‘Wining’ Your Way Through the Hudson Valley

Mary Prenon | June 13, 2018

Warwick Valley Winery & Distillery

California’s Napa Valley may be famous for its wines, but New York’s Hudson Valley also has quite the reputation for offering some of the best wines not only in New York, but throughout the country.

One of the most popular destinations in our area is the Shawangunk Wine Trail, an 80-mile long stretch that is home to 13 wineries nestled between the Shawangunk Mountains and the Hudson River in Orange and Ulster counties. They range from large venues to small family operations with diverse offerings, but all are striving to produce world-class wines.

“The wine trail is definitely a tourist destination for the Hudson Valley,” said Jude DeFalco, operations manager of the Shawangunk Wine Trail. “It’s the largest wine trail in our region and because there are so many other things to do here, people visit from all over the country and beyond.”

The trail, which was created about 25 years ago, sees upwards of 100,000 visitors per year. “Our busiest seasons are the summer and fall, when most of our wineries are open daily,” added DeFalco.

Brotherhood winery cellars

Perhaps the most well-known of these is the Brotherhood Winery in Washingtonville, America’s oldest winery. Dating back to 1810, Jean Jaques, a French Huguenot, began planting grapes for wines. By 1837, he expanded into the Village of Washingtonville and planted another vineyard where the winery now stands. Two years later, he completed his first underground cellars, which remain the oldest and largest in the U.S.

“Tours of our underground cellars are very popular,” said Renee Schweizer, Brotherhood’s Commercial Assistant of Marketing & Sales. “They have been there for almost 180 years and we still use them to store over 200 oak barrels.”

For almost 60 years, the Jaques family continued to operate the winery until the Emerson family took over and changed the named to Brotherhood. The 1921 Prohibition ended operations and the winery was sold to Louis Farrell, who sold the wine for religious ceremonies. “The Brotherhood was actually the only winery that was able to operate during Prohibition,” added Schweizer.

After Prohibition was repealed in 1933, the Farrells started offering winery tours and actually helped to initiate the concept of wine tourism. Fast forward to 1987 and the winery was sold again—this time to a prominent Chilean winemaker who converted the Brotherhood into one of New York’s premier destinations.

A 1999 fire nearly devastated the winery, but a huge restoration and renovation program got the Brotherhood back on its feet.

Today the winery contains some of the oldest vintages in the nation and also offers a restaurant, café, and gift shop. “We don’t’ have our own vineyards anymore, but we do use New York grapes from the Finger Lakes region and the North Fork of Long Island.”

Their broad range of wines include Pino Noirs, Cabernets, Merlots, Charonnays, Rieslings and a special Holiday Spiced Wine. Schwiezer said they are best known for their Blue Bottle Riesling. “Rose wines are also making a comeback,” she said. “They’re not as sweet—they’re a bit drier and many people are really enjoying them.”

The winery is open year round and is always chock full of events like the Wine & Beer Festival on July 14 or the Wine & Sangria Pig Roast on August 25.

Another winery on the trail dating back to the mid 1800s is the Stoutridge Vineyard in Marlboro. Built by pioneering Italian immigrants, the farm became part of the historic McCourt Fruit Farm, which spanned more than 80 acres. In 1895, the McCourt family sold a 14-acre parcel to Moses McMullen, who farmed the land before selling it to Vincenzo Marono in 1902.

It was Marono who first converted the barn into a winery and began producing wine commercially. However, its success was short-lived due to Prohibition. It was later sold to Joseph Noto, who converted it to a pig barn, while continuing to farm fruit orchards. The land is still known today as the “old Noto Farm.”

Over the years, the land was bought and sold many times until the farmhouse was burned down by vandals in 1988. In 2001, Stephen Osborn and Kimberly Wagner purchased the property and are the current owners.

More than 100 trees have been planted on the property since 2008 and in keeping with their “green” theme, the winery utilizes solar power to generate electricity for both the production and public areas. Stoutridge Vineyard is open on weekends for tours and tastings.

Over in Highland Mills, the Palaia Vineyards & Winery boasts a tasting room and gift shop inside a 200-year old barn. The venue offers inside and outside eating, live music and summer plays. The farm grows 10 acres of premium grapes, such as Cabernet Franc, Pinot Noir, Seyval Blanc, Sauvignon Blanc and Noire. From May through September, the venue offers a series of festivals and live music.

A Hudson Valley landmark for almost 25 years, the Warwick Valley Winery & Distillery opened its doors for the first time in 1994. Ironically, its first product wasn’t wine but hard cider.

In the beginning, the venue offered only three wines and one cider. Today, Doc’s Draft Hard Cider is one of their best sellers and they produce more than 10 wines. In 2001, they received a grant to develop New York’s first fruit micro-distillery and created a line of fruit brandies and liqueurs, American Fruits.

Jeremy Kidde, one of the winery’s owners for the past 16 years, said one of their top-selling wines is a Black Dirt Red made from French-American hybrid grapes. They also offer a Black Dirt Blush, Chardonnay, Riesling, and Warwick Gin. “The only thing we don’t make is beer,” said Kidde.

Almost every weekend there are free live music performances on the patio or inside at Doc’s Cider House stage. Pane Café’ offers a bistro menu for lunch. Five times a year, the winery hosts weekend-long music festivals on its Orchard Stage.

The winery is open year-round and Kidde estimates they host more than 120,000 people annually. “For me, it’s all about building relationships. We’ve had retail customers coming here for over a decade,” he said. In addition, they distribute their products to local restaurants and bars, and have exported wines and spirits as far away as the United Kingdom and Norway. “It’s all about the satisfaction of producing a product that people really enjoy,” added Kidde.

The newest addition to the Shawangunk Wine Trail is the Robibero Winery, established in 2010. Set on a 42-acre property in New Paltz, the winery includes a tasting room with spacious concrete bar, fireplace, 52-inch flat screen TV, indoor and outdoor seating.

Millbook Vineyards Tasting Room

A family business, Harry and Carole Robibero purchased the property in 2003 as an investment. At the time, there was already a winery operating on the property but when the owners left for a new location in 2007, the Robiberos seized the opportunity to create their own winery.

It was Harry Robibero‘s idea to follow in his grandfather’s footsteps. “I grew up in Yonkers, and it was traditional for many Italian families to make their own wine,” he explained. “It was very crude, but consistent. I had a real interest earlier in life, then lost it, but then rekindled it.”

Today the whole family is involved, with Robibero’s daughter running the day-to-day operations. All of the wines are hand-crafted in small lots to express unique vintages. Some of the most popular are the Cabernet Franc, the 87 North and the Malbec.

Summer events include a Networking Mixer on June 27, Sangria Festival on July 7 and 8, Winestock on August 18 and 19, plus the September 22 and 23 Grape Stomping Event, which Robibero said is their most popular. “Yes, people really do stomp the grapes with their bare feet, but that’s just for show only,” assured Robibero. “We don’t use that grape juice to make any of our wines!”

The Millbrook Vineyards and Winery is not part of the Shawangunk Wine Trail, but is still a popular Hudson Valley destination. From its humble beginnings in 1982, the winery today offers a spacious tasting room, wine bar with fireplace and views of the Catskill Mountains, a café, art loft, deck seating, walking trail and seasonal events.

It was more than 35 years ago when John Dyson purchased the 130-acre Wing Dairy Farm for his first vineyard and wine-making venture. As the legend goes, Dyson’s interest in wine dates back to his days at Cornell’s College of Agriculture after buying wine to impress a date at his fraternity’s party. This led to a lifelong interest in wines and a wine course at Cornell’s hotel school.

Dyson met his wife Kathe in Washington, DC, and together they invested in the conversion of the dairy farm into Millbrook Vineyards and Winery. Their first commercial vintage was produced in 1985.

The Dysons later created Pebble Ridge Vineyards & Wine Estates, a wine group devoted to producing the very finest wines of their particular growing regions. In addition to Millbrook Vineyards & Winery, the group’s other properties include: Vista Verde Vineyards, also known as Pebble Ridge Vineyards, in the North Central Coast of California; Villa Pillo Estate in Tuscany, Italy, and Williams Selyem, a Russian River Valley winery.

“I think what makes our Hudson Valley location unique is how we’re situated in such a beautiful rural area,” said Stacy Hudson, director of marketing. “It’s a perfect setting for relaxing and enjoying a glass of wine, and of course, our wines keep people coming back as well.”

About half of their plantings are for Chardonnay, one of their most popular wines. Top sellers also include their Pino Noir, Cabernet Franc and their specialty, a Tocai Friulano.

Beginning July 7, the winery will kick off a Saturday evening Jazz Series. Other summer events include a Summer Solstice Lobster Bake, Friday Night Food Trucks, and the 28th Annual Harvest Party. The winery has also played host to small weddings, with May, June, September and October the most popular months.

Hudson estimates they see some 20,000 visitors a year. “We’re one of the only wineries in the area that offers a guided tour starting in our vineyards and winding through the entire winemaking process,” she explained. “We get very detailed—adding in how corks and barrels are made.”

Angry Orchard

While not a vineyard, Angry Orchard in Walden is another hot spot for tours, tastings and events. A subsidiary of the Boston Beer Company, the Angry Orchard Cider Co. was launched with a mission to create ciders with the best ingredients and innovative cider styles. Legend has it that the company was named after the trees that produce the best apples, since they always looked “angry.”

The property had operated as a farm since the 1700s, with the first apple trees planted about 10 years ago. In 1936, the Crist family purchased the property, growing both culinary and cider apples.

This year’s hottest new drink is the Angry Orchard Rose hard cider. “I love Rosé wine, but this cider is crisp, refreshing, and unlike any other style we’ve crafted,” explained Ryan Burk, head cider maker at Angry Orchard. “The rare red flesh apples used in our Rosé not only impart complex flavors, but contribute to the cider’s beautiful rosy hue.”

In addition to their bounty of beverages offered, Angry Orchard can also boast a Treehouse Tasting Room designed by Animal Planet’s Tree House Masters. Guests can tour the treehouse as well as the Barrel Room for a behind-the-scenes look at how cider is made. The Cider Garden offers another unique sampling venue, complete with an outdoor fireplace.

This summer Angry Orchard is planning a June 21 Summer Solstice party, June 23 Bluegrass Weekend, as well as Farmers Markets throughout the season.

No matter where you begin your wine journey, DeFalco says the Shawangunk Wine Trail and beyond offers a unique Hudson Valley adventure. They’re also offering a Hudson Valley Wine Tasting Passport, which is valid through August 31, 2018. “For $35, you can go tasting at all 13 wineries for just one price. It’s a $110 value, so that’s a great deal,” he added.

Next year, Angry Orchard will be included in the trail, and perhaps some others as well. “We always have new things happening here, and that’s what makes it so exciting,” DeFalco added.

Mary Prenon
HGAR, Director of Communications