Saturday, February 14, 2009

Spending a Day With Cesar Beaza at Brotherhood

Yesterday I had one of the supreme pleasures in the wine business - spending time with someone who is in the know when it comes to New York State wine, and someone who is extremely experienced in winemaking and the wine business in general. That person is Cesar Beaza.

I and a friend, Steve Casscles arrived early in the morning. Cesar greeted us and walked through the tank room, and down into the lab.

Cesar first started working at Brotherhood more than three decades ago. He then left for a very big position at Pepsico, where he established several bestselling labels. But he returned to his Hudson Valley roots, and that was great for the Valley. Cesar has fought off developers as best he could, and made massive changes at Brotherhood, bringing it into the 21st century. The winery - America's oldest - has a state-of-the-art bottling line, a new guest cottage, a new French restaurant, and a fabulous new tasting room. There was also a new banquet hall for weddings, with a giant stone patio.

Cesar has improved the winemaking, bringing in qualified staff as well as dedicated vineyard managers and workers. He's also working with farmers up and down the Hudson Valley, helping ensure that agriculture remains a robust part of Valley life.

The grounds at the winery are constantly being updated and redone. The grand tasting room remains one of the biggest and most beautiful tasting rooms in the world - California, France, East Coast, Chile, and Spain included. And the caves underneath the grounds - which appear to be the size of three or four football fields - are some of the oldest in the western hemisphere. They are very similar to the ones found at Cousina Macul in Chile, which were built about the same time - approximately two to three decades before the American Civil War. They are crowned by a fabulous old world styled wine library, complete with cobwebs and wrought-iron grate!

There is no question Cesar has built a New York state powerhouse. His distribution is exceptional - combining the best of local distribution deals and a powerful in-house marketing and sales team.

And recently Brotherhood updated all their labels. The final facelift. Their leading wines now come in up-scaled packaging, which really makes a difference. They look great!

And last but not least - Cesar is a wonderful story-teller. He's got dozens. He told of one time when he volunteered to make a delivery in New York City sometime ago, when he, the President, delivered 10 cases to a customer. When Cesar got there, the shipping clerk hollered at him, and told him to tell his boss not to come so late in the day anymore - because they didn't accept late shipments. Or the time he fought off earlier owners in efforts to close down Brotherhood and make it into condominiums. Or get him talking about winemaking, and suddenly he's off - talking about vineyard management and yeasts and fermentation methods and starter cultures...and the next thing you know, it's 12:30 and you haven't even left the lab yet!

But of all this, what about the wine? Well, there's not enough room here to describe them all. The Blanc de Blanc was excellent. 100% chardonnay. It was inexpensive, dry, elegant, lots of bubbles. Wonderful! His Chelois, which is only available at the winery and is yet to be released, was light, fresh, and delicious. A smooth, dry, light red wine. It was incredible. The 2005 Cabernet Sauvignon was excellent. Nice hints of vanilla. Deep fruit flavors with dark plums and black cherry. A beautiful and balanced deep red. An elegant style of the great Bordeaux houses. And of course their Pinot Noir, which is light, fruity, but well-balanced with acidity and just the right amount of tannin.

Steve and I tasted lots of wine, and were very sad it was time for us to leave. It was a lot of fun. Whether you see Cesar at the winery or not, there's lots to see, taste and experience at Brothehood. It's easy to see why they were still considered among the leaders in wine in the Hudson Valley.