Salud! Uncorking New York's Wine Country

The definitive tour of the very best nearby vineyards.



Uncorking New York’s Wine Country

 

Think you need to travel to California or France to enjoy a wine tour? Think again. New York is home to three distinct wine regions with varietals and vintages that can stand up to some of the best the world has to offer. What are you waiting for?

 

By Peter Bronski

 

Among the finer things in life, I’d have to rank wine near the top of my list. The tannins and complexity of a fine red; the acidity and fruitiness of a white fermented in stainless steel; the pleasure of a Spanish cava or French Champagne on special occasions—or any occasion frankly. Because of these and many other traits, I’ve never been very good at storing wine long-term. My wine rack is more a queue, holding wines I fully plan to enjoy in the foreseeable, if not immediate, future.

 

Some might call it a weakness; my lack of willpower to resist the temptation to drink now, rather than allow the bottles to age. But truth be told, more winemakers than ever are designing their wines for short-term consumption, rather than long-term aging. The focus is on enjoying wine, not on storing wine. “We thought of wine as something as healthy and normal as food and also a great giver of happiness and well-being and delight,” wrote Ernest Hemingway in A Moveable Feast. Amen to that.

 

And what better way to enjoy wine than by going to the source? To visit the vineyard, to sidle up to the bar in the tasting room, to sip a flight of wines and chat with the grower or vintner about his or her grapes. What’s a Westchesterite to do? Book the next flight to France or California? Hardly. Our own backyard—New York State—is home to three distinct wine regions with varietals and vintages that can stand up to the best the world has to offer. They’re there, awaiting discovery. Wait no longer! Here are three Empire State wine tours to titillate your taste buds and satisfy the wine lover in you.

 

For History Buffs

THE HUDSON VALLEY

 

The Hudson Valley has been called the birthplace of American viticulture.  The first grapes were planted by French Huguenots near New Paltz during the 17th century, and Benmarl Vineyard, in Marlboro, is America’s oldest. Westchester, for its part, is credited with being home to the nation’s earliest commercially successful vineyard, planted on Croton Point in 1827.  The county’s last commercial vineyard, North Salem Vineyard, closed last year, but Hudson Valley wines are still going strong.

 

The Wineries: Start off east of the Hudson and close to home by heading north on the Dutchess Wine Trail, charting a course for Millbrook Vineyards & Winery (www.millbrookwine.com). There, 30 acres of vines grace a hillside with commanding views of the Catskill Mountains, which you can admire from the picture windows in the renovated dairy-barn tasting room. In 2005, Millbrook celebrated its 20th vintage, specializing in Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, and Cabernet Franc. Round out the Dutchess Trail, just eight miles away, with a stop at Clinton Vineyards (www.clintonvineyards.com) in Clinton Corners. This tiny, 15-acre vineyard packs a mighty punch. Its wines have been served at the White House, Democratic National Convention, and the Clinton-Yeltsin summit. Sample an array of estate-bottled white, sparkling, and dessert wines before heading to the Hudson’s western shoreline, the cradle of American viticulture. 

 

Chef Jennifer Stock of Cedar Hill Farm in Gardiner, New York, a culinary B&B, gets rave reviews for her hot shrimp salad and smoked salmon omelette. 

 

Cross the Hudson at Poughkeepsie and embrace the Shawangunk Wine Trail. Start at New Paltz’s Rivendell Winery (www.rivendellwine.com), which this year celebrates its 20th anniversary and which earned the Governor’s Cup for Best New York Wine at the New York Wine Competition in 2004. Don’t leave without picking up a bottle of the Northern Lights, 2001 Merlot Reserve, 2002 Cabernet Sauvignon, or 2003 SoHo Cellars Riesling, each of which took home Best in the Hudson Valley honors in their respective categories at the 2004 Great Hudson Valley Wine Competition. Then, if you’re not too fatigued, head south to Whitecliff Vineyard (www.whitecliffwine.com) in the shadow of the craggy Shawangunk Mountains, and afterwards (if time allows, of course) Benmarl Winery (www.benmarl.com), where Andrew Jackson Caywood planted vines back in the early 1800s. Benmarl’s terraced hillsides of vines are reminiscent of Italy, their slopes swooping down to lush forests and the distant Hudson River. Conclude your tour-de-Hudson with a visit to Washingtonville’s Brotherhood Winery

(www.brotherhoodwinery.net), the oldest continually operating winery in the United States, with the first vintage dating back to 1839.

 

We advise you to try rock climbing in the Mohonk Preserve before, rather than after, the wine tastings. 

 

 

Where to Sleep It Off: When you’ve sipped your fill of wine, turn in for
the night at Minnewaska Lodge (www.minnewaskalodge.com,  $135-$329). With 26 forest- or cliff-view rooms in a contemporary, luxurious mountain lodge on 17 acres, it’s the perfect spot to rest your weary head. Or keep your wine-and-food blitz going into the night with a stay at Cedar Hill Farm (www.culinarybandb.com, $195-$275), a “culinary bed and breakfast.” Guests rave about the smoked salmon omelet with local goat cheese and dill, and the hot shrimp salad with baby spinach, lemon, and balsamic vinaigrette. Book a night in the aptly-named Shiraz Room, and sign up for a cooking workshop with CIA-trained, award-winning chef Jennifer Stack.

 

Sleep it off in contemporary luxury at the Minnewaska Lodge in Gardiner, New York

 

 

Where to Eat: For classic pub food, head to the Gilded Otter in New Paltz (www.gildedotter.com), a favorite local hangout among the hordes of rock climbers who were scaling the nearby cliffs while you were sipping wine. Its casual, friendly atmosphere will have you engaged in lively conversation in no time. Start with the crispy fried calamari before moving on to the barbecued pulled pork sandwich, made with the brewery’s own New Paltz Crimson Lager barbecue sauce. No matter what you order, pair your meal with Rail Trail Pale Ale or the Three Pines IPA. For a more upscale dining experience, New Paltz’s Locust Tree (www.locusttree.com) offers dishes with diverse European influences from chef and co-owner Barbara Bogart, formerly of New York City’s Tribeca Grill. Try the cedar plank salmon with apple-braised red cabbage, chive vinaigrette and fresh horseradish. And don’t even think of skipping dessert: order the New York State maple crème caramel flan with a butterscotch cookie.

 

What Not to Miss: Rock climbers come from the world over to scale the cliffs at the Mohonk Preserve (www.mohonkpreserve.org), New York State’s largest private, non-profit nature preserve, located in Gardiner. Take a break from all your wine tasting and dining and head five miles west of New Paltz to the Mohonk Preserve Visitor Center and the West Trapps parking lot and trailhead. Buy a $9 day pass and hike along the mellow 2.5-mile long Undercliff Carriage Road, where you gaze up at climbers on the cliffs and falcons in the sky. Take an out-and-back stroll for as long as you like, or go all the way to the end and return on the Overcliff Carriage Road, making a five-mile loop.

 

For Red Wine Lovers

LONG ISLAND’S NORTH FORK

 

Thanks to the humidifying and warming effect of the Atlantic Ocean and the Gulf Stream, Long Island’s North Fork has a climate resembling that of Bordeaux. It should come as no surprise, then, that Long Island is producing some exceptional reds. But you don’t have to take my word for it. “The enchanted East End of Long Island has become one of the world’s great vineyard regions,” says David Rosengarten, a Food Network TV personality and a James Beard Award-winning author. According to the Long Island Wine Council (www.liwines.com), there are 60 vineyards and more than 30 wineries with a total output of half a million cases per year. Sure, there are still potato farms, but taste bud for taste bud, my money’s on
the grapes.

 

Sharing a bottle of bubbly is one of life's many pleasures. 

 

The Wineries: Take your favorite bridge from the Bronx to Queens and jump on the Long Island Expressway bound for the East End. Roughly 53 miles later, get off at Exit 73 and head east on Route 25, charting a course destined for Greenport, an old whaling village turned summer tourist hot spot.

 

Unlike the celebrity-packed Hamptons on the South Fork, Greenport has a quiet charm. Along the way, stop in at Paumanok Vineyards (www.paumanok.com) in Aquebogue, Jamesport Vine-yards (www.jamesport-vineyards.com) in Jamesport, and Laurel Lake Vineyards (www.llwines.com) in Laurel. Pause at Pindar Vineyard Winery & Pavilion (www.pindar.net), Long Island’s largest winery with 550 acres of grapes; it started in 1979 with a modest 30 acres. Then make haste to The Lenz Winery (www.lenzwine.com). Lenz wines consistently match or beat their French counterparts in blind tastings. At an event held at the New York Yacht Club in New York City in March 2006, Lenz matched its $55-per-bottle 2000 Old Vines Merlot against the $2,650-per-bottle Château Petrus from the same vintage. They scored 90.9 and 91.9, respectively. The 2000 Estate Selection Merlot is the best marriage of taste and price, and I often give a bottle as a gift.

 

A stone’s throw away in Peconic, visit young Raphael (www.raphaelwine.com), where Merlot reigns supreme. Then fly high at Osprey’s Dominion Vineyards (www.ospreysdominion.com), which won Winery of the Year at the 2005 New York Wine and Food Classic, and walked away with seven medals from seven wines entered at the 2006 Tasters Guild International Wine Competition. Try the 2002 Reserve Merlot, NV Port, or the 2001 Meritage. If your journey east on the North Fork left you wanting more, from Greenport, head north on Main Street and turn left (west) onto North Road (Route 48) for a tasting encore. Stop in at Martha Clara Vineyards (www.marthaclaravineyards.com), owned by the Enten- mann family, of Entenmann’s cookie fame. You won’t find cookies in the gift shop, but try picking up your favorite flavor of Really Good Jam (made locally in Cutchogue). Or choose from a selection of Robert Rothschild Farm sauces and breads. If your pup is along for the ride, pick up some Pinot Poochio dog food, or grab a “Bernie” souvenir (hat, T-shirt), modeled after Jackie Entenmann’s dog, Bernie, who also graces the label of the 2005 Rose. Finally, pay a visit to Palmer Vineyards in Aquebogue (www.palmervineyards.com), known for good white wines amid a sea of exceptional reds.

 

This tour can be completed in a single long day, but a more relaxed and leisurely tasting pace spread out over two days will maximize your enjoyment (and minimize any hangover if you’re not a sip-and-spit taster!).

 

Where to Sleep It Off: As night falls, bed down in Greenport at Harbor Knoll (www.harborknoll.com, $275-$295), a mid-1800s colonial with a private beach on the shores of Peconic Bay. There’s no better way to relax at the end of the day than to sit out on the dock and watch the sun set over the placid waters of the Bay. For a contemporary feel, head to the Harborfront Inn at Greenport (www.theharborfrontinn.com, $289-$699) in the heart of downtown. The Inn features bright, airy rooms, custom cherry furniture, flat-screen LCD televisions, spa-style bathrooms, and Frette linens.

 

Where to Eat: No visit to the North Fork is complete without dining at Claudio’s (www.claudios.com), the oldest same-family-owned restaurant in the United States. Established in 1870, the Greenport restaurant features diverse cuisine, including fresh local seafood brought in off the docks. Peek behind the bar and check out an old trap door in the rough, wooden floorboards where rum runners smuggled in bootleg liquor during Prohibition. The Seafood Barge (62980 Main Rd, 631-765-3010), at the Port of Egypt Marine in Southold, regularly brings in rave reviews from restaurant critics for its crab cakes, New England clam chowder, Pipes Cove oysters, pan-seared scallops, and steamed lobster.

 

What Not to Miss: Downtown Greenport (www.greenportsoutholdchamber.org), with its blend of nautical shops, art galleries, and selection of restaurants and ice cream parlors, is a window into the North Fork’s seafaring history. To commune with nature, head east to Orient Beach State Park and keep a watchful eye for birds (herons, egrets, osprey, cormorants) or stroll along the beach. The numerous farm stands along Sound Avenue and Main Road (www.northfork.org) sell fresh local produce—everything from sweet corn and potatoes to berries, peaches, and apples. Finally, don’t miss Briermere Farms in Riverhead (www.briermere.com) and its famous pies (peach, cherry, apple, blueberry, strawberry-rhubarb, black-berry; $14-$14.50). Around the holidays, New Yorkers don’t order pies weeks ahead of time and make the two hour one-way drive to pick them up for nothing.

 

For White Wine Lovers

THE FINGER LAKES REGION

 

The Finger Lakes (www.fingerlakes.org) in upstate New York—about a four-and-a-half-hour drive from down-town White Plains—have a moderating effect on the region’s cooler climate, which emulates that of Germany. The result is stellar whites such as Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc, but especially Rieslings, Gewurztraminers, and Cayugas (made from a grape specially formulated by viticulturists at Cornell University). Cayuga and Seneca Lakes—the two largest Finger Lakes—have an astounding 77 vineyards and wineries between them, and a trip up the western shore of Cayuga and down the eastern shore of Seneca makes a spectacular tour.

 

The Wineries: Start and end your journey in Ithaca, home to Cornell University, a lovely downtown with a pedestrian mall and some of the cloudiest weather this side of Seattle. Head north out of town via Route 89 onto the Cayuga Wine Trail (www.cayugawinetrail.com). Make your first stop—about a 20-minute, 14-mile drive—in Interlaken at the Americana Vineyards (www.americanavineyards.com) and near-by Lucas Vineyards (www.lucasvineyards.com), where you can personalize your bottle with custom labels (text and/or a black-and-white logo, but no photos).

 

In Ovid, stop in at the award-winning Hosmer Winery (www.hosmerwinery.com), the winner of Best Sparkling Wine at the 2005 New York Wine and Food Classic. Enjoy an elevated view of Cayuga Lake from the outdoor deck at the barn-turned-tasting room of Goose Watch Winery (www.goosewatch.com). At Knapp Winery and Restaurant (www.knappwine.com) in Romulus, sample Grappa, Italian brandy-style liquor made from pomace (leftover grape residue from the winemaking process), and Limoncello, a lemon liqueur made from lemon rinds, alcohol, sugar, and water. Of course, Knapp also offers an array of whites and light reds.

 

Swedish Hill Winery (www.swedishhill.com) is one of New York’s most award-winning vineyards (try its Riesling, Vidal Blanc, and Cayuga varietals), and its annual Scandinavian Festival (June), Champagne and Dessert Wine Festival (November), and Santa Lucia Day celebration (December) always draw a crowd.

 

From Swedish Hill, head southwest 13 miles to the town of Lodi, on Seneca’s eastern shore to start the Seneca Lake Wine Trail (www.senecalakewine.com). Overlooking Seneca Lake—a 38-mile-long sliver of shimmering lake that is the Finger Lakes largest and deepest (at 618 feet!)—Lamoreaux Landing’s (www.lamoreaux wine.com) Greek revival tasting room is the place to start. If the views of Seneca’s blue waters aren’t enough, the Riesling, Chardonnay, and Cabernet Franc ought to be, says Wine Spectator magazine. Just a quarter-mile south, pay a visit to Wagner (www.wagnervineyards.com), where, in ad-dition to wines, the beer lover in you can taste a flight from the on-site micro-brewery. Arriving in Hector, a small farming community north of Watkins Glenn, stop in at Hazlitt 1852 Vineyards (www.hazlitt1852.com), where the Hazlitt family has owned the land since—you guessed it—1852. Today, Elaine Hazlitt runs the show with assistance from her son and daughter, Doug and Leigh, sixth-generation Hazlitts.

 

 

Nearby, Red Newt Cellars Winery and Bistro (www.rednewt.com) has earned critical acclaim for its wines and its food, compliments of husband and wife pair David (Winemaker) and Debra (Executive Chef) Whiting. The Bistro makes a great lunch stop, with a menu that changes regularly with the seasons and the availability of fresh, local produce. Finally, stop in at award-winning Château Lafayette Reneau in Hector (www.clrwine.com). In a region known for its whites, CLR produces an excellent assortment of reds. Try the 2001 Cabernet Sauvignon Owner’s Reserve, 2001 Merlot, and 2001 Cuvee Rouge.

 

Where to Sleep It Off: The 130-year-old Taughannock Farms Inn (www.t-farms.com, $100-$185) in Trumansburg, near Ithaca, has an assortment of luxurious accommodations spread between the Main Inn and several guest houses. A total of 22 guest rooms pay homage to the Victorian history of this former summer residence of a Philadelphia socialite. At the on-premise restaurant, don’t miss the signature chilled strawberry soup, a sweet blend of strawberries, yogurt, sour cream, white wine, and a splash of strawberry liqueur. For a more rustic experience, look to the Wine Country Cabins (www.winecountrycabins.com) in Lodi. A trio of tiny log cabins built from pine sit nestled in the shade of mature maple trees. A short walk from the shores of Seneca Lake, each cabin features a queen bed, fireplace, and all the usual creature comforts of home (TV, DVD, etc.).

 

Where to Eat: Knapp Vineyards Restaurant (entrées $19-$26) and Red Newt Bistro (entrées $18-$27) both offer excellent food paired with their respective wines. In Ithaca, Maxie’s Supper Club and Oyster Bar (www.maxies.com, entrées $10-$22.) serves up New Orleans-style Cajun food, while Just A Taste in Ithaca (www.just-a-taste.com, $2.50-$7 per tapas) offers an ever-changing menu served Spanish tapas- style.

 

What Not to Miss: While it may be kitschy, the slogan “Ithaca is gorges” backs up its boast. The region in and around town is chock full of chasms, but none may be more impressive than Taughannock Falls State Park, where the namesake falls cascade 215 feet from the gorge rim to a mist-engulfed pool at the bottom. The Ithaca Farmers’ Market (www.ithaca market.com) draws an impressive crowd on weekends, where you can snatch up local produce, fresh-baked breads, artisan cheeses, and regional artwork. For a dose of culture and architecture, head to the Ivy League campus of Cornell University (www.cornell.edu). Stroll through the academic quads, climb the 161 steps to the belfry of the clock tower (chimes.cornell.edu), and admire the exhibits of the Herbert F. Johnson Museum of Art (www.museum.cornell.edu/). The view of Cayuga Lake from the museum’s top floor picture windows is breathtaking.

 

 

Peter Bronski (www.peterbronski.com) is an award-winning writer from Boulder, Colorado. A native of Long Island, New York, and a graduate of Cornell University’s famed Wines course, he is a devoted wine taster during his regular visits to the region.