I had absolutely no expectations as I drove east on the thruway on my very first trip to the Hudson Valley wine country. David Jackson of Hudson-Chatham Winery and his wife Kathy were kind enough to invite me to their home and show me around, and I could think of no better way to spend one of the first beautiful weekends of summer than exploring a new wine scene.
What was in store was a fascinating, vibrant and diverse region with a young-but-exciting quality wine industry, gorgeous farmland, exciting local beer and spirits, an amazing array of edible bounty, and passionate people who believe in the future of the Hudson Valley.
After a five-hour drive it was beer o’clock, so I began my Hudson Valley experience with a visit to Chatham Brewing.
A tucked-away site literally located in an alley, Chatham’s entrance welcomed me with a hop garden and the sight of locals lining up to fill growlers and kegs. I opted to taste through their full lineup and was solidly impressed. The beers showed great malt presence and balance: the maple amber wasn’t too sweet, the IPAs not too bitter, the porter not too roasty, all with well-integrated and clean flavors and crisp, smooth mouthfeel.
Brewmaster Matt explained that he’s all about Old World styles; it shows in his well-made, elegant brews. My two favorites were the porter and the 8-barrel IPA.
Growlers in hand, I was ready for a day of adventure. My hosts had a full weekend planned; after lunch in Chatham we visited two beautiful farms, Chatham Shepherding and Kinderhook, offering local cheeses, meats and eggs, and even stopped at a distillery before heading to Hudson-Chatham for wine tasting.
I was particularly impressed by Harvest Spirits, a distillery making apple vodka, applejack, pear brandy and some fun experimental stuff including grappa, frozen applejack and — to my delight — eisbock using Chatham Brewing Company’s ESB.
Distiller Derek Grout was extremely friendly and took the time to explain the processes to me; I loved all his products but especially enjoyed the subtle, fresh, clean Core vodka, which was a refreshing change from over-the-top mass produced “apple” vodkas. Vodka and brandy lovers should definitely seek these products out, as they distribute throughout the state.
As diverse as the Hudson Valley is, I came for the wine, and I can honestly say I was unprepared for what I tasted over the weekend. I tasted almost exclusively wines from Hudson Valley-sourced fruit, and overall my first impressions can be summed up in two words: character and balance.
With few exceptions, the wines I tasted were low on manipulation and oak and big on honest, terroir-driven character. My tasting notes are full of words like “brambly,” “tar and earth,” “nice minerality,” and “cherries”; seldom did I experience noticeable “oakiness” or other manipulative characteristics. Fruit and earth were front and center, which was helpful because I was tasting many of these varietals, such as De Chaunac and Chalois, for the first time. Most of the wines I tasted could simply not be made “just anywhere,” and that’s what wine is all about for me.
At Hudson-Chatham I walked with DeVito's winemaker Steve Casscle through the rocky, extremely sloped young vineyards, then tasted through their 2010 barrel samples including Chelois, De Chaunac and Baco.
The wines were meaty with loads of dark fruit, earthy, and delicious, again with a light hand oak-wise. The reds actually reminded me of certain Tuscan wines with their cherry tones and bloody, minerally quality. I also got to try the winery’s new 2009 estate seyval, which is a grape with the fresh acid and clean lime and lemon tones to really be the star white in the Hudson Valley. DeVito and Casscle’s obvious excitement and passion for their upcoming releases is well justified.
In addition to being a down-to-earth, unassuming guy despite his obvious intelligence, Casscles obviously has a talent for coaxing character out of these hybrids. I have no doubt these grapes are going to be the Hudson Valley’s unique selling point as the quality of estate bottlings continues to develop.
For dinner, the DeVitos and Jacksons introduced me to a restaurant called Local 111, which could probably entice most of us on the NYCR team by its name alone. Sure enough, the menu was a drool-worthy page of locavore porn: hedonistic dishes based on seasonal produce, locally-raised meat, Hudson Valley cheese, and best of all, suggested local wine pairings.
Local beer including Chatham Brewing Company was on tap as well.
Hudson-Chatham was on offer on the wine list, and the experience of drinking wine (we opted for the Seyval and Baco) with folks so intimately involved in its production was, as always, unbeatable. I thoroughly enjoyed my pickled ramp salad appetizer with Seyval, entrée of pork chop and pork belly with fritters paired with the Baco, and a Hudson Valley cheese plate with Hudson-Chatham blackberry cassis for dessert (that cassis, by the way, is a revelation — truly one of the most fascinating and bewitching dessert beverages I’ve ever had, with piercing acid, fierce berry flavor, and seamless alcohol. The pairing with the country cheeses was incredible and an exciting marriage of two unique Hudson Valley treats).
Chef Josephine Proul, bubbly, natural and fun, came out to say hi and share her obvious passion. It was a stunning meal and one I won’t forget.
After dinner we headed to the DeVito home where Carlo let me loose on his cellar. Perhaps the most interesting wine of the many we tried was a 1993 Baco — one of the first wines Steve ever made. It reminded me of one of Freedom Run’s single-vineyard pinot noirs: great fruit character, pinot funk and gorgeous acid, and amazingly well-preserved. It was a suggestion that Baco surely has the structure to age in the right conditions.
My second day in the Hudson Valley involved even more wine tasting, and my next post will focus on those experiences. But for me, the highlight of the entire weekend was that evening of enlightening wine talk and fabulous fare with some of the smartest people in the area. Their commitment to watching the Hudson Valley wine industry grow and find its niche in the wine world is inspiring, and the most exciting part of all is the wines themselves.