Today, he is the owner, with his wife, Yancey, of Whitecliff Vineyards. He is also the President of the Hudson Valley Wine and Grape Association. Recently, Whitecliff was reviewed very favorably by the Wall Street Journal.
“I wanted to do some farming, and this area was historically a grape-growing region supplying New York City,” Michael has explained. “You don't have to be a physical organic chemist to be a winemaker, but it certainly helps.”
In the first few years, their production was around 500 cases a year. Now they are one of the leading wineries in the Hudson Valley. Here’s a quick interview with Mike, on where the Valley has been and where it’s going. And a selection of the best in category wines of the Hudson Valley.
What is the biggest challenge facing wine in your valley today?
The biggest challenge facing the region is acceptance. Acceptance of the region as a quality wine region and destination.
What is the difference between wine in your Region from ten years ago to today?
Quality. and diversity. There is much more quality vinifera wine than there was 10 years ago. Millbrook winery led the way and Today those high standards are evident in much of the wine produced in the valley. Where do you think wine in your region will be 10 years from now?
Ten years from now, I think the valley will be known for quality wines of uniform style and consistancy. And I think the valley will be a major wine and food destination, like Napa Valley or the Willamette valley in Oregon. There will be one Hudson Valley not several trails. I think there are a lot of similarities with the Hudson Valley and the Hunter Valley outside Sydney, Australia. The Hunter Valley is a fertile growing region just outside a major city. Our Valleys have a lot in common.
What’s the trend in wine in your region that has surprised you the most in the last two-to-five years?
In the last two-to-fives years, in my consulting business, I have seen a number of people from Texas and California, for example, who want to establish facilities here in the Hudson Valley. They want to establish production, grape growing, hotels, bars, restaurants, etc. These are total destination type places. Land in the Hudson Valley is cheap compared to Napa and it’s in close proximity to New York City. Winemakers in the valley are buying grapes from around the state because there are not enough grape growers producing wine grapes for the wineries in the region.
Is there a new trend you expect to see in the next two-to-three years?
I see an increase of 10% in the number of wineries in the next two-to-three years. But I also see increase in overall production in the valley. I can count four new properties in production now. The number of wineries will continue to increase. Some people come here wanting to open wineries. Others are open to growing and selling grapes in the near term. I also see the valley getting a repution as the nations hand crafted distillate center because of the innovative work coming out of Tuttletown , Warwick, Stoutridge and others.
As a wine maker last five years, I have seen a lot of improvements. One is a complete catalog of yeasts that are tuned into the grape varietals I deal with here in the valley. All of that was not available 20 or even 10 years ago. Low temperture fermenting yeasts are now available to us. With all the improvements, we now have the ability to better capture the capabilities of the grapes. There is also the recognition of new yeasts that require different nutriative values to keep them going, but offer new ways to express the fruit. There are new stemmer crushers that gently handle fruit and allow whole cluster fermentations.
Michael with Bob Barrow of Brotherhood
How big a part do festivals and farm markets play in your state‘s wine distribution?
We do farmers’ markets more and more every year. It’s important in terms of revenue, but it’s also promotion. We don’t bring all our wines. It’s like a teaser. We hand out a discount card tothe customers. We want to draw them into the tastingroom.
Festivals are great. Some are more costly to do and so are less profitable. But they are a great tool to spread the word.
Wine sales are increasing. I was worried with the recession. But people are staying home more, entertaining at home more. They are into all things local, especially for entertaining at home. They’re buying more and more of our wines at stores, farm markets, and wineries. And they are buying quality wines. And there are more and better quality wines made in the valley now available. I think the wine competition is evidence of that. The quality comes up every year, and people are getting it. We also work to bring Cornell educators down into the valley to educate our wine people. As a result the wines are better. I taste wines that are less oxidative, have lower acidity, and greater expression of fruit.
I think were are a great producing area. I think we have to stay on tract and message and get the best fruit producers to start growing more wine grape varieties. There are some gorgeous sites. If we can get some of those folks growing wine grapes you’ll see even better quality wines across the board. In the valley, you can grow vinifera and you can get a really good price. It’s viable business. Right now the best fruit growers have the right sites; good land, theknowledge, the equipment, and the workforce. They have it all. And when they start growing vinifera, then you will see even better wines in the valley.