Tuesday, March 12, 2013


Tuesday, January 19, 2010


Phyllis Feder came down the walk from her Dutchess County Colonial farmhouse to greet us. She was accompanied by a friend, and a small Wheaton-mixed fluffy dog, who attended her every movement. Lithe and elegant, she greeted us warmly and entreated us to come inside. She moved slowly, but gracefully. She was, as usually, beautifully attired.

There is no getting around it. You can still feel Ben Feder's presence here. It is after all a very personal place. It was the magical place Ben and Phyllis turned into one of the most sought after farm wineries in the Hudson Valley. For as much as he was the grand old man of the Valley for the last five or so years, there was a time when Ben and Phyllis's country retreat was a swank oasis for numerous fashionable Manhattanites, especially those in the publishing and design world.

The winery has a classic tank room, that just as might be anywhere else. Save the little touches. A Princeton University banner hung on the walls. An American flag hung proudly - one with only 24 stars. These are personal touches. Who ever decorates a tank room? But it's fabulous. Your eye constantly dances around.

The tasting room is very much the same way. It is dark green, well lit with windows (one has a spectacular view), and it is handsomely appointed. As was the original intention, the room feels more like you are in Ben and Phyllis's elegant wine den, rather than a shop. There is a large plaid couch, and several chairs. And the walls are plastered everywhere with personal and professional mementos. Photos of Phyllis and Ben from their younger years. Pictures of them with friends, and notables, especially former NY Senator and now U.S. Secretary of State Hilliary Rodham Clinton.

The room is warm and friendly on a cold January day. The wines are beautifully displayed, and the bar is very handsome and functional. And the tasting in particular is fun. And Phyllis is chatty and funny. It is a good day.

Victory White is this year's bottling of Clinton's famous Seyval Blanc. Seyval Blanc is all they grow at Clinton. They make four different kinds of sparkling wine with it, and a classic dry white table wine. In this respect, Clinton is an old fashioned winery. They make wine with one kind of grape, and they do it very well. I think their Seyval Blanc is one of the best in the Valley.

Clinton offers four sparkling wines. These are three. The Seyval Naturel is classic Seyval, as a sparkling wine. With just a hint of sugar, it's a crisp, refreshing sparkling wine, with a touch of sour green apple, almost Riesling-like. Wonderful!

Peach Gala is a Seyval based white sparkler, with a touch of peach juice to it. It's got a nose that's incredible. It smells like here are fresh peaches soaking in your glass of sparkling wine. Not incredible sweet, it does have the slightest touch of sugar. Fabulous for brunch or dessert.
Royale is an all together different experience. It is a sparkling wine with some Cassis. A wonderful Kir Royale in a bottle. A lovely before- or after-dinner drink.

Clinton also makes some wonderful fruit dessert wines. Their Cassis, as was described in one of my previous posts (see East Coast Wineries Cassis Throwdown), is exceptional, and has set the standard in the Valley for some time. They also make an excellent Raspberry and Blackberry dessert wine. They sell all three in a boxed set. A great gift package.

Here's New York Cork Report Editor-in-Chief, Lenn Thompson, taking notes during his tasting.

Here's an ad from Avenue magazine that features Ben and Phyllis. Great ad!

Ben's presence can still be felt.

Phyllis and Ben were both designers. Here's a stunning photo of Phyllis from the 1970s while in Paris for a design competition.

Frank J. Prial did a wonderful profile of Ben and Phyllis not that long ago in the New York Times.

A wall plastered with all their old and present State Liquor Authority winery licences, which have to be renewed each year.

This is the Seyval Blanc up close.

One of the last surprises was when Lenn Thompson asked what Jubilee was. Phyllis yelped, "Oh, my, I almost forgot!" She readily poured it for us. It was easily a great shocker. Jubilee is a bone dry, Brut styled sparkling wine. I did not think anyone could make as good a tasting champagne-styled wine in the Valley. I am mistaken. This was easily the biggest surprised of our day. Lenn bought two bottles. I bought two bottles. It tasted like fine, French sparkling wine. Tremendous! Really quality stuff. In a blind tasting, I'd defy anyone to discern it from any sparkling in the Champagne region, and tell me it wasn't.

We had a great afternoon with Phyllis. A wonderful time. A great experience.