after regions instead of after a particular grape,” Osborn notes. The major grape for the Hudson Heritage White will be Seyval. “So if somebody goes to a store and picks a Hudson Heritage, it doesn’t matter which winery they get it from, the basic formula is the same,” Osborn continues. “Each winery can add little bits of other things, if they want to leave their own mark. But the Hudson character is pretty much agreed to be this Seyval Blanc wine, which is very reminiscent of the white wines which come from the maritime regions of France. So you get these nice, light, dry, crisp wines which are excellent with seafood.”
Osborn is doing his part to produce top-quality wines. He uses an innovative technique called gravity-flow winemaking. Wine quality can suffer from the use of modern winemaking materials and machinery. One way to minimize such damage: don’t pump the wine. “We’re built into a hillside, and we have enough vertical distance that I can make wine without pumping. This is very popular in small wineries in
And while the wine is a long-term project — “This is a young region. It’s going to take many, many years to figure out which are the best grapes to grow,” says Osborn — this entrepreneur is looking forward to a little immediate gratification from his distillery. “I know I can produce world-class spirits this summer. I have a wonderful variety of top-quality fruit in Marlboro,” says Osborn, who plans to make peach, apple, pear, cherry, and plum-infused vodka using only local fruit. Also on tap are some brandies and a whiskey-style bourbon made from New Paltz corn. Osborn says the timing couldn’t have been better for his distilling plans. In 2002,
Winery visitors can view the distillery from the observation room. Call ahead to book a tour of the entire facility, including a special tasting with the winemaker (for a fee). Barrel-room dinners are scheduled to begin soon.
— Christopher Rowley /
Marlboro. 845-236-1112; www.stoutridge.com
Mix â€˜n Match
Teaching patrons to pair foods with wine is all in a day’s work
at Beacon’s Artisan Wine Shop
Tim Buzinski and Mei Ying So first experienced the wonders of wine while studying at the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park. Since graduating in 1997, the married couple dabbled in various culinary adventures before opening the Artisan Wine Shop in Beacon last year. There, in a beautifully restored brick building on the west end of
, the duo lure would-be wine lovers with weekly tastings. But it’s not just wine that’s on the menu. In the custom-made, open-air kitchen in the back of the shop, Tim and Mei Ying rustle up favorite recipes that complement the wines of the day. One evening it was smoked paprika mac ’n cheese with hardy, rustic reds. On another night, Yucatan braised pork was served alongside a sampling of South American vintages. These days, a steady stream of oenophiles stop by for a sip, a chat, and their weekly wine education. (The June 9 event features foods and wine from France.)
“When people come to taste, they often have preconceived notions, like â€˜I don’t drink white wine’ or â€˜I don’t drink rosÃ©,’ ” says Buzinksi, who notes that the shop specializes in lesser-known, smaller-production wines. “Well, maybe you should try something else. You may be surprised. People now seem open to us suggesting a wine for a special occasion.”
As for Hudson Valley wines, Buzinski says, “It is a burgeoning wine region. Right now, it is at the point where places in France were centuries ago, so we have a good thing going in that sense. Our food culture is developing at the same time that our wine culture is developing.” And while the pair believe that many wines can be enjoyed with a variety of different foods, “we think you should drink what you want,” says Mei Ying. That said, they do offer up the following suggestions for your summertime dining pleasure. — Jennifer Leba /
Artisan Wine Shop
Beacon. 845-440-6923; www.artisanwineshop.com
To a Farm Near You
Why should Dutchess County have all the fun on the Eastern side of the river? Well, no more — here comes Columbia County’s first winery.
The 14-acre Hudson-Chatham Winery, located in Ghent, is scheduled to open at the end of the month. It will specialize in small, handmade batches of all different types of wine, from a signature full-bodied Merlot to blended ports and fruit wines. The winery will also offer a collection of cheeses and desserts with a decidedly Hudson Valley bent — they all come from local producers. Husband-and-wife owners Carlo and Dominique DeVito, both publishing professionals who have long shared a passion for vino, were inspired by the beauty of the property. “For generations, our property was part of the historic Brisklea Farm Ayrshire Dairy,” says Dominique. “The farm produced maple syrup every spring out of the barn, and we will also be producing several small batches of syrup by a local sugar maker this year.” The winery’s grand opening is scheduled for the weekend of June 29th. — Laura Calhoon /
Ghent. 518-392-2598; www.hudson-chathamwinery.com
The Hudson Valley is the oldest winemaking and grape-growing region in the United States. It was around 1677 when the French Huguenots planted the first vines in what is now New Paltz — 100 years before any vines took root in California. Jacques Brothers Winery, the first commercial vineyard in the region, opened in 1837 and produced altar wines. Renamed Brotherhood in 1885, the Washingtonville, Orange County landmark is the nation’s oldest continuously operating winery. (Oldest vineyard honors go to Benmarl Winery, which was established in 1772.) But it wasn’t until 1976, when the Farm Winery Bill — which lowered vineyard operating fees — was passed, that the number of local wineries began to sprout. Today, almost 20 vineyards dot the Valley, and many believe the time has come for our regional winemakers to step into the limelight.
Here’s a list of Valley wineries. Pick a particular one to visit (all are open to the public), or follow one of the wine trails.
Shawagunk Wine Trail
This well-trodden trail — which stretches from New Paltz south to Warwick — is composed of 10 family-owned wineries. Here, you’ll find sparkling wines, vinifera and French/American varietals and blends, and a nice selection of fruit wines. Many of these winemakers have won national recognition. The group hosts four major events a year: the Pasta Prima Vino (April), Around the World in 80 Miles (June; see details at right), the Bounty of the Hudson (July), and Wreath Fineries @ 10 Wineries (December). Many of the wineries hold their own special events as well, including a lobster fest, jazz concerts, and strawberry festivals.
Around the world in 80 miles
Last year more than 600 people attended this annual event. Each winery along the trail represents a different country — be it Poland, Italy, Argentina, Spain, Morocco, Korea, Germany, Mexico, France, even Sweden. Armed with your “passport,” travel the wide wine world and discover the best food of each “country” paired with delicious regional wines. Passports come with visas for each “country” (good for the entire weekend) and a souvenir Wine Trail etched wine glass. $25 in advance, $30 at the door (if available). Visit www.shawangunkwinetrail.com for more information.
New Paltz. 845-255-1377; www.adairwine.com
100% of wines are estate-produced and bottled. Red and white wines, dry to sweet. Tours, tastings, shop, picnic area. Juneâ€“Oct.: daily; Nov.â€“Dec. 19: Fri.-Sun.
APPLEWOOD WINERY & VINEYARD
Warwick. 845-988-9292; www.applewoodorchardsandwinery.com
Each wine is produced in a limited edition. Reds and whites, hard apple cider, McIntosh apple wine, dessert apple wine, Cabernet Franc, Chardonnay. Shop. Tours Sat. 11 a.m. by appt. only. Apr.-Sept., Nov.-Dec.: Sat.-Sun. Sept.-Oct.: Fri.-Sun. Closed Jan.-March.
Pine Bush. 845-744-2226; www.baldwinvineyards.com
Chardonnay, Riesling, black raspberry wine, Merlot, dessert wine, fruit wines. Tastings. Jan.â€“Mar.: Sat.-Sun.; Apr.â€“June, Nov.â€“Dec.: Fri.-Mon. July-Oct.: daily.
BENMARL WINERY AT
SLATE HILL VINEYARDS
Marlboro. 845-236-4265; www.benmarl.com
The vineyard has grown 100+ European vines since the 18th century. Produces estate-grown Baco Noir.
Established in 1839. America’s oldest continually operating winery, on the National Register of Historic Places. Open daily Apr.-Dec. for tours of the largest underground cellars in the U.S. and tastings of Pinot Noir, Riesling, and NYS Champagnes. Jan.-March: Weekend events and wine classes.
GLORIE FARM WINERY
Marlboro. 845-236-3265; www.gloriewine.com
A boutique-style winery featuring Seyval Blanc, Chardonnay, and DeChaunac; other wines including pear, apple, and Red Monkey. Wonderful view. Open weekends from Memorial Day weekend through Dec. 24.
New Paltz. 845-255-2494; www.rivendellwine.com
Featuring 15 different noted wines including Merlot, Chardonnay, Reisling, and dessert wines. Tasting room, shop open year-round.
(See sidebar on page 49)
Marlboro. 845-236-7620; www.stoutridge.com
WHITECLIFF VINEYARD & WINERY
Gardiner. 845-255-4613; www.whitecliffwine.com
Chardonnay, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Awosting White. Tasting room overlooks winemaking equipment. Outside deck with unsurpassed views of Shawangunks. Apr.-May, Nov.-Dec.: weekends only. June-Oct.: Thurs.-Mon.
WARWICK VALLEY WINERY & DISTILLERY
Warwick. 845-258-4858; www.wvwinery.com
The Valley’s first fruit distillery. Hard apple, rasberry cider; fruit wines, and more. Wine tastings. Apples, pears; country store. Live music every weekend. Open daily. Bakery/cafÃ© open weekends.
Dutchess Wine Trail
Okay, it’s more like a kangaroo hop, but this trail yields three all-star wineries. Try Alison Vineyards’ award-winning Pinot Noir; Clinton Vineyards’ Seyval Blanc and fruit dessert wines; or the classic French varietals of Millbrook Vineyards, consistently rated among New York State’s best.