By Lenn Thompson, Executive Editor
The IT-to-wine career path isn't unique to Paul Deninno, Bashakill Vineyards' owner and winemaker, but his mechanic-to-IT-to-wine journey is a new one for me.
Paul grew up in Mahwah, NJ, and graduated from Bergen Catholic High School, later attending Bergen Tech before spending seven years as an auto and diesel mechanic.
But, after suffering a crane accident on the job, he changed careers -- for the first time -- attending night school for computer science. He then spent the next seven years as an IT manager, during which time in 2001 he moved to Wurtsboro, NY.
As is the case with otech-turned-wine folks, he felt unsatisifed in the tech sector, so he followed a dream and opened first commercial winery in Sullivan County, NY.
And now, our standard set of questions:
What event/bottle/etc made you decide that you wanted to be in the wine industry?
It was a combination of an interest in agriculture, an unsatisfying job, the loss of a parent, and then a trip to Napa that sealed my fate. I was then lucky enough to have already moved to a site that had great soil and a micro-climate suitable for growing grapes.
What (and where) was the first bottle of wine you remember drinking?
At an early age, we had wine with dinner. It was always the same table wine called, “Villa Armando Rustico,” a jug wine for $14 a gallon and had an alcohol of 16%! Back then, I thought it tasted great, but in retrospect I don’t know how we drank so much of it.
It’s pretty funny how your taste can change over the years.
Which of your wines is your favorite and why?
My new favorite is our estate red wine blend called,“Bald Eagle.” It is a blend of a new hybrid grape called Marquette, and a New York hybrid grape called Noiret. It is a 60/40 blend of our organically-grown grapes.
These two varieties really complement each other. In 2009, I made a test batch off of a small crop on the young vines and was blown away by what they produced. This year, I received a full crop with a more favorable growing season. The wine is in the barrels and progressing beautifully. I am really excited for 2010.
For a white wine, I would say our Vignoles, which we call "Osprey." It is a semi-sweet wine with flavors of pineapple and honeysuckle, which is normally found in this particular hybrid.
What has surprised you most about being a member of the Hudson Valley wine community?
I was really surprised to learn about the vast resources we have right here in our own area. I believe one of the Hudson Valley’s most invaluable resource are our own local wineries, especially for those who want to get into the winery business. You would be surprised at how helpful they are and how they can point you in the right direction.
We are also so lucky to have Cornell University so deeply invested in helping expand our wine industry. Cornell really taught me the correct way to produce high-quality wines. I wouldn’t be where I am at if it wasn’t for them.
Other than your own wines, what wine/beer/liquor most often fills your glass?
A few of my favorite red wines are California’s Pride Mountain’s Cabernet Sauvignon, and Quintessa’s
biodynamic blend; I am always looking for new wines from organic vineyards to taste. For white wines,
I recently have been drinking a lot of Damiani’s Sauvignon Blanc from the Finger Lakes. Most Vignoles
from the New York regions provide a great tasting wine.
For beer I think my all time favorite is a Belgium beer, called Westmalle Dubbel, but I also drink a lot
of Magic Hat. I occassioanlly barter with one of my friends, who is an organic home brewer of various
beers. I always like trying different craft beers. New York hosts a lot of great breweries.
Is there a 'classic' wine or wine and food pairing that you just can't make yourself enjoy?
No matter how hard I've tried, I can never appreciate good cheeses except for fresh mozzarella. It sounds strange, but I am probably the only vintner who does not like cheese. As far as wines, I enjoy most of the
classics but there are a few varieties that I don’t favor. Wine is definitely subjective because we all
have different palates, so I won’t speak disfavorably about them.
Wine enjoyment is about more than just the wine itself. Describe the combination of wine, locations, food, company, etc. that would make (or has made) for the ultimate wine-drinking experience.
My ultimate wine-drinking experience is a ritual in the summer, especially at the end of a hot summer day.
We start off with a kayak ride on the Bashakill, accompanied by a chilled glass of Cayuga White. The views on the water are breathtaking, not the mention the wide-array of wildlife right in front of you.
By the end of your glass on the water, you are ready to head in for an outdoor dinner cooked over a wood fire. Depending what we are grilling in our fire pit, I will either open one of our cabernets for beef or lamb or our Lemberger or Gewurz for pork or fish. Another favorite thing is to invite friends over and fire up our brick oven for some homemade pizza and wine. Flavor from cooking with wood cannot be beat!