Steve Casscles, winemaker at Hudson-Chatham Winery, has been growing grapes — focusing hybrids and grapes that he refers to as “Hudson Valley heirloom varieties” in and around the Hudson River Region AVA for much of his adult life. He has a clear affection for these lesser-known, under-respected varieties and it’s likely that no one in New York knows more about growing and making wine from them. He’s literally written the book on the subject.
Of the myriad grapes Casscles knows and works with — a list that includes things like Chelois, Brianna, Dutchess and grapes that are known only by number — he and Hudson-Chatham owner Carlo DeVito have put Baco Noir at the core of their portfolio. In making several single-vineyard Baco Noirs each vintage, the duo has bet big on a grape that not many think much of.
“I like Baco Noir because it is great in the field and cold hardy,” says Casscles, adding “It needs half of the spray material that a vinifera like Cabernet Franc or Chardonnay needs. So that leaves more money in the pocket of the grower, and fewer pesticides in the environment.”
Being easier or “greener” to grow doesn’t necessarily mean that Baco Noir is easy to work with in the cellar. Like many of the cold hardy red varieties, Baco can be quite acidic and without experience mitigating and balancing that acidity, it can be off putting.
“Baco has a lot of front tartaric acid,” Casscles says. To help bring balance to the wines, he also blends in some less-acidic grapes, like Marechal Foch, which also brings some “jammy fruit that also counter balances the tartaric acids of Baco.”
Hudson-Chatham also lets its Baco Noir fruit hang in the vineyard later, which helps reduce the starting tartaric acid in them. “For many of the Bacos, we let them stay on the (crush) pad into late November, which cold stabilizes them to drop out the front tartaric acids, and maintains the tannins, that help beef up the middle and finish of the wine,” he says.
After several years of working with his different vineyard sites, Casscles really has these wines, including the Hudson-Chatham Winery 2015 Old Vines Baco Noir, dialed in. The term “Old Vines” gets thrown around a lot in the wine world, but considering the Masson Place Vineyard, a five-acre parcel at Pulteney Farm outside of Hammondsport, New York, was established in the 1950s, it’s appropriate in here.
It’s not hyperbolic to suggest that Hudson-Chatham Winery is making some of the best Baco Noir in North America. Each wine expresses it’s vineyard site transparently with very little — if any — new oak getting in the way.