I can remember what must have been among my first experiences with New York State wines, colored as my impression might be. It must have 1969 or 1970 and we had parked our VW camper in an old barn in Red Hook, New York. My family went to spend the afternoon with a couple of other local families, probably drinking and eating too much. All I can remember is the corn and the wine.
I remember the corn because it was particularly fine and the wine, well let’s just say that I still remember the wine and I was five when I tasted it. The memory of that wine stuck with me, not only because of its attributes but also because my father and his friends, all native Italians, were mightily animated by that wine.
Photo courtesy Wikimedia Commons/Ben Ramirez
I have no idea what the wine was, it was poured out of gallon jugs and seemed undrinkable until you had quite a bit of it. It was marked by the classic foxy aromas of hybrid grapes and decidedly off-dry if not obviously sweet. It was New York’s red wine of three or more decades ago. My how far we’ve come!
Today’s New York State wine industry stretches beyond the Hudson Valley, but that’s exactly what we’ll be discussing tomorrow, live from the Millbrook Winery just about 20 miles from those old barns in Red Hook.
I’ll be joined by Carlo Devito, author, emissary, winery owner and president of HudsonValleyWineCountry.org, for an hour of discovery and exploration as we talk about the history of the Hudson Valley and how it has transformed itself from a long established vinous backwater to a compelling source of attractive wines that are really carving out a niche for themselves.
One of the most fascinating things about New York’s wine scene is how clearly defined the regions strive to become. The Finger Lakes region is mostly about Riesling, for example. It could be argued that it is all about Riesling, but there are a few interesting red wines like Lemberger and Cabernet Franc making some noise there as well.
Long Island on the other hand tried to become known for Chardonnay and pricey Merlot, with Cabernet Franc and whole host of other varieties now vying for peoples attention. One of the sad economic facts about Long Island’s wine industry is that land costs are very high so producers tend to think that they need to make rather premium wines. I haven’t been terribly impressed with most of Long Island’s premium wines.
Their Rosés and Sauvignon Blancs are consistent winners. A little less ego, fewer expensive Merlots, and a bit more responsiveness to what Mother Nature is providing might go a long way towards improving Long Island’s image.
Clearly there are some terrific winemakers doing great work, it’s just that the region’s identity in the marketplace tends to lag reality, so it’s still looked at as the home of over-priced Merlot and oaky Chardonnay!
And that brings us to the Hudson Valley. Just some 90 minutes or so north of Manhattan, you would think that the Hudson Valley, with its centuries-long wine making history, would be booming with a natural market so close. Sadly, it has suffered through decades of neglect, lack of direction and investment. I really am at a loss when I think of the natural benefits the Hudson Valley has and why it has taken so long to make full use of them, but things have really begun to turn around.
Gone to a large extent are the most problematic and often the most prolific grapes, replaced by Vitis Vinifera that many said could never grow in the Hudson Valley. While we can get into the specific details of viticultural progress tomorrow with Carlo, it has been an amazing and fairly rapid transformation.
The region essentially started from zero with these European varieties just about two decades ago. With a clean slate, low initial investment cost and a loose knit group of collaborative producers on hand, the region began to forge its own identity and a funny thing happened along the way.
Mother Nature stepped in and gave the Hudson Valley producers fruit with a rather specific profile. Soft, fruity but not jammy, well balanced and not terrifically structured, it was fairly obvious what had to be done. A profile began to emerge for the Hudson Valley’s wines: soft, approachable, simple yet satisfying.
That brings us to where we are today. I find it rather refreshing that an entire region has sort of placed its bets not on trophy wines or wine designed to make a statement, but on wines that are soft and drinkable! Wines for wine drinkers, not wine collectors. There are still many miles to be traveled before the Hudson Valley is really on top of its game, but some of the wines are remarkably delicious today. Producers are emerging who redefine what the Hudson Valley can produce, Tousey anybody? Of course the wines, even those offbeat hybrids, are finding their rhythm as well, the Hudson-Catham Old Vine Baco Noir is a terrific table wine.
If you’ve never tried a wine from New York State, give one a whirl. If you have tried them and still have memories like my earliest recollections of that sweet, foxy mess of a wine, think again. New York State wines are ready to compete with the world’s best and you’ll only be missing out if you don’t try them! Yeah, I’m a native New Yorker.
Don’t forget to join us tomorrow and bring any bottle of Hudson Valley wine that you can find! We'll be taking live questions about the Hudson Valley and the wines produced there. Join the party tomorrow, Wednesday March 21 at 8 p.m. We'll be waiting!