Wednesday, August 08, 2012

Albany Times Union Features Wineries of the Upper Hudson Valley

Grape Expectations
It's not easy going, but Capital Region gains wineries
By Eric Anderson
Updated 3:41 p.m., Thursday, August 2, 2012
Albany Times Union

Joe Messina, owner of Amici Vineyards, stands for a portrait with a bottle of his Cabernet Franc Reserve Thursday, July 26, 2012 in Valley Falls, N.Y. (Dan Little/Special to the times Union)

How difficult is it to operate a vineyard in the Capital Region?

Very, says Joe Messina, who lost 85 percent of the grape crop at Amici Vineyard in Valley Falls during last summer's tropical storms.

"This year," he said last week, "is looking better. Thank god we had a storm last night. The drought is definitely having a serious amount of stress" on his vineyard.

Such is the life of Capital Region vintners.

Yet, new wineries are opening, some with their own vineyards, and while the Capital Region isn't yet wine country, it does have nearly a dozen active wineries, where you can find a range of reds and whites.

The newest is Capoccia Vineyards & Winery on Balltown Road in Niskayuna, where Justin Capoccia, one of the owner's sons, says they've planted an acre of land with 340 vines.

They produced about 7,500 bottles from last year's grape harvest, Justin said. It was he who first encouraged the rest of the family, which has long made its own wine, to do it commercially.

The Capoccias offer wines ranging from cabernet sauvignon and cabernet franc to chardonnay.

While the Capital Region's wineries are relatively small, the industry in New York state last year had sales of nearly $4 billion, according to figures from the New York Farm Bureau.

Bureau spokesman Steve Ammerman said the state has about 300 wineries, a number that's growing quickly.

"We had more new wineries in the past five years — 118 — than in the two decades prior," he said.

Johnston's Winery in Galway grows blueberries and raspberries that go into some of its wines, but depends on vineyards in the Finger Lakes and California for its grapes, said owner Kurt Johnston.

"It's too cold to grow the vinifera grapes," he said. "We can get to minus-30 degrees in the winter."

While Johnston produces about 2,000 gallons — or 10,000 bottles — of wine a year, he augments his business by selling equipment to people who make their own wines.

The Saratoga Winery & Tasting Room, on Route 29 west of Saratoga Springs, buys its grapes from vineyards in the Finger Lakes.

Demand has been growing about 25 percent each year, said Kelsey Whalen, the winery's manager, and the winery now produces about 2,000 cases annually.

With relatively small production, availability of Capital Region wines can be quite limited.

Some wines are available only from the winery, while others can be bought in local liquor stores or ordered at some local restaurants.

Recent legislation signed by Gov. Andrew Cuomo also allows the state's so-called farm wineries, farm distillers and farm brewers to sell each other's products. The "farm" refers to the raw materials, such as hops, grapes, berries, corn, or grain being grown within New York state.

"It's good for consumers," said Jim Tresize, president of the New York Wine and Grape Foundation. "They can do one-stop shopping for New York products."

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