Sunday, March 30, 2014

Steve Kolpan Calls for Signature Grape in the Hudson Valley in The Valley Table

 
Steven C. Kolpan is a professor of wine studies at the Cuinary Institute of America.  He holds the The Charmer Sunbelt Group Endowed Chair in Wine and Spirits. Like Kevin Zraly before him, Mr. Kolpan began his life in wine as the sommelier and Maître d'hôtel at Depuy Canal House, which was one of the two or three hottest restaurants outside NYC for many years. He writes regularly on wine and art for Salon.com, The Valley Table, Wine from Spain News: International Cookbook Revue; The National Culinary Review, The Daily Freeman, Up River/Down River, The Woodstock Times, among many.
 
And his writing has won numerous awards including awards from Wine & Spirts, a James Beard Award, the Georges Duboeuf Wine Book of the Yea and many other. And of course, he is the author of several highly acclaimed and successful books, such as Exploring Wine: The Culinary Institute of America's Complete Guide to Wines of the World, WineWise, Italian Cooking at Home and A Sense of Place: An Intimate Portrait of the Niebaum-Coppola Winery and the Napa Valley

I should also point out that Exploring Wine is one of the best selling wine books of all time. It is without question, the mostly high adopted book used by wine professors throughout North America and has sold in the hundreds of thousands of copies through three editions. It is a massive tome, that is easily a reference for the popular reader as well.


 

The reason I am going on about Steven is because while the Hudson Valley is rich with wine writers (and there are a great many of them - thankfully!!!) undoubtedly Steven and Kevin Zraly stand tallest among the crowd as of this writing (I apologize if I am missing someone...I haven't had my morning cup-o-joe yet). Of all the major wine writers in the US, Steven has been the most active in the Hudson Valley and deserves kudos for it! He deserves immense gratitude from the winemakers of the Hudson Valley!

More than any other major wine writer, Steven ha tasted more Hudson Valley wines, followed our industry with great care, visited the tasting rooms, promoted the successful wines on air on WAMC, and has judged at numerous events. And he backs up his reviews. The Culinary Institute carries a dozen Hudson Valley wines on their wine list. And the credit needs to go to Steven.

Steven is a lovely man. He is friendly, has a dry sense of humor, and takes wine and food seriously. I have lunched with him several times, and see him often at wine tastings in the valley as well as major portfolio tastings in New York City.

Recently, in the March-May issue of The Valley Table, Steven published an article, "Should the Hudson Valley Adopt a Signature Grape?" Steven, as can be expected, handled the question with great care and diplomacy. But ultimately, he came down on the side of YES. He's not the first to talk or write about this question here in the valley. But his is certainly among the voices, due to experience an accomplishment, that should be heeded most.






He pointed out that some world class wines are already being made in the Hudson Valley. And throughout the article recommended wineries up and down the valley worth trying and drinking. But he also pointed out that the Finger Lakes have claimed Riesling, and that Long Island has Merlot, and that the Hudson Valley has not yet adopted a single grape in a more forceful way.

Steven rightly points out that Seyval Blanc is definitely the most widely planted white, but that there are plantings of Riesling and Chardonnay. On the red side Cab Franc, Pinto Noir, and Baco Noir seem also to be planted in equal amounts. He suggests we pick a grape and rally around something, preferably vinifera.

I think Steven Kolpan is absolutely right. I took a long way coming to it. But I have my own version of how it should be. Firstly, with whites, there is no question that Chardonnay and Riesling plantings are on the upswing. And four or five years form now, both will be staples on most quality wine lists. On the red side, Pinot plantings are on the rise, as are Cab Franc plantings. It is starting to happen already. And as a winemaker, and valley blogger, I have every intention of pushing those new wines as they come online.

I have three caveats though. First is, I think that any region also needs the diversity we have, and that we shouldn't be ripping out anything in particular. We shouldn't make Cab Franc the star to the exclusion of other grapes (which Mr. Kolpan does not advocate in his article). I think diversity in any US wine region remains a driving force. But we should ADD to our plantings. There's not enough fruit in the Hudson Valley to fulfill the current demand. I love Pinot Noir, but it is finicky and grows better from the mid-Hudson on down. It's harder for northern climate vineyards. Cab Franc seems to be the future of the Hudson Valley, and I am happy for it. But I also see a Hudson Valley that continues to push Pinot Noir and Baco Noir.....and here's why.

The Hudson Valley is making some of the best reds in New York state. Our current Cab Francs, Pinot Noirs, and Baco Noirs are fabulous Burgundy-styled reds on the east coast. We are making soft, approachable, medium bodied reds like no one else, and at prices few can match (we're probably underpricing our wines). We make great wines. But adding to that reputation by making more good red will absolutely help get the message out. We are uniquely situated, by geography, to make these wines, and excel at them. Mr. Kolpan rightly points all this out.

My second caveat is this, let's try not to make big California/West Coast Cab Franc, but to make lighter, Loire-ish styled Cab Francs, that are more like Pinot Noirs than Cabernet Sauvignons. Up and down the east coast I am disappointed with Cab Franc varietals that are soaked and soaked, trying to get deep color and richness of flavor. The problem is that most of these wines would have been much better being pressed and made lightly, so as not to pick up many of the off flavors Cab Franc can often give off, especially if any of the fruit is not as ripe as it might have been in a warmer climate. This would be the best of all possible worlds. Bright cherry, spice, hints of vanilla - good. Herbaceous-ness, green bell pepper - bad.

My third and last thought is that every winery in the valley should be making one good solid blend. Blends were originally made in cool climate regions to cover up the holes of individual wines. Some wines produce great fruit but lack finish. Or have great fruit up front, a nice finish but no middle. The concept was to blend two or three wines to make a much more classic, well balanced, elegant wine. I think this kind of treatment continues to be the salvation of other eastcoast wine regions like Virginia, and Maryland, where the trend has been incredibly successful.

I hope these caveats don't seem pissy. As an editor, blogger, and winemaker, I have thought often of this question, and it has been a sore subject since I arrived in the valley, as agreement and knowledge did not allow us to make these things happen. I believe that the valley has improved its winemaking knowledge and it's vineyard keeping knowledge. And that now is the time to move forward in a big way. I think the valley is ready!

I urge all Hudson Valley winemakers to read Mr. Kolpan's article if they haven't already. I suggest we rally around his suggestion of Cabernet Franc (and Pinot Noir) and move forward with our Loire-ish/Burgundy message of beautiful, well-balanced, soft approachable reds.

Most of all I want to thank Mr. Kolpan for his continued support and advice. I have spoken with many valley winemakers, and all have remarked on this note. I think his is an important voice, both nationally as well and regionally, and we not only welcome his involvement, but would love to include him more often. That's not just from me - that from the whole winemaking community in the valley!

Here's a direct link to the piece:
http://www.valleytable.com/article.php?article=006+By+the+Glass%2FHudson+Valley+estate+wines