By Julia Burke, Beer Editor
Day two of my Hudson Valley adventure was all about wine tasting, but before wine there has to be coffee, and we kicked off the day with a trip to Strongtown Organic Coffee Roasters in Hudson. There I had the best cup of coffee in my life (I’m not kidding) and picked up a pound of Indonesian coffee as well.
We started with Robibero Family Vineyards, the youngest winery on the Shawangunk trail. Robibero doesn't have much in the way of estate wine yet, but the list is a solid lineup made from Finger Lakes and Long Island fruit, and with its stunning view, awesome patio, and live music events, it's a great destination where folks can enjoy good New York wine in a beautiful setting.
From the youngest winery in the Hudson Valley, we headed to Brotherhood Winery, the oldest continually-operating winery in the country. The sense of history in the Hudson Valley is part of its charm and Brotherhood has certainly made a destination of itself as well with a cafe, huge tasting room, outdoor music and picnic tables.
Brotherhood had very nice wines including Saphir Rose, a chardonnay/pinot bubbly with fruit sourced from the Hudson Valley which showed snappy strawberry flavors and nice balance. But my favorite of the wines was the 2008 pinot noir, which the server told me was sourced locally. I tasted it and was struck by the clean cranberry nose and lovely, light, velvety-smooth palate with no discernible oakiness; I thought to myself, "this is how I want MY pinot to turn out."
My guide, David, and I decided to get lunch at the classy winery bistro, and I was thoroughly enjoying a glass of that pinot with a smoked salmon plate when winemaker and owner Cesar Baeza walked by our table to greet David.
David introduced me as being from the Niagara Escarpment, and Baeza chuckled, "Well, you're drinking Niagara Escarpment pinot!" Turns out Brotherhood sourced the grapes for this wine from the now-defunct and recently sold Warm Lake Estate. I nearly fell off my chair.
The chance to try pinot noir from Warm Lake fruit made by a professional winemaker was an amazing “twin study” and I couldn’t pass up a case. I look forward to seeing how this already-delicious pinot develops over the next few years.
Benmarl Winery was our next stop and showed one of the most solid lineups of Hudson Valley wine that I experienced. Highlights included the lovely, limey 2009 seyval and delicious Slate Hill 2009 chardonnay-driven blend, a well-structured DeChauanc and bing-cherry- tastic 2009 frontenac, and the estate baco, which showed velvety blackberry notes and an elegant earthy, green pepper and mineral nose.
Across the board the wines were expressive and balanced.
Our last stop of the day was Stoutridge Vineyard, and it was perhaps the most unique winery experience of the weekend.
Owner and winemaker Steve Osborn is a tour de force, producing unfiltered and sustainably-made wines sourced from Hudson Valley fruit and selling them with conviction and passion in his tasting room.
An entire gravity-flow, no-pump cellar, designed so he can do everything himself, was an impressive sight, but it wouldn’t be if his wines weren’t also tasty.
The seyval showed great acid and hints of melon and honeydew, and the Hudson Heritage (a blend of chard, vidal, Cayuga, seyval and pinot gris) was rich, delicious and juicy. His cabernet franc was also fleshy and meaty with good varietal character.
Why the Hudson Valley? I asked Osborn, a Finger Lakes expat. “I need the ‘eat local’ market,” he explained, citing the New York City area’s restaurants and tourists as a key demographic for his “natural” wines. This key advantage of the Hudson Valley area should prove even more important as quality and consistency continues to improve in the region.
The Hudson Valley has other clear advantages as a wine region: natural beauty, a unique niche with lesser-known varieties, and multiple farms and related businesses producing a wide variety of local products. It’s a one-stop-shop tourist destination and the quality of the wines is already quite impressive. So what is the region’s biggest challenge?
From my brief experience, the spread-out nature of the Hudson Valley area — it took us nearly an hour to get from Hudson-Chatham to the Shawangunk trail—is a major challenge as it’s difficult for visitors to get to all the top wineries without driving at great length. The distance between wineries is also an obstacle to collaboration and collective voice within the region, which was another topic that came up frequently over the weekend.
I’m thrilled to have been introduced to the Hudson Valley and am now firmly invested in following the region as wines and regional identity develop. I hope to make another trip in the fall to experience the beauty of the region during harvest!