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stirring the lees with james molesworth

A Weekend In The Hudson Valley

Photo by: David Yellen

Posted: Sep 6, 2006 4:15pm ET

I spent last weekend in the Hudson Valley of New York. It was rainy most of the time, but still beautiful. Rolling farm land, some good restaurants, and more than a handful of local wineries.

I took the time to stop in at two of them. I like to go incognito and take the nickel tour, do the $5 tasting thing. While Seyval Blanc doesn’t usually light my fire, I always have fun seeing how wineries operate, tasting their wares, and being a fly on the wall as they talk to customers.

At one winery they were pouring an ’01 vintage Chardonnay that had matured way past its time and had way too much oak – a typical problem of East Coast wineries. It seems they’re forced to produce blue-chip varieties, even if it doesn’t suit where they are, in order to have some recognition factor with the people who come into the tasting room. But for every clunker, there’s something good. The other winery’s Cabernet Franc was crisp and fresh, with solid varietal character.

By the end of the day, we wound up with a few bottles of Seyval Blanc and a few bags of fresh local produce in the trunk. Dinner at home that night was delicious – local cheese and vegetables, capped off by a killer blackberry pie made from berries picked that day. Though my wife and I moved on to other, shall we say "more established," wines after only a half bottle of the Seyval, I had no qualms about supporting the local scene. Anyone who makes an honest effort to make wine is all right by me.

So, if you’re in New York, Virginia, Michigan (and other states with prominent viticultural and agricultural areas not named California, Oregon or Washington), do you support your local wineries? Or do you avoid the stuff like the plague? Are you drawn in by the charming, rural life, or turned off by a cloying tourist trap?

Jay J Cooke
Ripon CA —  September 6, 2006 6:39pm ET
James, even in California you can support a local winery. I live in Ripon a small town in Central California. I have been collecting & enjoying wine for the last 30 years. While vactioning at the Four Seasons in Hawaii several years ago their house wine by the glass was McManus Cabernet. It was an excellent wine & I discovered their winery was just a few miles from my house in Ripon. They make excellent wine at an affordable price & I have been a supporter ever since.
Matthew Weiler
Los Angeles, CA —  September 6, 2006 6:46pm ET
Peninsula Cellars (on Michigan's Old Mission Peninsula, which overlooks the Grand Traverse Bay) makes a solid Riesling and an excellent Gewurztraminer. L. Mawby, on the parallel Leelanau Peninsula, makes exciting sparkling wines. Of course, the fact that these wineries are beset by Lake Michigan's dune-swept beaches adds to the excitement. The Traverse City wineries are least impressive, however, when they venture into varietals not suited as well to the area (pinot noir, cabernet franc, and chardonnay). Re local wines near my adopted home, I try to get to Paso Robles (especially L'Adventure and Windward Winery) whenever I can.
Greg Malcolm
St. Louis, Missouri —  September 6, 2006 7:08pm ET
I would be more than happy to support local wineries (Missouri, in my case) if they produced anything drinkable. I have searched long and hard, but have only found one that produces reasonable wines. That is Bommarito Winery. And, I do purchase his wines, whenever I am in the area.
Peter Czyryca
September 6, 2006 7:10pm ET
Local vineyards for me are Westport River in MA and Sakonnet Vineyards in RI. Both have a couple highlights. Westport makes a better than average Blanc de Blancs sparkler and Sakonnet has a great Guwurtztraminer (sp?) as well as a solid cab franc. I used to think they were delicious wines until my palate expanded and I ventured out to Calis coast. But I can still respect and appreciate the efforts - and I dont think any of the aforementioned wines would score less than 80.
Colin Haggerty
La Jolla, California —  September 6, 2006 9:44pm ET
James-I concur. Here in La Jolla, the Temecula Valley is not that far away. There are really some good wines produced there, and the area is quite beautiful. I never hesitate to buy whenever I am visiting (or even in the local wine shops).
Mark Mccullough
GA —  September 6, 2006 10:03pm ET
I have tried a few wineries in NY and GA. The ambiance is more relaxed and can be a fun day. But I have a hard time with the QPR of these wines, it seems like you are often paying a premium price for a mediocre product. Why pay more for NY Riesling direct from the winery than German Riesling of better quality at retail(and with an unfavorable exchange rate to boot!)? I agree with the comments that many local wineries are trying to produce too many varietals. Dr. Frank in NY Finger Lakes stands out as an exception to my comments. Solid wines, reasonable prices.
Mark Mccullough
GA —  September 6, 2006 10:53pm ET
Standing Stone in NY Finger Lakes is also very solid, perhaps the best there.
Robert Boyle
California —  September 7, 2006 12:42am ET
Santa Barbara. Yes, we support the local wineries in a substantial way.
Jeffrey Ghi
New York —  September 7, 2006 9:07am ET
It's getting hard to for Long island wineries. Every year they're just getting more and more expensive. Duckwalk, Macari, Palmer, are all hitting the 30+ range with substandard juice. But it's still lovely on a lazy sunday to drive out there and just chill with a bottle. Paying for the ambience in that case.
Brad Coelho
New York City —  September 7, 2006 9:30am ET
James,Absolutely! I live in Brooklyn so I'm about an hour and a half from the North Fork and I've made several trips out there (as well as to 'Vintage,' a NYC tasting room/restaurant dedicated to all NY wines and produce) and I love to see the progress they've made. My fiancee and I have chosen to get married in the winery of Macari, which is tucked away beautifully in a corner of their 100 plus acres of Chardonnay, Cabernet Franc, Merlot and Sauvignon Blanc. Anytime I see a Konstantin Frank Riesling I snatch it up, I love giving these NY pioneers business!
William Newell
Buffalo, NY —  September 7, 2006 9:30am ET
We do buy quite a few wines from the Finger Lakes region; mostly Herman Wiemer, Dr. Frank and Red Newt rieslings and gewurztraminers. We are also very close to the Niagara Region in Canada, and go there frequently. Our favorites are Inniskillin ice wines; chardonnays and rieslings from Cave Springs, Peller Estates and Chateau Les Charmes; and gamays from Hillebrand. There are not very many Hudson Valley or Long Island wines available in Western NY, but there is one local restaurant that has a good selection of LI wines, where we have tried several very good North Shore chardonnays and cabernet francs.
James Molesworth
September 7, 2006 9:33am ET
Matthew: I'm with you on Mawby - I liked the wines when I did a cover story on wines across America a few years ago. Too bad he doesn't send in samples anymore. Sometimes I think the small guys are worried how their wines will do, or simply forget that we have an open door policy here for samples.

Greg: I've liked the Nortons from Mount Pleasant Winery. Have you tried those? They're not for everyone though - it's an off-beat grape for sure.

Peter: Sakonnet has made some good whites, including a nice sweet Vidal Blanc. They haven't sent anything in a few years though.

Mark: Yes, I find the local wineries often try to do too much. For the Finger Lakes, Riesling is clearly the best bet IMO - look also for Red Newt, Standing Stone, Fox Run, Lamoreaux Landing, Atwater Estate, Sheldrake Point...
James Molesworth
September 7, 2006 9:36am ET
Jeffrey: I agree with you on LI wines - I find very little out there that is worth while. And the pricing only makes it worse - it seems aimed at the captive Hamptons crowd.

But the tasting rooms are busy all summer out there, so if they can get what they charge, more power to them...
Dan Jaworek
Chicago —  September 7, 2006 10:02am ET
I visit an area of WI that has local wineries. The wine is awful...absolutely awful....dreadful stuff. I can't understand how they stay in business. It seems unfair that producers have a difficult time staying in business when thier wines are good while you have others like this that are so bad and thriving. I dont' support them but then again, I live in the midwest. We don't have a wealth of good wine makers or the climate for it. Dan J.
Steve Ritchie
Atlanta, GA —  September 7, 2006 11:00am ET
I like to support the "home team" in Georgia as well and have found a few pleasant wines -- unoaked Chardonnay and a Rhone-style white blend come to mind. My concern is that the local wineries overreach and produce too many varietals; one winery produces over 18 from a small vineyard. I think the lack of focus and the desire to please every palate holds them back. GA is not Napa by any means, but it can grow decent Chardonnay, Viognier, Cabernet Franc, and Tannat, so why not focus on what works with the red-clay, hot and humid, rainy "terroir" we have in the South and drop the watery Cabernet Sauvignons?
Paul Anderson
Longview, TX —  September 7, 2006 11:21am ET
James, I support the really local wineries whether I like their wine or not. Most wines made in Texas are poor to fair in my opinion. There are exceptional exceptions (if I may). I do not necessairly support all Texas wineries unless they make a wine I like. But the three (almost four) that are within a hour's drive of me get my support as an attraction. I am in the tourism promotion business so that is important. I attend the special events, dinners and tastings whenever I can and have become friends with one of the winery owners. They are all new (since 2000) and have come a long way in making drinkable wine. I can generally find one or two wines from each that I really like. My cellar, however is not heavly stocked with their wines. I buy one or two bottels when I go mostly to show support. Sometimes they make good gifts.
Curtis Fox
September 7, 2006 12:07pm ET
James, I went to school in the Finger Lakes and really got into the local wines there. I agree about the riesling producers you mentioned. However, I find that most of the reds are watered down, with the exception of Cabernet Franc. I got turned onto this grape first by your coverage last year of Chinon (Thanks for that!). I find that many of the Cab Franc's in the Finger Lakes can stand up to the Chinons i like that you have given 90+ reviews too. Am I completely off-base? What do you think of this grape's expression in the finger lakes (strengths and weaknesses)?
James Molesworth
September 7, 2006 12:17pm ET
Curtis: I agree - the reds are not their strong suit. But of the reds, Cab Franc is probably their best bet...not sure the best could match an outstanding Chinon though.

Also check out Millbrook's Cabernet Franc from the Hudson Valley - they do a real good job with it.
Jeffrey Ghi
New York —  September 7, 2006 2:10pm ET
Oh that's another pet peeve. These tasting rooms are getting ridic. 10-15$ for a tasting?!?!?!? not quite a tasting when it's 10-15$. The one that really got me was Pellegrini. Their 97 reserve was rated 90 by WS, which they prouldy show around, released at 17$ now retails for 45! When asked for a tasting they responded with a "Sorry we don't open bottles of our reserve, but if you notice, Wine Spectator did rate our wines a 90 so you would not regret your purchase" BLAH to LI wines. Finger lake reislings though definitely get a thumbs up, Doc Konst defintiely gets my vote. I thought NY was the second largest maker of wine in the US behind cali btw?
James Molesworth
September 7, 2006 2:26pm ET
Jeffrey: Yes, NY is second at about 5 percent of the total wine produced in the US. California is first with 89 percent, Washington third at 2.9 percent, followed by Oregon, New Jersey and Virginia...
Alan Vinci
springfield, n.j. —  September 7, 2006 4:28pm ET
Living in New Jersey for 50 years and I don't think I have tried a local wine. James I am interested to know if you have ever tried some N.J.wines,and what you have thought of them. I do make my twice yearly run to Millbrook winery in N.Y to pick up orders of Williams-Selyem, and when there I do sample some of Millbrook's wines. I was impressed with both their Tocai Friulano(2003&2004) and the Cab Franc.I did notice that you have tried the Cab Franc, just wondering if you have ever tried the Tocai?I find it to be an easy style wine great for company. I usually pick up a case of the Tocai. thanks James
James Molesworth
September 7, 2006 5:06pm ET
Alan: I've had NJ wines from Unionville, Alba and Four Sisters, but nothing that broke 80 points...I've had the Millbrook Tocai as well, it's usually in the good (80-84) range...
Dan Rote
lancaster, pa —  September 7, 2006 6:39pm ET
In PA, there are lots of wineries popping up. Problem is no matter what grape they claim to have used, they all taste very similar. Pinot noir, Merlot, Cabernet, etc., all taste pretty much the same, and none taste like the wines that you would be used to from those grapes. Some of the late harvests are appealing, also some of the fruit wines can be fun. I still enjoy visiting new ones whenever I can and usually purchase a bottle or two, wrapped up in the moment. However when I'm home and drinking it, it's not the same as being there and I am thinking of all the better wines I could've picked from my cellar.
John Peterson
LA, CA —  September 7, 2006 9:16pm ET
James, your comments about several NY wineries not sending samples anymore sparked a question: Does WS only review wines that send samples?
Jason Thompson
Foster City, CA —  September 7, 2006 9:59pm ET
I was just in Michigan and tried a couple local wines. I had a champagne that was quite decent (M. Lawrence label that was named..."Sex" from what I could tell). $16/bottle and beat out Napa during a very laid back blind tasting of bubblies...held it's own against some French vintage and non-vintage stuff too.
Fred Anderson
Lansing, Michigan —  September 8, 2006 12:09am ET
James -- If you are ever in N. Michigan (Traverse City area) there is a small winery near Suttons Bay named Willow Vineyard that is worth a visit. For several years they have produced a small quantity of a nice Chardonnay. It is not sold in stores but can be purchased at the winery and they do take phone orders.
James Molesworth
September 8, 2006 9:05am ET
John: We taste both submitted samples (via wineries and importers), and purchase many others...

Fred: Thanks for the tip...
Tim Burnett
September 8, 2006 10:01am ET
I agree with those who support local wineries even in areas outside the the pacific coast. I live in Wisconsin and there are few wineries and a regular "cottage industry" of non-grape based wineries in Door County. I was once served a "cranbernet," which while not necessarily good, was suprising passable and surprising similar to cabernet, at some level. :)

In my opinion very few of the local wines would score much better than 75 - though Wollersheim's Prairie Fume and Dry Riesling are not bad and Von Stiel's Octoberfest (a German white blend) is ok.

My wife and I often visit these and others when we come across them. We enjoy the experience even if the wine isn't so great and we usually by something.
John Miller
Windsor, CA —  September 8, 2006 1:29pm ET
When tasting wine from states other than CA, OR, and WA (and a few NY wines), I usually find that while the wines are not great, I am often amazed that they are as good as thy are. Nevertheless, I try to support local wineries wherever I go. Drinking local wines (just as eating local food) adds something to the experience of the visit to that locale. And while experience tells me to drink those wines before I get back to California, when the ambience of the locale has worn off and I realize I could have bought better wine for less money here, there was a time not long ago when I would have said the same thing about wines from Argentina, Chile, and South Africa. As James and other bloggers have pointed out, wineries from the midwest and east coast would be better served to focus on varietals that are best suited for their soil and climate. One only has to look at what Argentina has done with Malbec and South Africa with Chenin Blanc to see the wisdom in this advice.
Phil Talamo
Bron, NY —  September 8, 2006 2:37pm ET
I'm attending a LI wine tatsing paty tomorrow in LI. I try when i can. James - did you play any golf up there? Some nice courses up there.
Michael Mintz
Washington DC —  September 10, 2006 4:39pm ET
Am I the only one in Virginia?I really enjoy the wines from Horton Cellars (Viognier is one of the best domestic examples of the varietal - and they make a tasty Sparkling Viognier). Naked Mountain is another favorite (Raptor Red) and a pretty outstanding Nebbiolo from Breaux Vineyards...just to name a few.One does have to be a little slective as there is a preponderance of over-manipulated wines and too many too-sweet ones as well!
James Molesworth
September 11, 2006 9:26am ET
Michael: I'm surprised there weren't more votes for Virginia....I like what Jim Law at Linden is doing...

Phil: Yes, Hudson Valley golf is solid. My local course is Rondout, but I've played Casperkill, The Garrison, Hudson National, Branton Woods and others...
Randell Phalp
Lenexa, KS —  September 13, 2006 10:38am ET
Being from the opposite side of the Show-Me State from Greg, I must voice a different perspective (would expect any different??). Missouri has 53 wineries in the state and we are fast approaching a million gallons of wine a year. There are some outstanding wine producers in the state, and as James points out, Mt. Pleasant Winery is among them.

Missouri's wine heritage is as rich and colorful as a Thomas Hart Benton painting; it is very real and unpretentious. Prior to Prohibition, Missouri was the 2nd largest producer of wine in the US, behind only New York. I also like to remind people that were it not for Missouri, there would not be a wine industry in France or anywhere in Europe for that matter, for it was phylloxera-resistant Missouri rootstock that saved the French wine industry in the mid 1800's.

Unlike California, which has the proper climate for growing vinifera wine grapes, Missouri must rely on hybrids and native lambrusca or aestivalis species for our wines. The lambrusca wines (concord, catawba) produce wonderful sweet, grapey wines, while the hybrids (Chambourcin, Seyval, Vidal, Chardonnel...to name a few) produce wines of exceptional quality, given proper viticulture and cellar techniques.

As a dry red wine drinker, I absolutely love Norton (aka Cynthiana). In 1873, a Missouri Norton was deemed the "best red wine of all nations" at a worldwide competition in Vienna. Oft compared to Cabernet Sauvignon, a more favorable comparison is to Zinfandel, only with a much longer finish, with its black fruit, spicey aromas and hints of chocolate or coffee.

I think Greg needs to get out of his vinifera rut and try a few more Missouri wines.

Randy, Grandview Red-X Liquors
Randell Phalp
Lenexa, KS —  September 13, 2006 11:34am ET
James: You should get out and visit the Missouri more often. There are some great wines that you haven't reviewed. The big producers (Stone Hill, St. James, Mt. Pleasant) make fine wines, but it is in the small wineries were I am seeing innovation. Here are a few:

1. Robller Vineyards, New Haven, MO (http://www.robllerwines.com): out of a 13 wine portfolio, I didn't find a dud among the lot. Owner/winemaker Robert Mueller makes what I like to call "tweener" wines. The sweet wines are not cloying, the dry wines retain fruitiness and drinkability even for those never drink dry wines. Mueller also does a burgundian-styled wine from Villard Noir called Le Trompier Noir, a unique feature among Missouri producers. For a sweetish, easy qualffing wine, try Jeu D'Eau. I absolutely love all of their wines.

2. Summit Lake Winery, Holts Summit, MO (summitlakewinery.com): Situated just north of Jefferson City, this winery features a wonderful bistro with a picturesque view of the State Capital Rotunda amidst the foreground of spring and fall folliage. My favorite wine here is Legend, which is a blend of Norton and Chambourcin. Another, softer styled red wine I enjoy is St. Andrews, a blend of Norton and St. Vincent grapes that is 100% fermented and aged on steel. For white wines, my personal favorite is Callaway Bluff, but my wine club favorite is Summit Mist.

3. Augusta Winery, Augusta, MO (augustawinery.com): If you love stickies, try Augusta's Icewine. Augusta makes one of the best available this side of the Atlantic. They also make a great Chambourcin (medium bodied, dry red wine).

4. Montelle Winery, Augusta, MO. (montelle.com): My favorite is their Seyval. If you like the floral notes of a Chenin Blanc, you will enjoy this wine. It is a steal. Sweet wine drinkers should try Himmelswein, with distinct apple/pear notes on the open and a teasing hint of a dry finish.

Randy, Grandview Red-X liquors
James Molesworth
September 13, 2006 11:39am ET
Randell: Thanks for the tips. I taste wines blind in my office however, rather than at the wineries themselves...so, if you stop in on those places again, let them know we have an open door at this end. Just have them contact my tasting coordinator at anapjus@mshanken.com before sending anything in...
Randell Phalp
Lenexa, KS —  September 14, 2006 12:07am ET
LOL. You misunderstand, James. I'm not inviting you to Missouri to work. Like your weekend in the Hudson Valley, take time and do it for the pure pleasure of it.

Yes, there are some great wineries that should be considered next time you do a feature on midwest wine. I'll be happy to let my favorites know how to reach your tasting coordinator, but tasting the wine apart from the down-home laid-back lifestyle that accompanies it would be like watching American Idol with the sound off.

Another reason for naming names in my last post...it is as much press as any of them will get in the entire year. Randy

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