Mark Miller, one of the Hudson Valley wine region's pioneering winery owners, died Sept. 9 at the age of 89. Miller founded Benmarl Vineyards, turning his farm just downriver of Poughkeepsie, N.Y., into a small winery in 1971.
Miller's life took him from Oklahoma to Hollywood to France. Born in Eldorado, Okla., on Jan. 2, 1919, he got his start as a costume designer for 20th Century Fox in Los Angeles. He moved to New York after World War II and had a long career as an artist that culminated in the 1950s, when he was an illustrator for the Saturday Evening Post and other leading magazines.
In a 2001 profile, Miller told Wine Spectator, "My entire life, I've always been far too interested in finding out what could be done." His wine career was proof of that. In 1951, he bought a small farm near the Hudson in Marlboro, N.Y. A wine lover, he made his own from the old vineyards on the property. In the 1960s, he spent several years living in France and deepened his love for Burgundy. When he returned to New York in 1967, he focused on converting Benmarl (Gaelic for "slate hill") into a working winery. He was also one of several vocal advocates for reforming New York's wine laws to make business easier for small wineries. After the farm winery act was passed in 1976, Benmarl was granted the first farm winery license.
Miller sold the winery in 2004. His son, Eric, is owner and winemaker at Chaddsford winery in Pennsylvania's Brandywine Valley. In the 2001 profile of his father, Miller said, "My father's interest in wine absolutely inspired me," recalling informal tastings of Burgundy and Bordeaux that he had with his father when he was a child. "He'd blindfold me and ask me to figure out which was which. If I got it right, he'd give me a nickel."
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