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

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

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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 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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Ben Feder

The King of Valley Vines

Not only is the Hudson Valley home to America’s oldest winery (Brotherhood) and vineyard (Benmarl), it is the happy home of the country’s most senior wine-maker, Ben Feder of Clinton Vineyards. It was Feder who pioneered the use of Seyval Blanc in the region, a grape that now largely defines Hudson Valley white wine.

The World War II veteran and successful Manhattan graphic designer bought the rolling Dutchess County property that is now home to Clinton Vineyards in 1969. “I started by having cattle here,” Feder recalls bemusedly. “Everyone who came here started with big Black Angus. It was very interesting.” Indeed. The “boy from the Bronx” found himself the proud owner of a rundown 100-acre dairy farm and a wily, wandering herd of cattle with a taste for fermented apples. As complaints about his bloated, trespassing bovines poured in from the neighbors, Feder focused his agricultural ambitions on wine-making. “As an artist he envisioned a vineyard,” says Phyllis Feder, Ben’s wife of 20 years. “It was far more exciting, the challenge of making wine. The aesthetic of a vineyard was captivating to him.”

So, in 1975 Feder set about planting his vineyard. After some experimenting and consultation with friends like famed Finger Lakes vintner Herman Wiemer, he decided Clinton Vineyards would operate like a French winery, specializing in only one wine, and that would be the French hybrid Seyval Blanc. “French grapes were picked because they were the only grapes that had any chance of getting through the season here,” Feder explains of his choice, referring to Seyval’s ability to thrive in the harsher New York climate. “I did the very best I could, knowing that Seyval was a weak grape in some ways, that it needed a lot of work. But I went about my business in a very judgmental way, in a very serious way, and as a result things moved along.”

In 1978 Feder entered his new wine in several competitions, never anticipating the results. In addition to a number of awards, Feder won the favor of Frank Prial, the famous New York Times wine columnist. “There was a little blurb at the end of an article: ‘In Dutchess County there’s a small winery called Clinton Vineyards, which makes the best white wine in the United States.’ People were all lined up in the driveway that Saturday,” Feder recalls. Having only made about 350 cases, there wasn’t enough wine to meet the initial demand, but it certainly gave Clinton a running start.

Over the years, Feder has added several sparkling wines (made in the traditional méthode champenoise) and fruit dessert wines (including an award-winning Cassis) to Clinton’s repertoire. This past June, to honor his more than 30 years in the business, the Hudson Valley Wine and Grape Association awarded Feder the Hudson Valley Veritas Award for lifetime achievement and visionary leadership in Hudson Valley winemaking. Of the honor, Feder — for all intents and purposes a self-taught vintner — just smiles, a charming indicator of his intuitive genius and humility. “Wine-making is natural. It’s a matter of knowing when to stop the fermentation, when to start the fermentation, to have a good taste in your mouth. That’s it. All this other stuff, the hi-fi, high-tech scientific stuff, is baloney. It’s either good wine or bad wine, there’s no in-between. And you know, good wine can be made from not-so-good grapes, and good grapes, and not-so-bad grapes, it’s hard to say.” Spoken like a true man of the vines — in vino veritas.

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Next: A foot-stompin’ good time



Mashing grapes with feetPhotograph courtesy of Lawrence Roberg/Shutterstock

Stomping Ground

Two people, 60 pounds of grapes, and one turkey baster: It’s grape stomping season at the Brotherhood Winery in Washingtonville.

Most people in America became familiar with the wine-making method of grape-stomping after watching a famous 1950s episode of I Love Lucy, in which Lucy travels to Italy and tries her hand (or should we say feet?) at stomping grapes. Since then, sanitary laws regarding mixing bare feet with beverages have gotten stricter, and wine-making technology has advanced, making grape-stomping an outdated technique.

But Brotherhood — which, at 170 years of age, claims to be America’s oldest winery — has taken the old tradition and made it into a fun, competitive sport. Two-person teams compete against each other in a relay race to see which can be the first to fill a bottle with grape liquid. Each team consists of a “stomper,” who crushes the grapes in a large barrel with his or her bare feet; and a “runner,” who uses a turkey baster (or ladle) to extract the juice and get it into the bottle.

“Most people get a little grossed out when they first start stomping due to the cold, squishy sensation of the grapes,” says Colleen Hughes, Brotherhood’s creative director. “But that changes quickly because of the lively atmosphere — there’s live music, people cheering them on. They just end up having fun.”

There’s no technically correct way to stomp to get a leg up on the competition, but extra points are earned by those teams that show originality in their technique. “You see many people recreate the I Love Lucy moment every weekend,” Hughes said. “They start dancing in the barrel with their pants rolled up; they just start shakin’ it. They get really amped up. It’s good exercise, good fun, and just a great time for all.”

The events are open to all ages and are held weekends in September and October from 12-4 p.m. For more information, call the winery at 845-496-3661 or visit

Next: A match made in wine-Heaven



Wine and foodPhotograph courtesy of Michael Jung/Shutterstock

Match Game

A meal without wine is like a day without sunshine,” proclaimed 19th-century French writer Jean Anthelme Brillat-Savarin. A tad overdramatic, perhaps, but a sentiment any wine lover worth his or her residual sugar would find agreeable. The key to a wine-enhanced meal is to know which varietals pair with which eats. In general, “you don’t want the food overpowering the wine, and you don’t want the wine overpowering the food,” says Bruce Kimball of Millbrook Vineyards and Winery. For more specific advice, check out these recommendations from the region’s top wineheads:

Barbecue: The right wine can complement any type of barbecue grub. Let’s start with the classy stuff: For steak, Wendy Crispell of Benmarl Winery recommends a Cabernet Sauvignon, since “the tannins in the wine cut through the fat in the steak.” (Tannins are plant compounds that give a wine its flavor, texture, and complexity.) Arlington Wine and Liquor’s Bob Brink, meanwhile, suggests a Zinfandel for steak, specifically the $13 Four Vines variety. Match lighter grill fare like quail and rabbit with a light wine such as Pinot Noir, Kimball says. For other picnic fodder: Brink says hot dogs and hamburgers go down easy with a glass or two of peppery Shiraz. He recommends a French Rosé for pasta salad, while Kimball suggests Millbrook’s Hunt Country Red, especially for salad coated in spicy seasoning.

Seafood: Salmon can be paired with a red wine like a California Pinot Noir or a white like Chardonnay, says Brink. The folks at Hudson Wine Merchants recommend a 2007 Olivier Morin Chitry to accompany a lobster dish.

Asian: Follow the old “opposites attract” adage here and you’ll have one happy palate. Match spicy Chinese, Japanese, Indian, and Thai foods with sweet wines such as Riesling or Millbrook’s Tocai Friulano.

Next: Tour our vineyards and wineries



Bernmarl Winery altar roomBernmarl Winery’s altar room

Photograph courtesy of Bernmarl Winery

Vineyards & Wineries

A young boutique-style winery established in 2004, producing just 500 cases a year. Featuring estate-grown Vidal Blanc, Seyval Blanc, and DeChaunac. Open May-Dec., Sat.-Sun.
Sip this: Black Currant Wine, the newest addition to Glorie’s fruit wine family, and the 2009 Hudson Valley Wine Competition Gold Medal Winner.
Marlboro. 845-236-3265
Located on the grounds of Orange County’s oldest working farm, Applewood produces only small-batch, limited-edition wines, available exclusively on-premises. Shops, tours, tastings, weddings. Open Sat.-Sun., April-Sept.
Sip this: Stone Fence Hard Cider, which tied for the Hudson Valley Wine Competition’s 2009 Best in Category.
Warwick. 845-988-9292

This pastoral, 35-acre vineyard produces 15 different wines, including award-winning Chardonnay and Riesling. Home to the Strawberry, Wine, and Chocolate Festival three weekends a year. Open Apr.-June, Fri.-Mon.
Sip this: Baldwin’s internationally acclaimed Strawberry Wine.
Pine Bush. 845-744-2226

Established in 1839, Brotherhood sits on the National Register of Historic Places as America’s oldest continually-operating winery, and boasts the largest underground cellars in the U.S. Tours, tastings. Open daily Apr.-Dec. Weekend events and wine classes, Jan.-March.
Sip this: Their gold medal-winning 2005 Cabernet Sauvignon.
Washingtonville. 845-496-3661

This “green” winery runs on 100 percent solar power and adheres to a ”slow wine” philosophy, foregoing pumps, filters, and fining agents for minimal intervention and gravity-flow production. Specializing in Germanic whites and Northern Italian-style reds. Outdoor patio, distillery. Open year-round, Fri.-Sun. Sip this: The 2007 Hudson Heritage White, a predominately Seyval Blanc blend.
Marlboro. 845-236-7620

Warwick Valley Winery and DistilleryPhotograph courtesy of Warwick Valley Winery & Distillery

The vineyard has grown over 100 European vines since the 18th century. Produces estate-grown Baco Noir. Tours, tastings, shop, hiking trails, picnicking, private parties. Open daily May-Dec.
Sip this: Their 2008 Riesling won HVWC’s ’09 Best in Category and Best White Wine.
Marlboro. 845-236-4265

This 70-acre spread with over 20 acres of vines overlooks the majestic Shawangunk Ridge. Annual production includes a dozen wines from Malbec to Chardonnay. Tasting room overlooks wine-making equipment. Several food pairing events throughout the season. Open Feb.-Dec., Thurs.-Sun.
Sip this: Awosting White, Whitecliff’s top-selling, award-winning signature wine.
Gardiner. 845-255-4613

The Valley’s first fruit distillery since Prohibition, and manufacturer of the popular Doc’s Hard Draft Ciders. Wine tastings, apple and pear picking, bakery/café, country store, weddings, live music every weekend. Open daily year-round. Bakery/café open weekends.
Sip this: American Fruit Strawberry, HVWC’s 2009 Gold Medal Best Dessert wine.
Warwick. 845-258-4858

This trail, on the eastern side of the Hudson, follows 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 the state’s best.

This 10-year-old operation, housed in a 19th-century dairy barn, specializes in dry table wines and sweet fruit dessert wines. Tasting room closed for the 2009 season, though wines still available through retailers and on-line.
Sip this: The three-time award-winning Fraise, a well-balanced strawberry dessert wine for the fruit wine nonbeliever.
Red Hook. 845-758-6335

Adair VineyardsPhotograph courtesy of Adair Vineyards

Open since 1997, Adair boasts 10 acres of vines growing four different grape varietals — Seyval Blanc, Vignoles, Foch, and Millot — producing over 20,000 bottles annually. Open daily June-Oct., the vineyard offers tours, tastings, a shop, and a picnic area.
Sip this: 2008 Peche, Hudson Valley Wine Competition’s 2009 Best in Category and Best in Show.
New Paltz. 845-255-1377

Regarded as “the jewel of Hudson Valley agriculture,” Clinton is run by America’s most senior wine-maker. Specializing in award-winning fruit wines and French-style whites and sparkling wines made in the authentic méthode champenoise. Tours, tastings, gift shop, weddings. Open year-round, Thurs.-Mon. Sip this: Their Cassis dessert wine won a Gold Medal and Best in Class at the Los Angeles International Wine Competition.
Clinton Corners. 845-266-5372

The Valley’s flagship winery is considered one of the best in New York State. A number of varietals are grown over 30 acres, including Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Cabernet Franc, and Tocai Friulano. Special events include art exhibits and Harvest Party (Oct.). Tours, tastings, weddings. Open daily year-round.
Sip this: The 2007 Block 5 East Pinot Noir took the Cornell Cup at this year’s Hudson Valley Wine competition, making it the Best Hudson Valley Wine.
Millbrook. 845-677-8383

Home of the Capital Region’s original apple festival, Goold’s Brookview Station Winery produces six fruit wines including the award-winning semidry Whistle-Stop White apple wine and Oh What a Pear. Tastings. Open Jan.-Aug., Mon-Sat.
Sip this: Pomona, a semisweet apple pear wine named the 2008 Best Hudson River Region Fruit Wine.
Castleton. 518-732-7317

Next: Tour our vineyards and wineries (continued)



Other Wineries

Just shy of five years old, Sullivan County’s first commercial winery has specialized in organic Noiret and Cayuga White grape varietals, recently adding Marquette to its repertoire. The chemical-free vineyard welcomes visitors for tastings, and features live music every Saturday. Open Sat. year-round; Sat.-Sun., May-Sept.
Sip this: Their 2007 Bear Cabernet Franc took a gold medal at the ’09 HVWC.
Wurtsboro. 845-888-5858

This 30-year-old facility just rejoined the Shawangunk Wine Trail. Their eight wines include a sparkling wine made in méthode champenoise, and the award-winning Noiret and Cayuga White. Tours, year-round tasting room, shop. Open May-Oct., Fri.-Mon.
Sip this: Their 2007 Cab Franc won a Gold Medal at this year’s HVWC.
Pine Bush. 845-744-2231

Open since the late 1970s, Cascade produces eight wines, including a Rosé, Vintage Seyval Blanc, and special spice wine. The Wine and Tapas Bar restaurant pairs Cascade wines and local produce. Tours, tastings, shop, art gallery, weddings. Open Sat.-Sun.
Sip this: Vintage Couer De Lion, a smooth Cabernet Sauvignon blend made in the Beaujolais style.
Amenia. 845-373-9021

Wine-maker and owner Francesco Ciummo produces dozens of wines, spirits, and vinegars at his Orange County winery. Specialties include Chardonnay, Cabernet Sauvignon, and fruit wines. Open daily.
Sip this: Warwick Black Pearl Local, “The Prize of [the] Vineyard.”
Warwick. 845-986-4723

Initially founded in 1977 by an old-world Spanish wine-maker, El Paso was reopened in 1998. Featuring 20 blends from Chardonnay and Seyval to Pinot Noir. Shop, free tastings. Open Wed.-Sun.
Sip this: Barn Red, a “true Italian country red.”
Ulster Park. 845-331-8642

Columbia County’s first winery — though still in its early years — has already wowed discerning palates, winning several awards at the HVWC. The boutique winery specializes in small-batch reds and whites made from Long Island, Finger Lakes, and Hudson Valley grapes. Tastings, weddings, local artisanal cheeses and desserts. Open Sat.-Sun.
Sip this: The 2007 Hudson River Red won not only a gold medal, but Best in Category (Red Hybrid) at the HVWC (having already sold out once this summer, a fresh batch should be available this month).
Ghent. 518-392-9463

Benmarl WineryPhotograph courtesy of Benmarl Winery

The seven wines bottled at this Ulster County winery are made exclusively from estate-grown grapes. Specializing in French-American blends like Seyval Blanc, Chancellor, and Dechaunac. Restaurant open weekends, serving prix-fixe Northern Italian dinner paired with wines. Weekend tastings, shop, live music, weddings. Open Apr.-Dec., Sat.-Sun.
Sip this: Mirtillo, an unusual blend of Seyval Blanc and cranberry juice.
Wallkill. 845-895-2767

This small Dutchess County vineyard produces only estate-grown, organic Pinot Noir. Premium Tour and Tasting by appointment.
Sip this: Their silver medal-winning 2007 Pinot Noir.
Millbrook. 845-677-9522

One of the largest kosher vineyards in the country; owned by Royal Wines, the largest producer, importer, and distributor of kosher wines in the U.S. Tours, tastings. Open Sun.-Thurs.
Sip this: Their custardy Castel White, which has been featured in Wine Spectator magazine.
Marlboro. 845-236-3651

This tiny Orange County operation grows five varietals — Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay, Traminette, and Gewurztraminer — and produces over 500 gallons from other New York varietals. Tastings, tours. Open Thurs.-Sun.
Sip this: Their 2007 Cabernet Franc won bronze medals at the 2008 New York State Fair and 2008 NY Wine and Food Classic.
Monroe. 845-783-8660

The Northeast’s highest elevation vineyard and winery specializes in white and dessert wines including Chardonnay, Frontenac Gris, and a coveted Ice Wine. Tastings, grape picking on weekends; wine getaway packages. Open year-round.
Sip this: New York does love a good Riesling — their 2008 took home a gold medal from the HVWC.
Windham. 518-734-5214

Next: Grab your best glass and fill ’er up at any of this year’s wine events



Brookview ApplesPhotograph courtesy of Goold Orchards/Karen Gardy

2009 Wine Events

Aug. 1-2
Bounty of the Hudson
This year’s Bounty of the Hudson Wine Festival will be held at Millbrook Winery. Come sample the best vintages the Valley has to offer, along with food and produce from local restaurants and vendors, live music, and cooking workshops. Tickets available at or call 888-241-0769.

Aug. 22-23
Whitecliff Vineyard’s Red Wine and Grass-fed Beef
A local event through and through: Enjoy tasting samples of London broil from Gardiner-raised cattle and local veggies paired with Whitecliff’s red wines. For tickets, call 845-255-4613.

Sept. 5-6 & Oct. 10-11
Baldwin Vineyard’s Strawberry, Chocolate, and Wine Festival
Join the makers of the Valley’s favorite Strawberry Wine for a delicious dessert and wine-tasting event. Sample a number of Baldwin’s wines paired with dessert favorites like strawberry shortcake and chocolate-dipped strawberries. The Labor Day weekend event features the debut of the new Cherry Wine, while Columbus Day weekend spotlights the newest Merlot and Brut Champagne. No reservations necessary. For more information, visit

Sept. 26
Whitecliff Vineyard’s Veggies and Vino
This exciting first-time pairing event features vegetarian and vegan cuisine made from all-local and seasonal produce. “There is very little done to highlight what wines do well with vegetarian dishes,” says Whitecliff co-owner Nancy Migliore. Local vegetarian cookbook author Nava Atlas will be in attendance, and the evening includes music from the Bernstein Bard Trio. For tickets, call 845-255-4613.

Oct. 10
Millbrook Vineyard’s 19th Annual Harvest Party
This year, the popular Valley vineyard’s annual tasting event features food from three of Drew Nieporent’s Myriad Restaurant Group eateries. The James Beard Award-winning restaurateur’s famous New York City establishments include Nobu and TriBeCa Grill. For tickets, visit

Dec. 5-6, 12-13, 19-20
Shawangunk Wine Trail’s Wreath Fineries at the Wineries
This annual holiday event lures participants from one winery to the next collecting ornaments for their grapevine wreath as they sample holiday food and wines. For more information or to purchase tickets, visit

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