Thursday, October 03, 2013

Pressing Matters – Ed Miller of Brookview Station Winery

Marvelously ingenious and perfect, from a mechanical standpoint; worthless commercially, the costiliest machine ever built will stand in a Cornell university laboratory as a monument to Mark Twain's vanished fortune. – New York Evening Telegram October 9, 1898

Mark Twain went broke trying to financially back a new typesetting machine. A former typesetter himself, Twain knew that it was hard work, and that any improvements to its laborious machinations would be a huge advance in the business. But the Paige Typesetter, while being an interesting machine, had no commercial application. It was a good idea and an impractical one all at the same time. But no one had more reverence for typesetters and their work than Twain.
Strange thing about a press. It can be used to squeeze a person’s thoughts out onto to a piece of paper, or turn a fruit into a glass of wine. Each task takes something and makes it into another. One takes an idea and gives it form, solidity, and shape. The other takes something solid and turns it into an idea. No one knows that more than Ed Miller.

Ed Miller’s trip into the world of wine is one of the longest winding roads I have ever encountered. Ed, throughout his lifetime, he has worked with presses of varying types.

Ed was born in Dutchess County. His father loved the country life, and his mother couldn’t abide it. They moved to the Bronx in 1960, and Long Island two years later. But Ed loved the farming life. He was a country boy at heart. He had an Aunt who had a farm in Dutchess county. He spent as much time there as he possibly could. And as he grew older, he spent summers when he could helping out on the farm.

But Ed also needed a job, so he went into the typesetting business. Still living on Long Island, he started working for a print shop that did typesetting for magazines and advertising. He also worked on typesetting for products, the most difficult of which was having to squeezing mountains of tiny type on bottles of Helena Rubenstein nail polish bottles. Ed was versed in hot type and linotype. He’d worked in rooms where there were huge trays of die-cast printers letters. He was a press man and eventually became the night foreman of the print shop.

But Ed never tired of the agricultural life. He kept spending time in the country. And through his cousin, he met a family – the Goold family, who he’d helped out from time to time. There he met and fell in love with the farmers daughter, Sue Goold.

The two married, and lived on the island for a little while before it became clear they were headed back to the farm. Ed became a farmer in the winter of 1977 at Goold Orchards.

The Goold family have been farming their land for more than 100 years. It is a Centennial Farm. Goold Orchards story begins in the early spring of 1910. Newlyweds James and Bertha Goold arrived by rail at Castleton’s town hub, a small whistle stop called the Brookview Station and walked to the farm they had recently purchased. Bertha, schooled at Emma Willard in Troy and husband James, a recent graduate from Cornell were eager to apply the latest in agricultural technologies on their new fruit farm. In 1933 after James’ sudden death, Bertha and her son teenage son Robert continued to operate and grow the family farm. In 1941 Bob married Marcia Grainer and together settled into the business of raising a family and running the apple farm. They continued to work and grow the family fruit farm into what is now Goold Orchards. Bob and Marcia eventually passed the day to day running of the farm onto their children.

Ed learned the difference between a MacIntosh and a Delicious. He learned about pruning in cold weather. Spraying crops, and picking apples, and about making cider. And that’s when iron entered into Ed Miller’s life.

Goold Orchards is one of the largest producers of apple cider in the region. They press thousands of gallons a week for local and regional supermarkets as well as for their own farm store. And that’s when Ed first started working with another kind of press. A cider press. Suddenly, he realized, he’d traded in trays of letters in for bins of apples. From ink and paper, he had now graduated to juice and plastic bottles.

In the meantime, Ed became involved with the Cornel Cooperative Extension and the Hudson Valley Cornell Lab. He’s been involved with the lab for more than 20 years. He is on their board of directors. It’s his new raison d’etre. The HV Lab is an important asset to the valley, and Miller will be happy to tell anyone who listens why it is needed. It was founded basically by apple farmers, back when the valley was dominated by them. But today it is used to gage many fruit growing issues, from apples, to berries, to vegetables and even grapes.

Today, with cut, after cut, after cut, from the state, the Hudson Valley Laboratory is in danger of having it’s Cornell staff withdrawn. It’s an expensive proposition in a time of fiscal trimming. It is not the only Cornell outpost in trouble within the state.

“It’s important to be involved in it. The Hudson Valley lab is a great information source. We have a unique growing region. We don’t have the Lake Affect they have in the Finger Lakes We don’t live near the ocean or benefit from Long Island Sound. We live in the Hudson Valley. It is a unique climate, That’s what makes the station so important. As a farmer, I need to know what’s happening here, in the Valley. Not what’s happening elsewhere in the state. What insects are coming u through the valley? What parasites or disease pressure?”

The Lab has experimental orchards and vineyards. They can ell you their historical data on what has had good impact on their crops, and what has had deleterious effects Ed was lamenting that what killed the raspberry harvest this season wasn’t a wet spring but an infestation of fruit flies that destroyed the fruit. That’s why to him, the Lab is so important. He urges all folks, grower and winemakers to help get involved in the station, to make use of its resources and to make sure it survives and thrives over the next 20 years. “We need that station to remain open.”

In 2007, 30 years after he began pressing apples for cider, Goold introduced Brookview Station Winery, and farm winery based at Goold’s Apple Orchards.  They were the first winemakers in Rensselaer County.

“The winery has taken the farm into a whole new demographic,” Marketing Director Karen Gardy told Hudson Valley Wine magazine. “When we started the winery, it made us a year round destination.”

Sue and Ed are also big proponents of Pride of New York. The Pride of New York is the state’s branding program for the promotion of New York State food and agricultural products. In addition to helping consumers find New York food, the program also assists farmers and food processors in promoting their products by using the Pride of New York emblem.

“The Pride of New York program helps so much, for not only us, but businesses across the state,” Ed told the press. “They do such a good job of promoting the quality products and produce which are produced in this state.”

The biggest surprise came to the fledgling Brookview Station Winery when it shocked the Hudson Valley wine community when it took the prestigious Cornell Cup when Whistle Stop White won best wine in the Hudson Valley in 2007, topping even Millbrook Vineyards! It was a semi-sweet, off-dry apple wine!

The first wine was an easy decision. Goold Orchards grows 16 different varieties of apples on 17, 000 apple trees on more than 100 acres. The semi-dry apple wine made its debut at the 2006 Goold Orchard Annual Apple Festival, and before the 2-day event was over, the first bottling had sold out!

The wine drew great reviews and became an immediate hit. Lenn Thompson, Editor-in-Chief of the New York Cork Report wrote, “I'm excited to publish this review… because it represents a new category of adult beverages being covered here on the NYCR -- fruit wines. Many people scoff at the category without even exploring the wines within it, but I'm enthusiastic to try and learn about anything, including fruit wines in the Hudson Valley -- and there are a lot being made there. And you know what, I think this Brookview Station Winery Whistle Stop White ($13) has its place….”


Thompson gave the wine its props, writing, “The nose is simple, showing fresh-cut apple and something lightly floral. It brings more of the same to a medium-bodied palate that shows a bit of sugary sweetness at first, but finished almost dry, with a little rustic apple skin bitterness that actually worked quite well…”

Whistle Stop won five Gold Medals over the next four years, and garnered nine medals and awards over all! Ed presses thousands of gallons of apple cider for grocery stores and shops throughout the region, but now he also puts in hours standing over his wine press. As much as he is a farmer, he is now a pressman all over. Whether the cider press or the wine press, Ed is always squeezing something.

The next wine was Oh What a Pear! An off-dry pear wine, which is sold in 750ml bottles, as well as splits. The fine pear fragrance is accompanied by a kind of cobbler-esque bready smell, with some honey and apricot thrown in. Lovely. Again, one of the better fruit wines in the valley.  That was followed “Pomona” (“Goddess of the Orchards”) an apple-pear fruit wine. Three dessert style table wines were added in February 2008, “Lotta Bing” cherry wine, “Just Peachy” peach wine and “Strawberry Sunrise” strawberry wine. All were very good wines, and sold through immediately.

Then there was All Aboard Red and semi-sweet red table wine which was also a very popular choice.

Then along came Sunset Charlie which is easily one of their biggest successes. A semi-sweet blush wine, with a picture of their dog Charlie on the label, this wine took off like a rocket! It is currently among the staples of their wine list, and one of the backbones of their wine business.

Ed continued to make ground as a serious fruit winemaker. “The Conductor’s Cassis” is a black currant cordial that winemaker Ed Miller says “is handcrafted in the traditional style of French artisan winemakers.” It is one of the best, fruit forward Cassis in the valley.

Staying with the train theme, Brookview also released Porter’s Port, a port-like desert wine made from two different tyoes of cherries. Cherry wines are dicey. Made badly, then often end up tasting like Formula 44D. But this was no cough-syrup. This was a lovely dessert wine with overtones of cherry, vanilla, mocha, and spice. An excellent dessert wine. Nice acidity. Not too sweet.

Truly, Ed had now cemented a portfolio of excellent fruit wines. But there was more. Brookview expanded their wine list by using outside grapes to offer a Merlot and Baco Noir which both were very good. But it was just a softening up of the beaches. Ed was now ready to storm the wine world.

After releasing what else, a cider named  Jo-Daddy’s Hard Cider to chime in with the immense popularity of hard cider these, Ed had something else up his sleeve.

Several years ago, Ed decided to plant grapes, choosing French-American hybrids and Wisconsin varieties to plant vineyards throughout the farm, tucked between orchards. Marachel Foch, Frontenac, and Marquette were the grapes he chose. Being a farmer and a grower now by trade, his vineyards flourished! Exploded in fact, and he had a full crop on the third year. And what did he do with the first year? He released Brookview’s ultra-premium wine, Estate Frontenac.

This was a bombshell of a big red wine. Big fruit, with decent structure and solid backbone, this is as lovely a Frontenac as I have had anywhere (see the separate review). It is a sign that Ed Miller has passed yet another milestone in his career. From setting type like jewels, he now setting fruits like jewels.
Ed Miller is a pressman through and through. He’s been squeezing stuff through the press his whole life. Now he’s squeezing his whole life in a press.