Harvest season is a great time to visit your local wineries, no matter where local is for you. They are vibrating with energy and activity as grapes come off the vines and work their way into the cellar. I love the smell of wineries this time of year — that hopeful aroma of fermentation in the air. New wines are coming. That’s always exciting.But the traffic is brutal. Beyond brutal.
But if Long Island is your local wine region, the traffic is brutal. Beyond brutal — thanks to the throngs of people who push east throughout October to overload their cars with hay bales and corn stalks and their bellies with roasted sweet corn and apple cider doughnuts.
If you’d still like to taste some interesting, delicious local-ish wines — you should consider the Hudson Valley. It’s a bit longer of a drive, of course, but the scenery is beautiful and the wines just might surprise you.
Yes, there are a lot of not-so-good wines being made in the Hudson River Region AVA (American Viticultural Area), but let’s be honest, the same is true of most any region in the world. Even our beloved Long Island. But, with a little patience and an open mind, you can discover some great wines just over the bridge and all the way up to Albany.
They grow a lot of their own grapes, as any serious wine region must, but you’ll also find wines made from fruit grown in the Finger Lakes and on Long Island. Some of these reflect long-term contracts with growers. In some instances, the Hudson Valley winery co-owns or co-manages vineyards elsewhere.
I’ve tasted wine from nearly every producer in the region, so you don’t need to. Here are five wineries to check out that I think most any wine lover will enjoy. The diversity of what you find in the Hudson Valley is pretty amazing, and it’s something that the region’s wineries seem to be embracing.
Fjord Vineyards: With a new tasting room that opened just last weekend in Milton, Fjord is one of the region’s youngest wineries. Owned by Benmarl Winery winemaker and general manager Matthew Spaccarelli and his wife, Casey Erdmann, Fjord is already making some of the region’s most interesting wines. Spaccarelli is making merlot and sauvignon blanc from Long Island fruit, as well as riesling grown on Seneca Lake. But it’s the Hudson River Region wines that are worth the drive, especially the cabernet franc and the albariño (yes, seriously). Call ahead to see if the tasting room is open.
Hudson-Chatham Winery: Again, some of the reds are grown on the North Fork, but it’s the wines made with grapes grown closer to the winery in Ghent that make a visit here worth the trip. Winemaker Stephen Casscles literally wrote the book on hybrid grapes in the region and his experience growing and making wines from them is apparent. You’ll find wines made with grapes you may have never heard of, things like Leon Millot, chelois and their specialty, Baco noir. Casscles makes a handful of single-vineyard Bacos that are among the best in the world.
Millbrook Vineyards: You’ve probably already tasted what Millbrook winemaker John Graziano is capable of — he makes McCall Wines’ pinot noirs for them. But Graziano makes a wide range of delicious wines from estate-grown fruit and from vineyards in the Finger Lakes and on Long Island. I’m particularly fond of his estate Tocai Friulano — the only New York version worth drinking outside of Channing Daughters’ — and his estate reserve pinot noir and cabernet franc bottlings.
Tousey Winery: This is still a relatively young winery, but winemaker Ben Peacock is already making some of the region’s best wines, including many with grapes they grow themselves near the Hudson River. The riesling is terrific, but it’s the reds — pinot noir and cabernet franc — that really stand out. A few years ago I snuck a bottle of their cabernet franc into a tasting of Long Island wines and it was the wine of the night for my friends.
Whitecliff Vineyard & Winery: Owners Michael and Yancey Migliore first appeared on my radar years ago with their Awosting White, an off-dry blend of vignoles and Seyval blanc, a grape well-known in the region. Since then, I’ve fallen hard for their Gamay, a bright, fruity wine that is terrific with food. You’ll also find quite a bit of Long Island fruit used, and that’s because they co-manage a vineyard on the North Fork. The malbec and merlot-malbec blend in particular are worth checking out.
These aren’t the only good wineries in the Hudson Valley, but they are great places to start your exploration of a neighboring region.