A taste of the Upper Hudson Valley

Posted
Thursday June 27, 2013

It may surprise you to learn that America's oldest grape-growing and winemaking region lies a mere stone's throw away. The Hudson Valley is home to more than 20 wineries, 12 of which lie on the Upper Hudson Valley Wine Trail in Washington and Rensselaer counties, the newest wine region in New York State.

I had the pleasure of touring three of the wineries on the Upper Hudson Valley Wine Trail, all of which were also members of the Upper Hudson Valley Wine and Grape Association: Natural Selection Farm Winery in Cambridge, N.Y., Amorici Vineyard and Winery in Valley Falls, N.Y., and Victory View Farm Winery in Schaghticoke, N.Y.

The wineries I visited were wonderfully unique, each in their own way. I encourage you to experience what these local wineries have to offer, as their wines are delicious and thoughtfully crafted with patience and a tangible passion rarely found with products not made close to home.

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NATURAL SELECTION FARM WINERY

85 Darwin Road

Cambridge, N.Y. 12816

518-677-5208

When Ken Denberg isn't teaching English at the State University of New York at Albany, he can be found pruning and weeding among the grapevines in his two-acre vineyard in Cambridge, N.Y.

Nine years ago, while working as a maitre'd at Pangaea in North Bennington, Vt., Denberg decided to take his love of wine to the next level, and attended wine school at Cornell University. Upon graduation, he opened his own winery, Natural Selection Farm Winery LLC, in May 2009.

Since opening his winery, Denberg has successfully fostered 700 varieties of grapevines on his property, in addition to bountiful blueberry and raspberry patches, and pear, apricot, plum, and peach orchards.

This is his third year selling wine, which he retails for $15 at local restaurants, festivals and liquor stores in Saratoga, Greenwich and Cambridge.

Natural Selection's signature burgundy-style wine, Handsome Farmer Red, which Denberg named after his ancient, red Ford tractor, is made from a special blend of St. Croix, Geneva Red, and Marquette grapes.

"My wine is full-bodied, very dry, and can be compared to a zin or cab," Denberg explained. "It pairs very nicely with Italian, barbeque, Mexican Anything, really. That's what's so nice about my wine."

In addition to his red wine grapes, Denberg also sources grapes from other vineyards to craft his dry white wines, Vidal Blanc and Diamond. The farm specialty, however, is Rhapsody in Blueberry, a 100 percent blueberry wine, made from his very own, fresh blueberries.

With the exception of his white wine, Denberg is proud to grow, vent and bottle his wine completely independently and all on-site.

He explained that Natural Selection Winery is unique in that the majority of wineries in the United States do not have their own vineyards on their property. The owners of the wineries must purchase the grapes for their wine from elsewhere, then send them off to be processed and bottled at yet another location.

Denberg said that his only conflict with his winery business occurs when he tries to sell his wine at liquor stores.

"Wine shops think that since my wine is made locally that it should be cheaper than other wines," he said. "I've stood my ground though, and continue to sell my bottles for $15 because I'm passionate about my product."

Denberg says that he makes about 800 bottles of wine per year and proudly adds that it usually sells out in about six weeks.

In the future, Denberg hopes to focus the entirety of his energy on Natural Selection and the wine that he loves.

"When I retire, I'll have more time to spend in the vineyard and will gradually start phasing out my white wine to focus solely on the red."

This, Denberg explained is something he is anxious to do, since he wants his customers to know that all of the wine he sells comes only from his farm, nowhere else.

"I said in the beginning when I started this whole thing that if I couldn't grow it, make it and bottle it myself, that I wouldn't do it," Denberg mused. "Time to live up to that idea."

For more information on Natural Selection Farm and Winery or to schedule a tour of the vineyard, call 518-677-5208 or visit the Facebook page: Natural Selection Farm Winery LLC.

AMORICI VINEYARD AND WINERY

637 Colonel Burch Road

Valley Falls, N.Y. 12185

518-469-0680

Upon arrival at Joe Messina's vineyard and winery in Valley Falls, N.Y., you will be greeted by one heck of a welcoming committee: Gigi the black lab, a friendly kitten on mouse patrol and a gaggle of geese, happily munching away on insects, grass and weeds around the property. The slew of animals is very apropos of the winery's name, Amorici, which means "loving friends," a word Messina created using two Italian words: "Amore, meaning "love," and "Amici," meaning "friends."

Messina, Italian in heritage, has been an avid wine-lover and organic farmer "before it was fashionable," he jokes, for much of his life. Messina enjoyed growing grapes and making his own wine in his free time and often shared his wine with friends and family at dinner parties.

At one particular dinner party, a few of Messina's friends fell in love with his wine and asked him to make a few extra bottles to give as Christmas gifts.

This was just the encouragement Messina needed to make a lifestyle change, going from working as the Founder and Owner of Adventure Trading Food Co., an exotic food trading company in Albany, to working full-time on his winemaking, which is now his primary source of income.

So, for the past eight years, Messina has applied the same sustainable, organic farming practices he used previously, to the three acres of Aromella, Kay Gray, Fontenac, and Marquette grape vines on his property, to craft delicious red, white, rose and apple-honey wines. Messina recently won two bronze medals for his Riesling and Cabernet Franc wines at the Finger Lakes Wine Competition.

Messina explained that this year, he decided to experiment with a "greener" approach to mowing and insect control on his vineyard, allowing his geese to roam among the vines for seven weeks.

With help from his feathered "amici," Messina mowed his vineyard two-thirds less this season, thus significantly reducing the contact his vines had with gasoline.

Messina plans to use this tactic in future seasons as well so that he never has to expose his grapes to gasoline again.

With constantly full bellies and plenty of property to explore, it's safe to say the geese were equally as pleased with this new landscaping approach.

Thanks again to his geese, Messina never uses pesticides or chemical fertilizers on his vines either. The geese gladly feast on any insects or larva they find, and later on, whatever they eat is turned into a natural fertilizer.

Messina explains that due to Upstate New York's damp climate, there is and always will be a problem with fungus in his vineyard.

"It rains too much to deal with fungus organically," he says, "But I minimize the chemical spray as much as I can."

Messina says that he will keep researching and experimenting with different techniques until he has a completely organic vineyard.

Messina's crop yields about 700 cases of wine per year, or 8,400 bottles, all of which are vented and bottled on site and retail from $13.50-$18 at local wine shops, restaurants and festivals.

Until this year, Messina was independent in his winemaking business (save sourcing a few varieties of grapes from Long Island and the Finger Lakes region) growing, venting, bottling, marketing and distributing all by himself. However, Messina recently hired three part-time employees to assist with marketing and farm maintenance.

As if Amorici wasn't unique enough in its farming habits, the health-conscious will love the fact that all of Messina's wines are vegan and vegetarian friendly, never clarified with shellfish or egg-based products. Additionally, all wines are produced without flavor or color-enhancers. Once you taste any of Messina's wines, however, it will be clear that they need nothing added, except perhaps, a few almonds or your favorite cheese to nosh on while you sip them.

Messina's winery is open to the public Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays from 11 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. or by appointment.

To learn more about Amorici Vineyard and Winery or to schedule a tour of the property, call Messina directly at 518-469-0680 or visit www.amoricivineyard.com.

VICTORY VIEW FARM AND WINERY

11975 State Route 40

Schaghticoke, N.Y. 12154

518-855-4006

Gerry Barnhart and his wife Mary began growing grapes on their farm in Schaghticoke, N.Y. in 2008. After retiring from a long career with the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation, Gerry decided that he needed to do something that would keep him mentally and physically active in retirement, and also something that would keep his farm, Victory View, in agriculture.

"Mary and I planted a quarter of an acre of test vines our first year," Barnhart said, "just to see how that would go. We were successful so we expanded our vineyard to a full acre two years later."

The Barnhart's vineyard continued to expand with each passing year, culminating in a total of three and a half acres today, three of which will be producing grapes this year.

Victory View grows a variety of cold-hardy grapes in their vineyard, including Marechal Foch, Marquette, Fontenac, laCresent and LaCrosse varieties.

"If all goes well," said Barnhart, "We should be able to harvest somewhere between ten and fifteen tons of grapes this fall."

According to Barnhart, such a crop would yield approximately 500-800 cases of wine.

With enough space on their farm for up to 20 acres of vines, the couple hopes to continue to expand their vineyard, but to what extent is uncertain at this point.

"We do everything ourselves, so expanding would be a pretty significant step for us," said Barnhart. "Right now it's just a mom and pop operation. Expanding would mean hiring workers to help out. We're not quite ready for that, yet."

The Barnharts both come from dairy farming families, so they know how time-consuming and physically exhausting it can be to run a large farm.

"I knew when I started this that I didn't want to work as hard as dairy farmers worked," laughed Barnhart. "Although I'm beginning to think that people who grow grapes work just as hard as dairy farmers."

Up until this year, the Barnharts have only made wine for pleasure and to share with friends and family. The upcoming season will mark the first time that their wine will be sold in local wine shops and restaurants.

When Barnhart isn't otherwise occupied in the vineyard or busy acting as the president of the Upper Hudson Valley Wine and Grape Association, an organization that sponsors the Upper Hudson Valley Wine Trail, he hosts workshops at his winery in cooperation with Cornell University's wine school for the tasting room staff of other local wineries.

"The workshops educate the tasting room staff on how exactly the grapes are grown, how we make the wine and are in turn educated on how to better market the wines," said Barnhart.

The couple hopes that Victory View's tasting room and winery will be open to the public for wine tastings and tours by this August.

While the winery's website is under construction, the Barnharts invite inquiring minds to visit Victory View Vineyard's Facebook page.

Learn more about these and other vineyards on the Upper Hudson Valley Wine Trail at www.upperhudsonvalleywinetrail.com.

Contact Elizabeth Conkey at econkey@benningtonbanner.com. Follow her on Twitter @bethconkey.


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