Monday, June 10, 2013

John Graziano is the Stan Musial of New York Wine – The Quiet Superstar

Millbrook Vineyards is one of the premiere wineries in New York state, and the reigning queen of the Hudson Valley. It is owned by John Dyson, who is also owner of an international portfolio of wineries, including the highly acclaimed west coast vintner Williams-Selyam. Dyson has assembled an exceptional team of people including winemaker John Graziano, who has been with the winery from the very beginning (1984), no small feat for a winery that is now closing in on thirty years. Currently, John is producing approximately 10,000 – 14,000 cases of wine annually from their own fruit, as well as fruit from across New York and our California vineyards. Scott Koster is their veteran salesman and Stacey Hudson is their bright, energetic marketing manager, and David Bova is the General Manager that seems to be able to keep everything together, and the ship moving forward. Since its inception Millbrook has never faltered, an impressive run in any business.
Millbrooks' wine is cultivated on thirty of the vineyards' 130 acres. Current  varietals include Chardonnay (13 acres) Pinot Noir (5 acres), Cabernet Franc (7 acres), and Tocai Friulano (5 acres). They planted a healthy amount of Riesling not too long ago. At a recent event, I was lucky enough to taste a series of new vintages from their portfolio and had a chance to chat with Graziano. If I may mix my metaphors, Graziano is the Stan Musial of New York state wine.
Stan Musial was the enigmatic outfielder, slugger of the St. Louis Cardinals, for most of the 20th century the most popular major league baseball franchise between the east coast and the west coast. Musial, also known as “Stan the Man” was a stupendous ballplayer who toiled in a smaller market than New York or Los Angeles, and never received the endorsements or notoriety that some of his contemporaries like DiMaggio, Mantle, Mays, Snider, or Williams did. But nonetheless he was every bit as good a ball player. In a lengthy career, Musial avoided most controversies of his period, rarely made gaffs in the press (if any) and just played hard. He was a veteran of WWII (losing several seasons to his service years), and was a first ballot Hall of Famer.
Like Musial, Graziano comes to work every day with little fuss. Plucked from obscurity from Pennsylvania winery Twin Brook, John has been a gamer ever since. A gym rat.  He doesn’t do a lot of interviews or grand tastings. You won’t see him Facebooking or Tweeting. He thinks his computer is a TV that doesn’t work if you judge him by how long it takes him to answer an email if at all. He shuns these modern day contrivances. He’s just as happy driving a tractor, a forklift, or pulling samples from barrels. Conversations with John are quiet, short. He likes to talk about grapes and clonal differences. He farms; he makes wine; he goes home. He performs his prodigious feats in a smaller, less obvious market like the Hudson Valley instead of the Finger Lakes or Long Island, where visibility is a bigger part of the game. His career spans four decades. His numbers and reviews speak for themselves, and stand up in any market. He is the quiet superstar…and anomaly in our day in age. A throwback. A craftsman. An artist whose sole occupation is to make sure his art is consistent from year to year. He has become such a part of the fabric of this valley, and the New York winemaking scene almost so much so to go un-noticed maybe. But make no mistake about it – John Graziano is a Hall of Famer. First ballot.

2012 Tocai Friulano Proprietor's Special Reserve

Millbrook is famous for its Tocai Fruliano. An obscure grape in Italy, it was not an obvious choice for a place like Millbrook. But it seems to like the Hudson Valley, and John Graziano obviously has “the touch” with this grape. Citrus, kiwi and pear come across on the nose along with hints of mandarin orange. Kiwi and pears also come across on the palate, as well as citrusy ending. Nice bright acidity. A great wine. Elegant. European in inspiration, classic in finish.

 2012 Unoaked Chardonnay
Take a bite of big, green apples, melon, honey, and orange blossoms as promised. Lots of tropical  notes. Apple and pear come across with lovely, fresh fruit. A beautiful dry white wine. Fabulous.

2011 Proprietor's Special Reserve Chardonnay

Millbrook has been making wonderful Chardonnays for years. Their estate Chardonnay wine is aged for 9 months in predominantly French oak. Notes of green apple, honeysuckle and ripe Bosc pear. Hints of vanilla and spice. A lovely, real acidity is balanced by a lovely dry, finish with a touch of citrus. Wonderful!

2010 Cabernet Franc Proprietor's Reserve
A sophisticated, estate Cabernet Franc, with grass, cherry, dark berries, vanilla and floral notes. Hints of spice and earth. Nice acidity keeps the fruit fresh and beautiful, while subtle tannins give it structure and its classic backbone. This is an lovely, lovely Cabernet Franc.

Pinot Noir has long been one of the specialties of Millbrook Vineyards. Last March I tasted a 1993 Pinot Noir Special Reserve. The fruit was still vibrant, and the tannins still solid. A special wine.

2010 Proprietor's Special Reserve Pinot Noir
In this 2010 estate Pinot Noir is a dark cherry wine with hints of raspberry, spice, fallen leaves and white pepper. The tannins are beautiful and present without being over powering. The finish lasts a long, long, long time. It is a beautiful, complex, elegant wine. Wonderful.