In 2014 Robibero Family Vineyards won a competition double gold for their 2012 Cabernet Franc. That was quite an achievement for a Hudson Valley winery, but it was made with Finger Lake fruit. There’s nothing wrong with that; many wineries purchase fruit from other regions, depending on the varieties that they need which may not grow in their own region. And a double gold is a double gold, period. It certainly spoke to the skills of the winemaker, Cristop Brown.
Also in 2014, an important article by Steve Kolpan was published in The Valley Table vol. 65, March-May issue: “A Signature Grape for the Hudson Valley?” In it he pointed out that the Finger Lakes had established the Riesling grape as its signature variety, and Long Island has its Merlot. Both of these are true vinifera varieties, European in origin and widely known and accepted throughout the wine world as fine-wine fruit. The issue for the Hudson Valley, with its harsh and variable climate, was that many of its most successful varieties have been hybrids, which is to say, crosses of a vinifera vine with an American one. The idea was to produce a hardy, cold-resistant variety that also offered a palatable wine. Indeed, Baco Noir is a very successful hybrid that produces very red nice wines, and Seyval Blanc makes some truly nice whites. But neither offers the cachet of a Riesling or Merlot. They’re just not on the radar of serious wine drinkers. It’s a shame, but that’s the reality.
Mr. Kolpan suggested that there was indeed a successful European variety that actually could and did thrive in the Valley, if properly tended to in the vineyard. He suggested that it should be Cabernet Franc.
Historically, Cabernet Franc (aka Cab Franc) has often been seen as a lesser variety than Cabernet Sauvignon, so is often not given the respect it deserves. In fact, DNA analysis has shown that Cabernet Sauvignon is in fact a descendant of Cabernet Franc—in a cross with Sauvignon Blanc—so Cabernet Franc has lost all sense of inferiority. Cabernet Sauvignon enjoys its renown because it is more assertive and bold (it has more acidity and tannin) but Cabernet Franc has some exceptional qualities of its own. It is softer, spicier, and more delicately perfumed. When young it is much more approachable. When blended with Cabernet Sauvignon, the result is often a wine than is more complex than either variety alone.
Like Merlot, it is used to soften the hard edges of Cabernet Sauvignon, and contributes its own complexity and floral bouquet. There is sometimes a spicy or briary flavor to Cabernet Franc wines; Robert Parker detects a “weedy, olive-like aroma,” while Jancis Robinson is reminded of the aroma of pencil shavings. This is sounding less and less like something one would be inclined to drink, but to the world of fine wine, these apparently negative qualities can give the wine an intriguing complexity.
It is an important part of many of the great blended wines of Bordeaux, and is a signature red variety of the Loire Valley. One of the reasons that Cab Franc can do so well in the Hudson region is that it is a much earlier ripener than Cab Sauvignon or even Merlot.
Established in 2016, the Coalition set out to define the criteria that had to be met in order to be a member. Choosing a hawk as its symbol (they are ubiquitous in the Valley), the hawk sticker on a bottle guarantees the wine in it is at least 75% Cabernet Franc and that 85% of the fruit was grown in the Hudson Valley. Furthermore, all these wines are to be aged for 12 months in oak barrels before being released for sale.
This is not to say that other Valley wineries don’t also produce Cab Francs: among them are Bashakill, Brimstone Hill, Cereghino-Smith, Hudson-Chatham, Palaia, Stoutridge, and Warwick Valley. They have not yet joined the Coalition for any variety of reasons.
In 2018 Whitecliff was awarded a coveted Double Gold Medal from the prestigious San Francisco International Wine Competition (SFIWC) for its 2016 Cabernet Franc. This makes 2018 a great year for Whitecliff: it marks the beginning of its twentieth year in business, and it began with yet another international Double Gold—for Whitecliff’s Gamay Noir at the Finger Lakes International Wine Competition. With two international awards for Hudson Valley reds this year, Whitecliff is chipping away at the outdated assumption that New York doesn’t produce great red wines. Furthermore, it confirms the idea that Cabernet Franc is indeed the red variety of the Hudson Valley.
To really enjoy the wine, it should be decanted or at least poured into glasses for about an hour before drinking it, so that the exposure to air will soften the high acidity—typical for so young a wine. Already it offers aromas of dark red fruit, delicate herbal notes, and a hint of oak. It has good body and the flavors confirm what the nose tells you. I late January I had a bottle which I decanted, following my own advice, and consumed about half the bottle with dinner. I didn’t drink the balance until two days later. That longer period of oxygenation had transformed the wine. It had become more balanced as the acidity had become better integrated and the fruit flavors were enhanced. It was, quite simply, an excellent Cab Franc, as good as any that I’ve had from an East Coast producer.
Enjoyable now, I think that it would benefit from being laid down for a few years. Buy a case and open a bottle every few months. You’ll find that it will evolve over time. It really is good, and will get even better. But then, a Double-Gold Cabernet Franc should do exactly that!
This high level of achievement for Whitecliff’s Cabernet Franc, which was made from estate-grown grapes at their home vineyard in Gardiner, will no doubt contribute to recognition of the Valley as a significant producer of this variety. This time Whitecliff’s winemaker, Brad Martz has bragging rights!
Oh, yes, and Robibero has now planted an acre of its own Cabernet Franc. That’s why they were able to join the Coalition. We await their next wine.
You can read more about Whitecliff here and about Robibero here, as they both have posts on this blog.
For several years there was a winery called Rivendell that called 714 Albany Post Road in New Paltz home. Then, in 2003, Harry Robibero and his wife Carole purchased the 42-acre property with the hope that someday the winery operation would become theirs. As a matter of fact, the owners of Rivendell, Bob Ransom and Susan Wine, gave notice in 2007 and left the property for a new location.
Harry mentioned this over family dinner one night. “Did you hear? Rivendell is leaving. Do you guys want to start your own winery? Should I look for another tenant?” Tiffany replied, “Let’s do it. Let’s start a winery.” Ryan, then her husband, agreed. So they took a chance and quit their jobs.
Very shortly after, Harry and his family were busy refurbishing and renovating the existing building. In May of 2010, Robibero Family Vineyards opened for business.
When I first visited Robibero shortly after they’d opened and tasted some of their wines I was frankly disappointed. The wines that I tasted, made from purchased fruit, were thin, sharp, and unbalanced. I told them so and did not return for a couple of years. But eventually I did go back and each time thereafter it was evident that the wines were improving, so much so that in 2014 Robibero won a Double Gold for their 2012 Cabernet Franc from fruit sourced from Sheldrake Point in the Finger Lakes, which came in at 24 Brix. It was aged for nine months in French oak, 50% of which was new. Once the wine was bottled they entered the wine in the competition before they even had an approved label. A Double Gold.
The change in quality came about in large part due to the winemaker who was hired soon after they started, Cristop Brown. Cristop came to Robibero after a stint in Washington State working for Long Shadows. He’d first worked at Millbrook Winery as the tasting room manager. After a few years, he went to Benmarl, in Marlborough, which has the oldest working vineyard in the country, and it was there that he learned to make wine from Eric Miller, son of Mark Miller, the owner. In fact, Eric made it clear to Cristop that a condition of his being hired was that he had to take courses in biochemistry so that he could better understand the processes that go on in the ripening of the fruit and in fermentation; making the wine was learned on the job. Soon he was assistant winemaker. In a few years, Eric sold the winery to Matt Spaccarelli and moved to Pennsylvania, and Cristop then became the Benmarl winemaker. Now it was his turn to teach Matt the art of winemaking and they worked together for nearly four years before he took off for Washington State to see how wine and grape growing are done outside of New York State.
By the time of his return from Washington, Cristop had become a very accomplished oenologist and had become committed to making clean wine marked by varietal typicity and good balance. In fact, it was Matt Spaccarelli who then directed Cristop to Robibero, which had placed a “help wanted” ad in a wine journal.
When we stepped out in the vineyard our conversation there went on for a while. We were standing on the east-facing slope of the acre of Vidal and Cab Franc, and discussed viniculture.
Members of the family do all the handwork in the vineyard. They try to use organic sprays to the extent possible. Cornell came and gave them advice on how to plant a vineyard, including the orientation of the vine rows, the density, the recommended varieties for the location, and so on. Spacing is about 8 by 8, with original fescue between the rows. Soil pH was just right so that no input was needed to neutralize the soil. According to Ryan, the Cornell team told them that rootstock 101-14 would work best in their soil and then provided a list of the vines and clones that they thought would do well on that stock. [101-14 is a rootstock that was developed in France and released in 1882 by hybridizers Millardet and de Grasset. It is the result of an interspecific cross between V. riparia and V. rupestris. It produces moderate vigor in scions—the vine cuttings that are grafted to the stock—and has very good resistance to the devastating root louse Phylloxera, scourge of European-variety vineyards.]
Cornell wasn’t the only source of good advice for Robibero. Another was John Whiteman, from Crop Protection Services in Marlborough. When they were thinking of digging up the soil and mixing shale and other matter, then grading to aerate the soil, Whiteman made an important observation: “You know what? It took nature ten million years to create that soil. Don’t mess with it. Just put in some drainage . . . .” He went on to explain that the colloids in the soil [the chemically most active part of soil] took millions of years to develop. Bringing in topsoil would not improve the vineyard because vines grow well in soil that may be too poor for other plants.
In 2015 it was decided to plant a new block of vines across the road–actually, the driveway–from the original plot. Following Whiteman’s advice, and given that Harry is a construction contractor with a great deal of experience managing building sites and the hydrological issues that need to be dealt with–particularly water drainage and runoff–they first excavated the soil along the length of each row to be planted. The 4-inch thin topsoil lies atop a clay stratum about 4 feet deep, beneath which is a layer of shale. By excavating down to the shale they were then able to install a drainage system so that any water would run out of the vineyard, and the clay, now broken up, then was returned to the excavation trench. Now, when the 1,000 Cab Franc vines were planted the roots would be able to penetrate all the way down to the shale and not be harmed by an excess of water held in by clay. The rows, set 9 feet apart with the vines spaced 5 feet from each other, ran almost exactly north to south, slighted angled askew from a true north-south axis so that surface water would run out of the vineyard onto the road. All had been very carefully thought through, thanks to Ryan’s careful research and Harry’s excavation skills.
So, Robibero is dealing with the land that it has by providing the drainage needed because there is lots of clay there and vines don’t like wet feet.
The winery’s cellar is very small but adequate for the level of production that they have at present. Cristop and Ryan worked together both in the vineyard and the winery, but since Ryan’s departure, Jonathan H. Lander, the current general manager, lends a hand. Concerning the wines, at present virtually all is made from purchased fruit from the Finger Lakes, Long Island, and the Hudson Region itself. Most are made from vinifera varieties like Chardonnay, Riesling, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, and so on. However, one of their most popular wines, Rabbit’s Foot (non-vintage) has a base of 75% Baco Noir plus Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon, of which 453 cases were made last year. They also have a Bordeaux-style blend that they call 87 South, made with Cab Sauv, Cab Franc, Merlot, and Petit Verdot, of which 210 cases were produced for the 2013 vintage. The 2013 New Yorkie Rosé is also a Bordeaux blend, and it quickly sold out.
Robibero has won a Best in Category White Wine in the 2014 Hudson Valley Wine and Spirits Competition for their 2013 87 North as well as Gold Medals for their 2013 Traminette and New Yorkie Rosé, the last of which I find to be a perfect summer quencher—austere, dry, and delicately flavored. It goes well with anything you wish to serve, as long as it’s not too spicy.
Its newest red wine is called The Stray and was introduced in 2015. It is dominated by Cab Franc and Petit Verdot, with a dollop of Malbec. It’s a dry wine with a solid acidic backbone, mild tannins, and tasty red fruit. The 2015 has sold out, but the 2016 is now on offer. It’s worth laying down.
The tasting room is ample, well-organized, and offers a very good space for parties. A large veranda invites people to sit out-of-doors and enjoy the fresh air and the pleasant view. Because too many visitors seem not to understand that a small operation like Robibero’s depends on the sale of all manner of beverages including wine, a local craft beer, and bottled water, signs are prominently displayed telling visitors not to bring in their own drinks of whatever kind. But this is a problem all small wineries face.
Robibero Family Winery & Vineyards and its wines have arrived and the results are impressive. It is certainly worth a visit and a taste or two or three, or buy a case.
Interview with Ryan Selby & Cristop Brown 1 May 2015
updated 27 January 2019
Robibero Winery, 714 Albany Post Road, New Paltz, NY 12561
Owners: Harry , Carole and Tiffany Robibero
Winemaker: Kristop Brown
Manager: Jonathan Lander
Acreage: 42 in land, 3 planted
Varieties planted: Cabernet Franc, Vidal Blanc
Grape Sources: Estate, North Fork Long Island, Seneca Lake
Production: 3,800 Cases
The entirety of the Northeast, including New York State, was once covered by Laurentide ice sheets up to nearly two miles thick during the Late Wisconsin Glacial Period, which receded about 11,000 years ago. As the ice sheet melted it reshaped the landscape beneath it that was to take on the features that we know today, and it helped create the Hudson River Valley, leaving behind a complex and varied topography, soil, and climate–the terroir–, much of it appropriate for vine cultivation or other fruit.
1. Map from the Uncorked New York Web site.
The Hudson River Region AVA is the oldest continually-productive wine region in the United States. Though most people refer to this wine region as the Hudson River Valley or the Hudson Valley, on July 6, 1982 the BATF—in its wisdom—granted the AVA but chose to call it by another name in order to avoid confusion with a winery that already bore the name, Hudson River Valley Winery (no longer in production). If one were to look at different maps that depict the region, its geographical boundaries would not entirely clear, as the maps don’t all agree. (The best one is shown above.) Unfortunately, there is no official AVA map of the region, much less a map for its varied soils and climates. However, it is clearly described verbally in print: its western boundary is the Shawangunk Ridge (a northerly extension of the Appalachians) in Orange and Ulster Counties. It then follows the Delaware River to the New Jersey State line, from which it goes roughly east to its eastern boundary at the state lines with Connecticut and Massachusetts. It then extends north along those borders to the northeast corner of Columbia County, New York. From there it extends west to the juncture of Columbia and Greene Counties in the Hudson River. It includes all or some of several counties: Columbia, Dutchess, Orange, Putnam, Rockland, Sullivan, Ulster, and Westchester.
It doesn’t quite encompass all of the Hudson River Watershed, which extends even further north and includes the Mohawk River (see map at left). From this it can be seen, by comparing it to the first map, that while it is primarily geographic, most of its boundaries are political, which is not unusual for AVAs all over the country; however, it also is not strictly based on a homogenous climate or soil types—the terroir—though many of the vineyards are planted on or near the slopes on either side of the Hudson River.
However, even today the true boundaries of the Valley are still in dispute, and the definition of the area of the AVA Region is questionable. Carlo DeVito, a wine writer and winery owner, commented that “The AVA is old and obsolete….it only covered the existing wineries that were around at the time of the filing, and makes no sense. More than half the valley’s wineries in the region are not covered by it. Here’s my take on it:” Where is the Hudson Valley?
Soil and Terroir
As can be made out from the soil map above, there is a range of soil that include “acid soils with neutral to acid frangipans” (pink color) that runs the length of the river valley, shifting to “medium to moderately coarse-textured acid soils with strongly acidic frangipans on glacial till from gray slate, sandstone, [and] slate” (red color). Contiguous to this is also “deep and shallow soils associated with hilly areas” (dark red). Along the mid to upper-length of the river we see “moderate to fine-textured soils on glacial lake or marine sediments” (pale blue). At the southern limits we see “muck” (dark blue, highly fertile) and “moderately coarse textured, very strongly acid soils from glacial till from granite” (brown color). As grapevines are not fond of acidic soils, this means that many if not most vineyards need alkaline additions such as lime to bring up the soil pH.
The most complete and accessible description of the soils and terrains of the Region may be that of the “New York Wine Course and Reference”, which is worth quoting at length:
This region crosses five [of the nine New York State] physiographic provinces and is composed of more distinct soil types than any other region. Moving north from Manhattan, the first province encountered is that of the Gneissic Highland Province, a hilly, complex region of highly metamorphosed ancient gneiss. This region encompasses the northern end of Manhattan Island and southern Rockland County, where it forms the Ramapo Mountains. The region continues across the Hudson, and the structure underlies Westchester, Putnam and a small part of southern Dutchess County. The hardness of the bedrock in this area and glacial action have resulted in shallow, rocky soils largely unsuitable for agriculture. Bordering the Gneiss Highland Province to the north is the Taconic Province, an area of lower elevation that extends from Orange County northward through southeastern Ulster County and across the Hudson River, encompassing Dutchess, Columbia, Rensselaer and Washington counties. The rocks in this province are largely shales, slates, schists and limestones, although the northern and eastern areas of Dutchess, Columbia and Rensselaer are underlain with hard metamorphic quartzite and gneiss. The topography of this province varies widely, starting as a valley in southern Orange County and progressing to rolling hills and valleys in the western portions of those counties on the east side of the Hudson, finally culminating the rugged highlands of the Berkshire Mountains in the easternmost section of the province. Given the wide variety of parent material and topography in this province, soil types and suitability to viticulture are extremely varied. Soils in the western portion of this province generally tend to have moisture problems and be low in fertility, although many good sites of limited acreage are under cultivation as orchards and vineyards. Soil conditions improve on the western side of the Hudson, with eastern Dutchess and Columbia Counties possessing the finest sites and consequently the greatest acreage of vineyards. Deep, well-drained soils with adequate moisture holding capacity and low to moderate fertility are present and available in large tracts of land, and offer the opportunity for the expansion of viticulture in the Hudson Valley. Two other physiographic provinces can be included in the Hudson River Region: the Catskill Province which borders the Taconic Province along the dramatic Shawangunk Ridge; and the Mohawk Valley Province which enters the region north of Albany. Neither has significant acreage in grapes, and discussion of the soils of these areas is not relevant to this subject.
A further explanation makes even more clear just how complex the soil profiles of the Region comes from the USDA soil series page:
The Hudson series consists of very deep, moderately well drained soils formed in clayey and silty lacustrine sediments. They are nearly level through very steep soils on convex lake plains, on rolling through hilly moraines and on dissected lower valley side slopes. Saturated hydraulic conductivity is moderately high or high in the mineral surface and subsurface layers and low through moderately high in the lower part of the subsoil and substratum. Slope ranges from 0 through 60 percent. Mean annual temperature is 49 degrees F. and mean annual precipitation is 39 inches.
The Region’s geographic setting is described as follows:
Hudson soils are nearly level to very steep on lake plains and lacustrine capped uplands and valley sides. Slope ranges from 0 through 60 percent. More sloping and dissected areas show evidence of slumping or mass slipping. Mean annual air temperature ranges from 46 degrees to 50 degrees F., mean annual precipitation ranges from 30 through 45 inches, and mean annual frost-free season ranges from 120 through 180 days. The elevation ranges from 50 through 800 feet above sea level.
The Hudson River is one of the great waterways of North America, but it only runs 315 miles (507 km.) from its source, Lake Tear in the Clouds, located in Adirondack Park (elevation 1814 ft. (553 m.). It is what is called a ‘drowned river’ in that the waters of the Atlantic Ocean flow upstream with the tide as far as Troy, NY (north of Albany) which means that it is a very long tidal estuary–in other words, a fjord. For this reason it was known to the Lenape tribe that lived along its banks as Muhheakantuck (“river that flows two ways”).
Indeed, it is the Hudson , with its moderating effect on climate, thanks to the tidal flow and winds that sweep upriver from the Atlantic as well as the so-called “lake effect” (or “river effect” in this case–except in the winter, if the river freezes and is covered with ice) of its wide, deep, flowing stream, that make it possible to grow grapes at all, as it would otherwise be too frigid for most varieties other than the native ones. Its growing season is short: 180 to 195 days. (By comparison, Long Island’s season lasts from 215 to 230 days, while the Niagara Escarpment enjoys 205 days, and the Finger Lakes AVA has 190 to 205 growing days.) Its production is also small, at 585 tons a year (about 2.5 tons an acre), whereas the Niagara Escarpment, with only 6 vineyards and 883 acres produces 4,648 tons (about 5 tons an acre), though some of this is for table grapes, which have much higher yields than do wine grapes.
The AVA covers an area that extends roughly within the confines of the river valley proper, encompassing as it does 224,000 acres (90,650 ha), but it has only 430 acres planted to wine grapes among 49 bonded wineries—some with, some without, vineyards—some of which buy fruit from the Finger Lakes or Long Island to make wine from varieties that do not thrive here, and in some cases from California. Many of the wineries produce fruit wine, such as raspberry, apple, strawberry, blueberry, and so on, along with grape wine. After all, the Hudson Valley is famous for its fruit production, and once was one of the largest producers of apples in the world. However, as pointed out in an article by Carlo DeVito, “Where is the Hudson Valley?” on his blog, HudsonRiverWine, the boundaries of the AVA as currently drawn lead to confusion and are no longer relevant, given that they were drawn when there were far fewer wineries, and the number of wineries and vineyards in the Valley has not only grown exponentially, but many new ones are being established within the Valley but outside the AVA.
Tradition has it that the first vinifera vines were planted by French Huguenots in 1677, at the time that they first settled New Paltz. However, this is unlikely, because these Huguenots had come from Belgium and were more inclined to drink hard cider, brandy, and brews. However, the earliest record of vinifera planting goes back to 1642, when the New Amsterdam patroon, Kiliean Van Rennselaer sent cuttings to his commisary in Fort Orange (Albany), which of course didn’t survive the winter. Settlers then resorted to American varieties, but the wines made from these were likely not pleasing at all to the French or Dutch palates, but at least it was alcoholic. The first commercially-successful vineyard was planted with Isabella and Catawba in 1827 by Robert Underhill at Croton Point, just above Tarrytown. The oldest continuously-operated winery in the nation is Brotherhood Winery, originally established as Jaques Brothers’ Winery in 1839 at Little York (now Washingtonville, in Orange County) to make wine that was mostly sold to churches. When the last of the Jaques family died in 1885, it was taken over by Jesse and Emerson, who promptly renamed it Brotherhood. The earliest-planted continuously-used vineyard, going back to 1845, was planted by William Cornell in Ulster County. His brother-in-law, Andrew Caywood became involved and began developing hybrid varieties that could better grow in the demanding climate; one of his efforts led to the Dutchess grape, still widely grown in the Northeast today. That vineyard is today part of Benmarl Winery, in Marlboro.
Farm Winery Act of 1976
Before Governor Hugh Carey signed the Farm Winery Act into law, there were only nineteen bonded wineries in all of New York State. Thanks to the tireless work and advocacy of people like Benmarl Winery’s Mark Miller, the new Commissioner of Agriculture, John Dyson (owner of Millbrook Vineyards and Winery), and the support of wine writers like Frank Prial of the New York Times, the restrictive post-Prohibition laws that then prevailed were replaced by a new set of laws that made it much easier for farms (i.e., vineyards) to establish new wineries for a small fee. The result was an explosion of winery growth in the State, and by 2008 there were about 255 across the State.
The vineyards and wineries with vineyards in the Hudson River Region AVA (excluding cideries, meaderies, distilleries, and producers of fruit wine only), as of 2014, number thirty-one by my own count, and these are highlighted in bold type. Vine acreage is not always certain and in some cases little or no information is given The Websites are rarely of any use in this regard.
A number of wineries purchase some or all of their grapes from other growers, both from within the Hudson River AVA as well as the Finger Lakes and Long Island. There are any number of perfectly good reasons for this. A winemaker may want to produce wine from a variety that he doesn’t grow. Some vineyards are too new to produce commerciable fruit. With a few exceptions, most of the wineries and/or vineyards are very small in scale–most are, after all, “farm wineries.” In no case does this reflect on the quality of any of the wines so made. The gamut of quality is there to be had.
(NOTE: this article and the series on wineries that follow are only interested in wineries and vineyards that grow and/or produce grape wine. This is not a prejudice, it is simply that the focus is on sustainable viniculture, or the growing of wine grapes, as well as on winemaking. Wineries that have been reviewed on this blog are shown with a link):
Adair Vineyards*, New Paltz (West Bank, Ulster County; 37 acres, all hybrid)
Altamont Winery, Altamont (West Bank, Albany County; no information on acreage or planting)
Applewood Winery*, Warwick (West Bank, Orange County; ? acreage, both hybrid & vinifera)
Baldwin Vineyards*, Pine Bush (West Bank, Ulster County, 35 acres, both)
Basha Kill Vineyards*, Wurstboro (West Bank, Sullivan County, 1.5 acres, hybrid)
Benmarl Winery*, Marlboro (West Bank, Ulster County; 37 acres; both)
Brimstone Hill Vineyards, Pine Bush (West Bank, Ulster County; 13 acres, both)
Brookview Station Winery* [no vineyard, purchased grapes]
Brotherhood Winery*, Washingtonville (West Bank, Orange County; 40 acres, all vinifera?)
Capoccia Vineyards and Winery, Niskayuna (West Bank, Schenectady County, not AVA; no information)
Windham Vineyard and Winery, Windham (West Bank, Greene County; no information)
*Twenty-two of the wineries are members of the Hudson Valley Wine & Grape Assoc., and owners and/or winemakers meet from time to time to compare notes and discuss issues that are common to the region. The mission of the Assoc. is “to conduct educational programs to advance grape growing and winemaking in the Hudson Valley AVA.”
NOTE: Winery Websites will not always tell about the varieties in the vineyards, nor will they necessarily indicate what varieties go into their blended wines, as they may use generic or invented names for their blends. This doesn’t mean that one can’t ask in the tasting room. The only dependable clue as to whether the wines are made from grapes blended from more than one AVA (e.g., Finger Lakes & Hudson River) will be found on the label: if it says Hudson River Region, it may or may not be estate bottled but is from the Region; if it says New York State the wine is made from grapes from more than one region. Caveat emptor, but only if these issues matters to the buyer.
The varieties that do thrive in the AVA are mostly hybrids as well as some cool-climate V. viniferas (hybrid variety information is from Robinson, Jancis, Julia Harding, et al., Wine Grapes—listed alphabetically, so page number are not needed); Hudson AVA acreage information comes from the “NY Wine Course”, pp. 75-61 passim; data is for 2013):
Aurore or Aurora, aka Seibel 5279 (White, French-American hybrid; less than 10 acres)
Baco Noir (R, French-American hybrid, Folle Blanche x Grand Glabre [V. riparia]; <10 acres)
Cabernet Franc (R, vinifera; 7 acres)
Cabernet Sauvignon (R, vinifera; <20 acres)
Catawba (R, either V. labrusca or a natural hybrid, in any case American; <10 acres, in decline)
Cayuga White (complex American hybrid created in Geneva, NY; <10, decreased from 38 acres in 1996)
Chambourcin (Red, French-American hybrid; acreage not reported)
Chancellor, aka Seibel 7053 (R, French-American hybrid; acreage for the AVA not reported)
Chardonnay (W, vinifera; 32 acres)
Chelois (R, French-American hybrid; acreage for the AVA not reported)
Concord (R, V. labrusca x unknown vinifera?, decidedly American; 168 acres)
De Chaunac or Dechaunac (R, French-Canadian hybrid, by Albert Seibel; named for the Canadian enologist, Adhemar DeChaunac; <15 acres)
Delaware (V. labrusca x aestivalis var. bouriquiana x vinifera?, American hybrid; <10 acres)
Diamond, aka Moore’s Diamond (labrusca x vinifera American hybrid; acreage unreported)
Dutchess (complex hybrid by A. J. Caywood of Poughkeepsie, V. labrusca x aestivalis x vinifera; <10 acres)
Elvira (complex American hybrid, V. labrusca x riparia x vinifera; <10 acres)
Frontenac, aka MN 1047 (complex American hybrid from Minnesota; )
Gamay Noir (R, vinifera, a specialty of Whitecliff Vineyards)
Gewürztraminer (W, vinifera; <10 acres)
Golden Muscat (W, American hybrid ex-Cornell, labrusca x vinifera; acreage unreported)
Noiret (R, complex American hybrid created in Geneva, NY)
Pinot Blanc (W, vinifera, Alsace clone planted only at Stoutridge)
Pinot Gris (W, vinifera)
Pinot Noir (R, vinifera, almost unique to Oak Summit in the region; about 30 acres)
Refosco (vinifera, planted only at Stoutridge)
Riesling (W, vinifera; <10 acres)
St Pepin (complex American hybrid by Elmer Swenson in Wisconsin)
Sangiovese (R, vinifera, planted only at Stoutridge)
Seyval Blanc/Seyve-Villard 5-276 (W, French hybrid, vinifera x rupestris x lincecumii; 73 acres)
Teroldego (vinifera, planted only at Stoutridge)
Tocai Friulano (W, vinifera, planted only at Millbrook Vineyards)
Traminette (W, complex American hybrid based on Gewürztraminer)
Vidal Blanc/Vidal 256 (W, French hybrid, Ugni Blanc x Seibel 4986; <10 acres)
Vignoles/Ravat 51 (W, complex French hybrid, Pinot Noir? x Subéreux?; <10 acres)
As can be seen from the list, most of the wine varieties are hybrids, developed specifically for traits that would enable the vines to survive the extreme cold, humidity, and diseases. The French hybrids were often developed to produce vines based on V. vinifera that were resistant to phylloxera, as the original intention was to plant them in European vineyards. Once it was realized that grafting American rootstock to vinifera shoots would adequately protect against phylloxera, interest in hybrids dropped in Europe, but many of the hybrids have been successfully introduced to the United States. American (esp. New York hybrids) were often developed to thrive in American vineyards with their attendant cold-climate challenges and the diseases that are endemic to the region.
Bibliography and other References
Unfortunately, there is a serious paucity of books devoted exclusively to the entire Hudson River Region AVA. The only one still available, by Martell and Long, is out of print but can still be ordered.
De Vito, Carlo. East Coast Wineries: A Complete Guide from Maine to Virginia. Rutgers U. Press: New Brunswick, NJ, 2004. An excellent guide to the wineries of the region, though having been published ten years ago, it doesn’t even include the author’s own winery: Hudson-Chatham.
Figiel, Richard. Circle of Vines: The Story of New York State Wine. Excelsior Editions, Albany, NY, 2014. Written by the once-owner of a Finger Lakes winery, this is a well-written account of the story of New York wine, with a chapter devoted to the Hudson Valley and additional related material in two others. The entire book, a sweep of history going back to the Ice Ages and up to the present day, is a worthwhile read and the chapter on the Valley is especially complete and valuable.
Martell, Alan R. and Alton Long. The Wines and Wineries of the Hudson River Valley. The Countryman Press: Woodstock, VT, 1993. Given that it was published 21 years ago, it is seriously out of date, and at a scarce 48 amply-illustrated pages, it covers but 20 wineries and a meadery. It is clearly meant for the general public.
New York Wine & Grape Foundation (text by James Tresize), “The New York Wine Course and Reference.pdf.” 2014. Available as an online download, it is an excellent and very complete research source, although it has a promotional slant. It also includes very useful regional maps on the soils, temperatures, growing degree days, etc. (Note: It is curious that the AVA map in the Wine Course document does not match the one on the Website: Fact and Figures, which is the version that I use at the beginning of this article; it is the one that I consider the most accurate.) The Website is listed below. In citations, it will be referred to as “NY Wine Course.”
A handful of others touch on the region here and there, but superficially. For example:
Berger, Dan and Tony Aspler. North American Wine Routes: A Travel Guide to Wines & Vines from Napa to Nova Scotia. Reader’s Digest Press: Pleasantville, NY, 2010. Very superficial, with no useful background and only four wineries listed on the two amply-illustrated pages about the Region.
Castell, Hudson. Wines of Eastern North American: From Prohibition to the Present: From Prohibition to the Present – A History and Desk Reference. Cornell U. Press, Ithaca, NY, 2014. Its subject is rather broad so that the Hudson Valley is only touched upon here and there, but it is a fine work of scholarship and an important reference.
Morton, Lucie T. Winegrowing in Eastern America: An Illustrated Guide to Viniculture East of the Rockies. Cornell U. Press: Ithaca, NY, 1985. An important book but it only offers a very cursory coverage of the Valley.
Robinson, Jancis and Linda Murphy. American Wine: The Ultimate Companion to the Wines & Wineries of the US. U. California Press: Berkeley, 2013. For an ‘ultimate guide’ there are only two pages, mostly covered by illustrations and no useful map. It counts 33 wineries, mentions Millbrook Vineyards and Winery as the ‘Superstar’ and shows three wine labels.
Thomas, Marguerite. Touring East Coast Wine Country: A Guide to the Finest Wineries. Berkshire House Publishers, Lee, MA, 2002. Mentions only two wineries and is out of date.
For grape varieties:
Casscles, J. Stephen . Grapes of the Hudson Valley and Other Cool Climate Regions of the United States and Canada, Flint Mine Press, Coxsackie, NY, 2015. An important an indispensable guide to the varieties of the region. (See my review of the book at Grapes of the Hudson Valley.)
Robinson, Jancis, Julia Harding, & José Vouillamoz. Wine Grapes: A Complete Guide to 1,368 Vine Varieties, Including Their Origins and Flavours. HarperCollins: New York, 2012. Simply the best and most complete reference to all varieties available in the English language.
Benjamin, Vernon. The History of the Hudson River Valley from Wilderness to the Civil War. Overlook Press, New York, 2014. Using up-to-date scholarship, this is a serious and significant contribution to the literature of the Hudson Valley but, alas, there’s very little about wine. Nevertheless, a very worthwhile book to own.
Be aware that most of these sites may not be up-to-date or may contain misleading or incorrect information.
HVNet.com: Wineries The Hudson Valley Network is more about tourism in the Hudson Valley than it is about the Hudson River Region AVA, and includes at least two wineries that do not belong in the AVA. It is also out of date.
HVWineGoddess.com A light-hearted but informative romp through the Valley. It is currently maintained with fresh material, but it isn’t clear if it updates old posts.
HVWineMag.com The Hudson Valley Wine Magazine is probably the source with the most up-to-date information about what is going on regarding wine in the Valley.
NYSAES (Cornell U.)* The academic/scientific go-to Website for all matters agricultural and horticultural, which means viticulture as well, in the State.
Also indispensable for New York State wines is the New York Cork Report by Lenn Thompson, with its many interviews, coverage of wine tastings, reviews, and more.
NewYorkWines.org New York Wine & Grape Foundation, aka Uncork New York, covers all the wine regions of the state. Though it states that there are 41 wineries in the Hudson region, but that includes 3 cideries, 2 distilleries, and 1 glögg producer, so strictly speaking there are really only 35 wineries in the region. “The New York Wine Course and Reference.pdf.” can be downloaded from here.