Friday, October 31, 2014

TasteCamp At Hudson Valley: Worthy Wines

The primary objective of TasteCamp is to explore the wines of a region, though the event has evolved to include beers, spirits and food. As such, we had the opportunity to taste numerous wines produced in the Hudson Valley region, during winery visits and grand tastings. At these events, the wineries are usually limited in how many wines they can showcase, so they generally offer us what they believe to be the best of what they produce. We thus see the potential of the region, understanding that not all of the wines in this region will reach the quality of what we taste.

As I mentioned previously, overall, the Hudson Valley wine region is not as developed as that of Long Island or the Finger Lakes. It is still seeking its identity, trying to determine which grapes grow best and expanding their vineyards. Their wine making experience continues to develop and evolve, as each harvest allows them to learn more and more. Despite its lengthy wine making history,it is still a relatively new region in a number of respects. Some very good wines are being produced in the Hudson Valley, and I believe more and more quality wines will be made in the near future

A significant number of wines we tasted were produced from grapes not grown in the Hudson Valley. The grapes were usually sourced from Long Island or the Finger Lakes, and the wines were labeled as "New York State." The harsh winters of the Hudson Valley cause difficulties in growing a number of grapes, and wineries are still learning which grapes will succeed. Some hybrid grapes,which are cold resistant, do well. As for vinifera, the hardy Cabernet Franc also does well in the region, and several of my favorite wines from TasteCamp were made from Cabernet Franc.

I enjoyed some of the wines made from non-Hudson Valley grapes, indicative of the skill of the wine makers, but I generally prefer wines made from grapes of the local region. There is plenty of passion in the Hudson Valley, and a deep thirst to produce excellent wine. It will be fascinating to revisit this region in five years, to see how it has grown and developed, and what changes have occurred.

Our first winery visit was to Millbrook Winery, which is owned by John Dyson, a former State Commissioner of Agriculture who helped to pass the Farm Winery Bill in 1976. In 1979, he initially purchased the estate just to save it as an agricultural property but he later decided to plant grapes, experimenting with about 30-40 varieties. John also owns wineries in California (William Selyem and Vista Verde) and Italy (Villa Pillo).

The Millbrook estate consists of about 130 acres, with about 38 planted with vineyards, and their first vintage was in 1985. Their grapes include Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Cabernet Franc (planted since 1979), Tocai Friiulano (planted since the 1980s), Riesling, Traminette, Gamay and more. They have good drainage with their pea gravel soil and their primary challenge is the weather, as rain moisture can cause fungus and mildew. This year, they are only about 1 to 1.5 weeks behind on their usual harvest time. They had just picked their Tocai Friulano the week before TasteCamp.

They produce 10K-14K cases annually and their top seller is their Chardonnay. In the 1980s and early 1990s, they had Riesling plantings and chose only to make a Dry Riesling. It didn't sell well as customers wanted sweet Rieslings at that time so they removed the Riesling vines. They recently started replanting the Riesling, trying to sell Dry Riesling again, and this time it has done very well. Pinot Noir is tough for them to grow and they rarely have a good year. They also have a problem as deer love to eat the Pinot grapes. On the other hand, Tocai Friulano is very prolific and they usually must cut it back. They are the only grower of Tocai in the Hudson Valley.

Their winemaker, John Graziano (pictured above) has been making wines for Millbrook since the beginning,

They make both estate wines as well as "New York State" wines, with fruit from Long Island and the Finger Lakes. They are trying to build their brand in Connecticut and Massachusetts, though it is not an easy task.

We got to taste four of their estate wines, including three whites and a red. The 2013 Tocai Friulano Proprietors Special Reserve, which sees no oak, was crisp and delicious with pleasant flavors of exotic fruit, like lychee, and herbs. It was one of my favorite white wines of TasteCamp, and I bought a couple bottles to take home. The 2013 Dry Riesling Proprietors Special Reserve was aromatic and dry, with a satisfying blend of melon, citrus and floral notes.  The 2012 Chardonnay Proprietors Special Reserve , which sees no oak, was crisp and clean with flavors of green apple, nutty notes and an underlying minerality. The 2012 Cabernet Franc Proprietors Special Reserve was herbal and spicy, with pleasant black fruit flavors and moderate tannins.

We later drove to the Robibero Family Vineyards for a Grand Tasting of Hudson Valley wines. The Robibero family purchased the 42 acre estate in 2003, and there was already a working winery on the land. In 2007, that winery decided to move, and the Robibero family decided to produce their own wine. They only have a one-acre vineyard on their land, though they are preparing to plant more vineyards soon. Their annual production is about 2000 cases and most of their wines are labeled as  "New York State," though they hope to create estate wines in the future.\

Their 2013 Arctic Riesling uses grapes from the Finger Lakes. "Arctic Riesling" is the name of the clone and create a nontraditional Riesling,and if you taste it, you might find it tough to identify as a Riesling. Aged for 8 months in neutral oak, it is dry and crisp with delicious fruit flavors of pear and pineapple, Though it doesn't use Hudson Valley fruit, it was an interesting wine worthy of note.

The Brimstone Hill Vineyard, which was founded in 1969, currently has 14 acres of vineyards and grows about 20 varieties. Their 2012 Cabernet Franc was impressive, with an alluring aroma and a tasty blend of black fruits and spice, with an earthy accent. It had a lengthy and pleasing finish, well integrated tannins and plenty of complexity.

The Benmarl Winery is located on the site of a vineyard that dates back to the 18th century. In 1957, the Miller family bought the property, renamed it Benmarl, and planted more grapes. In 2006, the Spaccarelli family bought Benmar, replanting abandoned vineyards and refurbishing the winery. Their 2012 Benmarl Cabernet Franc was big and bold, with plenty of spice, a rustic earthiness and ripe plum flavors. Cabernet Franc certainly seems to do very well in the Hudson Valley.

Whitecliff Vineyard is one of the largest estates in the Hudson Valley, with 70 acres of vineyards growing over 20 grape varieties. They try to make more European style wines. The 2008 Cabernet Franc was a compelling wine, with elegance and complexity. Well integrated tannins, an intriguing melange of flavors, and a lingering finish. This wine, as it is six years old, provides a little indication of the potential of aging. This was one of the best wines I tasted all weekend during TasteCamp.

The Victory View Vineyard was established in 2008 and released their first wines in August 2013. The 2012 Lafayette is made from Marechal Foch, and had a delicious taste of spice, blueberry, and ripe cherry with some leather on the finish. A very easy drinking wine, and an excellent example of this hybrid grape.

Brookview Station Winerylocated at Goold Orchards, a 3rd generation farm, was established in 2006. Their 2011 Frontenac is a light and easy drinking wine, with plenty of juicy red fruit and ripe plum, and spicy notes on the finish. Quite tasty.

Some of the most unusual wines at TasteCamp were from Pazdar Winery, and though some attendees may disagree, I think the winery deserves recognition for their creations. They create fruit wines, chocolate wines, sweet wines, hot pepper wines and more. In some ways, they are doing what craft beer producers have been doing for years. Though it might seem easy to dismiss them, you really need to taste some of what they make. These are wines made with natural flavors, from cocoa he grinds himself to habaneros from his garden. They lack any artificial taste, which plagues similar products from other producers.

The Eden's Pleasure is supposed to have been the first commercially produced chocolate wine in the world; It is a blend of white wine and natural flavors, and has an alluring nose of strong cocoa. On the palate, it has a tasty chocolate flavor, with hints of banana, and surprised me with its quality. Frankly, it is the best chocolate wine I think I've ever tasted, and I'm sure it would appeal to many consumers.
The Chocolata Amor is made from red wine, chocolate and spice, and is based on an ancient Aztec recipe. It takes like Mexican Hot chocolate with its spices and hints of red berries. Another interesting chocolate wine. The Hot Sin is a sweet dessert wine with s spicy kick and strong cinnamon notes.

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