Monday, July 29, 2013

New York Times Highlights Tuthilltown Distillery and Benmarl Winery


In a recent article entitled 36 HOURS IN THE HUDSON VALLEY by Freeda Moon (July 28, 2013)the New York Times highlighted visits to Tuthilltown Distillery and Benmarl Winery among many other items. A nice call out for these two wineries in the lower Hudson Valley. Congrats to them!!!

From the article:

6. Tasting Trails
Housed in a former grist mill, the Tuthilltown Distillery became New York State’s first post-Prohibition whiskey distillery in 2007, selling its four-grain bourbon, Manhattan rye and single-malt whiskey under the Hudson Whiskey label. On weekends, tours are offered at noon, 2 and 4 p.m. ($15, including a three-spirit tasting). If wine’s your thing, the Shawangunk Wine Trail ( highlights 14 wineries, including Benmarl Winery, which claims to be the oldest vineyard in the country. The Hudson Valley Cider Alliance ( is yet another beverage-centric option.

Friday, July 26, 2013

Why I Am Angry at Mike Schnelle and Nancy Irelan - And Why I Love Red Tail Ridge

 First we start with a simple, unvarnished truth - I am confused about my feelings about  Mike Schnelle and Nancy Irelan. They are the owners of Red Tail Ridge, a husband and wife team, who are dedicated to producing great wine in the Finger Lakes. My first impulse is absolute envy and anger. My second impulse is sheer joy and excitement. Let me explain. The over riding thing is this: Something special is going on over at Red Tail Ridge. And this is where my confusion emanates from. I am so jealous of what they can do and who they are and what they stand for! I am angry that I don't live closer. And I am absolutely rapturous when I am in the company of a bottle of their wine!

Mike and Nancy moved to Seneca Lake in the Finger Lakes of up-state New York around 2004 when they first purchased the 34 acre property. Mike moved east before Nancy and began the long process of clearing and preparing the land for vineyard development. The property was primarily woods and scrub trees, so he had his hands full. Says Nancy, "Mike is also one of the most meticulous and exacting viticulturists that I’ve ever worked with."
Nancy arrived in the Finger Lakes a few years later, leaving a large corporate California winery to start a new life with her husband. Nancy focuses on winemaking, sales and marketing. Says Nancy, "Once we harvest, I move my focus away from the vineyard and concentrate on the wine production process and eventually sales."
So let's get back to my anger. My anger emanates from sheer jealousy - Mike and Nancy seem to make no missteps. Everything they do is seemingly perfect. I mean everything. It's pissing me off! Whether it's the absolutely gorgeously manicured vines on their property, or their wines, or their freakin' stationery....everything is perfect. Everything is coordinated and professional. Not a hair out of place! They are buttoned down! Put together. Dressed to the nines. Done! One of the best in the region...and I'm not talking Finger Lakes - I'm talking east coast!
2012 Good Karma

Take for instance three recent Rieslings. Firstly there was Good Karma, a blend. Good Karma is their charity wine. Ten percent of the gross profit per bottle will be donated to regional food banks. Nancy and Mike are proud to support their regional food bank, Foodlink in Rochester, NY, and proceeds from there will assist in distributing funds from Good Karma to other food banks across the country.
This wine is a blend of 89% Estate Grown Riesling (harvested in October) and 11% unoaked Chardonnay (harvested in September) fermented in small lots of stainless steel. The result is a refreshing white wine. Limestone, pineapple, melon and lychee all come through as promised. Ripe pear and tropical notes. Nice minerality. Zippy acidity. Fantastic!
A few nights later I had the Red Tail Ridge 2012 Riesling Estate Grown which was harvested in October 2012. The original vines were planted in 2006-2007, clones 90 and 110. The yield was about 6 pounds per vine. Green apple and pears blended with tropical fruits, orange blossom, and citrus zest. Peach and minerality come through as well. Again, zippy acidity. A lovely, lovely Riesling. An absolutely wonderful wine.
The second wine I tasted alongside was the 2012 Semi-Sweet Riesling which was also Estate Grown, this one also stainless steel, but exclusively clone 90. This lovely wine had much bigger fruit notes. Honey dew, pineapple, cantelope and green apple explode out of the glass and across the palate. Pears too! Nice acidity helped to carry the sweetness without being cloying. There is no syrupy sweetness, but big fruit, and a delicious ending. Wonderful!
I've already raved and drooled over the very tasty and juicy over their Blaufrankish. Simply put, one of the best Lemberger/Blaufrankish east coast wines I have yet tasted, and certainly one of the versions of this wine that first turned my head.

And of course their Pinot Noir 2011 is amongst my favorite east coast Pinot Noirs. Dark cherry and cranberry and brown sugar and spice, along with hints of violet make this earthy estate Pinot Noir one of my absolute favorites. A nice bouncy acidity makes this burgundy-styled wine linger on the palate for a long, long time.

2009 Sparkling Rose’ is made using the traditional methode champenoise technique. Hand riddled and disgorged. 100% 2009 Pinot Noir. This is a Blanc de Noirs Cuvee made from 50% barrel aged Pinot (which was 100% malolactic aged) and 50% stainless with no maolactic and 15% of that barrel aged. Bread, apricot, strawberries and crème come through as promised. Citrus notes of orange and lime come through as well. A smooth, creamy finish with just enough acidity to make the fruit linger. Fantastic! 

Do they do anything wrong? Not that I am aware of. All I know is that the wine world is a better place because Mike and Nancy are making wine in it. And anything they produce deserves serious consideration, and more importantly, absolute enjoyment. Yes, I am still angry at Nancy and Mike. I am angry I don't live closer. And I am jealous of their absolute single-minded devotion to their craft and final product. And I am absolutely convinced that they were incredible craftsmen. They are undoubtedly one of the premiere producers of wine on the east coast, and that their wines are world class, and would be competitive in any market.

Thursday, July 25, 2013

INTO WINE Names FIVE East Coast Winermakers as Part of 100 Most Influential

Top 100 Most Influential U.S. Winemakers

97-Craig Kritzer of Frogtown Cellars in Georgia is still under the radar, for now. But this Georgia winery continually competes in wine competitions against California wines…and wins. Helping to place Georgia on the wine map for dry red and white wines, Kritzer takes this a step further and is one of the few Georgia wineries to not blend some percentage of California grapes, juice or concentrate, with his wine, a common practice in Georgia. This keeps his consumers drinking 100% Georgia wine, and keeps them coming back.

96-Abe Schroner used to teach college students ancient philosophy. But after an internship at Luna Vineyards in Napa he started The Scholium Project, a winery rooted in the philosophical belief that only by experimenting with wine at the precipice of disaster can one challenge our understanding of what wine should be. Part Nutty Professor, part wine renegade (in the truest sense) Schroner is not constrained by orthodoxy nor a “bottom line,” rather Schoener, explores the furthest reaches of wine's microbiological potential, and comes up with both successes and failures. But he attempts the new, and in that he affects change. (He's making wine at Red Hook Winery as well)

89-Tony Kooyumjian of Augusta Winery in Georgia understands the history of his region– the people, the places, the wineries that preceded his. He had a major role in having Augusta declared the very first AVA in 1980. He has won the Governor’s Cup and he operates Montelle Winery as well. As a champion of Norton, hybrids and other unique mid-west wines he has pushed the acceptability for these wines to a broader American public

88-Kris Kane of 21 Brix is working with dozens of varieties including, Cayuga, Blaufrankish and virtually unknown Noiret and his wines are available nationally through Olde Chautauqua Farms. Kris makes stylish, dry, Vinifera wines in the Lake Erie region where winemakers have historically left aggressive residual sugar in the wines for their regional consumers, which also made them unappealing to the wine trade and general public. That tide had turned. If and when Lake Erie is on the map, it will be because of him.
71-Stephen Bernard is the winemaker for Keswick Vineyards in Virginia, helping to shape the full potential of the Virginia wine culture. He started working in the wine industry at the oldest winery in South Africa and joined Keswick Vineyards as an intern and held that position until 2004 when he took the position of Winemaker at Rappahannock Cellars, but two years later returned to Keswick Vineyards as the Winemaker and General Manager. Keswick is one of the few wineries that ferments most of its wines without the addition of yeast and does not fine or filter any of their reds.

52-Fred Frank manages Dr. Konstantin Frank in the Finger Lakes region in New York. As Konstantin's grandson, Fred Frank, has expanded the business tenfold and Dr. Frank wines are now distributed in 36 states and internationally. Earning 79 gold medals in 2012, their wines, specifically Riesling, have earned the reputation as world class. Wine Enthusiast nominated the winery American Winery of the Year, and the winery is one of the Finger Lakes’ Most Award-Winning Wineries raising the bar for American Riesling.

Read more at:

THIS WEEKEND!!!! Bounty of the Hudson July 27 and 28, 2013 at Whitecliff Vineyards

Shawangunk Wine Trail is pleased to announce that Bounty of the Hudson, the Trail’s annual summer wine festival, will take place on July 27 and 28 at Whitecliff Vineyard in Gardiner. Bounty of the Hudson is the biggest annual gathering of the Hudson Valley’s wineries and producers.
Because the Hudson Valley’s wine industry has experienced rapid growth, this year’s Bounty of the Hudson will be the Shawangunk Wine Trail’s largest ever. For the first time, the event will gather 20 to 25 Hudson Valley wineries in one place instead of the usual 15 to 18, making it easy to discover the best of the region. In addition to participation by area restaurants, local farmers will also participate, making this a true farm-to-table wine and food festival. Culinary Institute graduate Chef Shawn Hubbell will prepare small plate dishes that will each spotlight a different Gardiner farm, including Brookside, Brykill, Full Moon and Kiernan Farms for meats, Meadow View for vegetables, and Hurd for fruit. The farms’ products will also be available for purchase.

Pictures from pervious Bounty events!
This year’s festival at Ulster County’s Whitecliff Vineyard will also showcase the beauty of the Hudson Valley with its 26 acres of vines and dramatic view of the Shawangunk Mountains.
“We are honored to host Bounty of the Hudson here at Whitecliff Vineyard, and we could not be more excited to have the Hudson Valley’s major wineries all in one place,” said Yancey Stanforth-Migliore, owner of Whitecliff Vineyard. “"We're particularly happy that our local community of Gardiner has so many amazing farms producing organic vegetables and free range, organic meats. It will allow this Bounty to include a unique opportunity to taste local wines together with truly local foods. We're taking ‘terroir’--the way the climate and soils of a place effect the character of wines, the foods, and the way they complement each other--to a new level with this year's event!"
Bounty of the Hudson will also include live music, with the Michael Hollis Jazz Quintet performing on Saturday, and the Bernstein Band Quintet on Sunday. The festival will take place from noon to 5 p.m. on Saturday, July 27, and Sunday, July 28, at Whitecliff Vineyard at 331 McKinstry Road in Gardiner. Tickets will soon be available at
Attending wineries include:
·         Adair Vineyards
·         Adirondack Winery
·         Applewood Winery
·         Baldwin Vineyard
·         Benmarl Winery
·         Brimstone Hill Vineyard
·         Brotherhood, America’s Oldest Winery
·         Brookview Station Winery
·         Cereghino-Smith Winery
·         Clearview Vineyard
·         Demarest Hill Winery
·         Glorie Farm Winery
·         Hudson-Chatham Winery
·         Palaia Winery
·         Robibero Winery
·         Stoutridge Vineyards
·         Tousey Winery
·         Warwick Valley Winery & Distillery
·         Whitecliff Vineyard & Winery
About Shawangunk Wine Trail                                         
Shawangunk Wine Trail, proudly located in the Hudson Valley, is composed of 14 distinct wineries. The wineries along the Shawangunk Wine Trail range from large to small and feature a variety of award-winning red and white wines, from sparkling and fruit wines to sweet and bone dry blends.

About Whitecliff Vineyard:
Whitecliff Vineyard is a family-owned winery that has been internationally recognized for producing fine wine. By winning “Best White in Show” with its Riesling in 2010 at the San Francisco International Wine Competition, Whitecliff beat out 1300 entries from all over the world and brought a distinguished international wine award home to the Hudson Valley. Whitecliff recently built one of the first geothermal wine production facilities in the state. For more information, visit

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Anthony Vietri at Va La Vineyards: A Poet Whos Uses Grapes

I once had an English teacher who tried to explain to us students the difference between a novelist and a poet. Novelists were like painters who used huge canvases, and painted in broad strokes.  She said that really good novelists pushed ideas across a page. On the other hand poets worked on much smaller canvases, and in fact, might be considered miniaturists. She said that poets set words on a page like a jeweler works with stones. I always thought that an apt analogy.

And it is particularly so with Va La Vineyards. Va La is not the biggest vineyard you will ever see. It is not the most beautiful vineyard you will ever see. But Va La is a jewel, not just in Pennsylvania, but on the east coast. One gets the impression that Anthony Vietri, The Farmer Va La as he is affectionately known, could in fact make wine anywhere. The northeast is no easy friend of the grape, like say California. One can only imagine the wines he might make there, or in Rioja, or say Tuscany.

The first time I went to Va La Vineyards, I didn't really know what to expect. We were driving through the Brandywine wine trail, and we had spent the night before in Kennett Square. From there, we wandered down to Avondale, PA, to try this place we knew very little of at the time, Va La Vineyards.
Va La was an eye opening experience. Their tastingroom experience was one of the best I'd ever had, bar none. I had been up and down California and the east coast, Chile, France and Spain, an their tastingroom experience far surpassed any I had yet seen.

Foods were offered. Attention to detail was thorough. Shop presentation was excellent. And it was all at the highest quality. Subsequent tastings of their wines have only improved upon my initial impressions.

Currently, Va La makes four wines: la prima donna (a white blend), silk (a rosato), mahogany, cedar (two very impressive big red blends). The estate grown grapes come from the “home vineyard.” In a recent conversation, I asked him why he no longer made an older blend, and he wrote me that “the vineyard wants to make four wines right now so that's what we're doing.”
That goes to every winemaker’s heart. Making what the vineyard gives you. Owners don’t usually talk like that. Owners talk like boastful novelists. People who make big boasts, and talk wildly with their hands. Winemakers talk quietly, confidently, knowingly. They talk about their piece of land. The talk like farmers. They talk about what goes on in this block, or that ridge. They talk like people who work in small rooms, setting diamonds, or turning a hunk of metal and a rock into something beautiful.
“There are essentially two main kinds of wine in the world, and we should consider them differently. The vast majority of wines in the world are now being made as industrial beverages. All methods of mechanical, chemical, biological techniques are employed to create a stable, inert product that will safely taste the same way all the time — and throughout time. Much of the philosophy is borrowed from the soda industry. The constant critical demand for products without imperfections has created this world; unfortunately it is lacking in interest,” Anthony once told food and wine blogger, Krista Baker at

 “Artisanal wines attempt to provide a closer relationship between the land and the drink. These are wines based on the belief that it is important or of value to have a sense of the person and place — “who” makes the wines and where the wines come from are of interest. Risks are taken – in winemaking and growing – to step outside the box, in the hope of discovering and providing the audience with a unique or perhaps profound experience,” continued Anthony.
“The field we farm contains approx 6.73 acres (2.7 hectares). Within this field there are four separate soils. Each soil produces one wine,” said Anthony. An example of Anthony’s fanaticism was on display when he talked about harvest, telling Krista, “Each wine is made from a compendium of smaller batches, that is, each wine is made from several passes through the vineyard that produce many separate small batches which are then blended together to form a single wine.” That’s an intense winemaker.

So I have three of the four wines, and a singular wine (four wines in all), but I didn't want to gulp down all four just to write a review. These are wines to savor!!! But I did pour two for a mixed grill dinner we had about two or three weeks ago, before someone turned the thermostat up to 100 freakin' degrees!

First we had Silk 2009. According to Anthony's notes, "This dry rosato was produced from the soils
of the eastern slopes of the hill." The wine is a blend of C
orvina Veronese, Barbera, Nebbiolo,
Carmine, and Petit Verdot. I brought the bottle up straight from the cellar, so it was a touch cool, but not cold, which was perfect. After all this is rosato, and it is summer. But we had it at about 55 to 60 degrees. The wine was beautiful! A lovely, light, light red wine. The color of a light re wine. Purple and red, but translucent. Big deep flavors of dark raspberry and plum. Wonderful acidity kept it bright and lively on the palate, which made the cool aspect of it just perfect. A great way to start the dinner.

Next came Siranetta. According to Anthony, "The Siranetta vintage was 07; it is not mentioned on the site as it was just a small side project to our four wines that we make ... that we did while awaiting for the vineyard to mature -- the last vintage was the 08." Mahogany and Cedar are two of my favorite east coast wines, but Siranetta was an experience! This was a big, huge red blend, with dark cherry, dark blackberry, and cassis on the nose and palate with hints of mocha, vanilla, spices, and fallen leaves. The tannins were nice but not too strong, and the acidity was not as big as one sometimes expects from an east coast red. This was very much a big red wine, more rich and intense like California, but with a very heavy French/Italian, European influence. Very reminiscent of Boxwood or Black Ankle vineyards further to the south! An incredible wine.

A testament to the evening, there were only three adults at the table on a Friday night, but the two bottles were drained, with nary a drop left. Absolutely amazing.

And that was the poetic touch at the end too. The beautiful night, with a lovely sunset, and the glass of wine to watch the pink/orange/yellow/blue sky. Nature was almost as pretty in the sky as what she had put in the glass. Anthony had taken something as simple as a grape, and made two things, so beautifully, that we were sad when they were gone. He had set those grapes like jewels. That's what he does. He's a poet that works with grapes. Amazing!

Strongly recommend reading Krista Baker’s incredible interview with Anthony Vietri and Va La Vineyards:

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Howard Goldberg Raves About Kontokosta Winery on Long Island in the NY Times (NY)

East on North Fork, a New Winery
Published: June 21, 2013
New York Times

The 62-acre Kontokosta Winery in Greenport, the easternmost winery on the North Fork, opened this month with a sizable portfolio of eight wines, featuring impressive reds.

The proprietors, Michael E. Kontokosta, the vineyard manager, and his brother, Constantine E. Kontokosta, own the Harborfront Inn in Greenport and the Cove Place Inn in Aquebogue.

Their 2007 Blum merlot ($19), from Ackerly Pond Vineyards grapes of Peconic, is gorgeous; the 2007 cabernet franc ($29) is explosively flavorful; the regular 2007 merlot ($29), from Kontokosta fruit, is rich; the 2010 cabernet sauvignon ($22) is savory.

I found the tangy 2012 sauvignon blanc ($25) and the sumptuous 2009 chardonnay ($17), which was made from grapes bought from Sargon Vineyard in Orient, enticing. The 2010 viognier ($25) is piquant; the 2012 rosé ($15), mainly syrah, offers a floral aroma.

Eric Fry made the 2007, 2009 and 2010 vintages at the Lenz Winery in Peconic. Gilles Martin, the consulting winemaker, produced the 2012 vintage at the Kontokosta Winery, in a 9,000-square-foot wind-powered gray barnlike building atop a high bluff. The cellar can make 5,000 cases yearly. The tall windows face Long Island Sound and nearly 24 acres growing seven grape varieties.

“Other than managing the vineyard, I have no formal training in viticulture or enology,” Michael E. Kontokosta said in an e-mail. “I prefer to learn by engaging, not studying.” He had left corporate finance law in 2001 to go into business.

The first vines were planted in 2002, the last in 2004, by Ray Blum, who oversaw the vineyard until his death in 2007. He had founded Peconic Bay Vineyards in Cutchogue and owned Ackerly Pond Vineyards.

Kontokosta began selling other producers its grapes in 2006. With Long Island’s outstanding 2007 vintage, it started retaining some for itself. Its bottles are sold only in the tasting room.

Read more at:

Howard Goldberg Raves About Long Island Merlot in the New York Times! (NY)

A Great Vintage for Merlot Grapes
Published: July 5, 2013

Long Island’s terrific 2010 vintage helps make the argument that merlot, in single-variety wines or dominant in red blends, should be accepted as the region’s signature red grape.

It is a point of view espoused by Merliance, an eight-year-old organization, formerly the Long Island Merlot Alliance. The group recently released its 2010 collective blend, also called Merliance ($35). Richly aromatic and hearty, it is first-rate, as are the members’ separate 2010 merlots released so far, and it surpasses the group’s standard-setting 2007.

As for members’ individual 2010s, Wölffer Estate Vineyard’s refined and understated regular merlot ($20) and its subtle and sultry Lambardo merlot ($35) — named for a valued horse, a jumper, once owned by the founder of the estate, Christian Wölffer — deserve to accompany haute cuisine.

Raphael’s exciting estate merlot ($22), virtually a dark cherry-blackberry-blueberry compote, is opulent and nuanced.

McCall Wines’ reserve merlot ($24), a red to linger over, is graceful and nearly sweet; the regular merlot ($18), charming and slightly vegetal, seems intended for everyday consumption.

T’Jara Vineyards’ plush, easy-sipping regular merlot ($25) has an almost candied flavor; the Reserve Red ($34) is concentrated and powerful.

Wölffer’s Christian’s Cuvée merlot is scheduled for Aug. 15 release. Clovis Point’s Vintner’s Select is to be released in September, as is Raphael’s First Label. Sherwood House Vineyards’ regular bottling and its Sherwood Manor, a blend, are set for October release. I have not yet tasted these wines. Although all new wines are gambles, I bet they will be winners.

Merliance is sold in members’ tasting rooms, via their Web sites and at Empire State Cellars, a Riverhead shop specializing in New York wines.

Gilles Martin, Merliance’s technical director, oversaw the production of 300 cases at the Premium Wine Group, a contract winery in Mattituck, from two barrels contributed by each member.


Christopher Matthews, About Town, Love Dutch's Spirits! (NY)

Dutch Schultz is back on the front page of newspapers in the Hudson Valley. The late gangster originally made the grade for murder and tax evasion in the heyday of Prohibition. But today, Christopher Matthews makes a splash with Dutch's Spirits, the new distillery now establishing itself in the Hudson Valley! It's great stuff, and is gaining more notoriety by the week. Very exciting stuff!

 Here's Chris with his beautiful wife!
Great article and great coverage for a wonderful, thrilling new distillery in the Hudson Valley!

Whitecliff and Baldwin Take California Gold Back to Hudson Valley! (NY)

Shawangunk Wine Trail’s member wineries, Whitecliff Vineyard and Baldwin Vineyards, were awarded gold medals at international wine competitions in California.

At the 33rdSan Francisco International Wine Competition, Whitecliff Vineyard in Gardiner received a Gold medal for their 2012 Traminette, a Silver for their Mt. Laurel and a Bronze for their Riesling.
At the Long Beach Grand Cru, one of the top international wine competitions in the U.S., Baldwin Vineyards in Pine Bush received a Double Gold medal for their Strawberry Wine and a Gold for their Raspberry Wine.
“We are very proud of Whitecliff Vineyard and Baldwin Vineyards,” said Randy Maduras, spokeswoman for the Shawangunk Wine Trail. “These awards prove once again that Hudson Valley wines can compete on an international stage.”

The San Francisco International Wine Competition is the largest international competition in the United States. The 2013 Competition was held at the Hotel Nikko in downtown San Francisco on June 14,15and 16. 4,539 wines were judged this year from 29 states and 30 countries by a panel of over 50 experts in a blind tasting.

The Long Beach Grand Cru is held by Dan Berger, syndicated wine columnist and publisher of Dan Berger’s Vintage Experiences. There were approximately 1,500 wine entries in the 2013 competition, which was judged by a panel of professionals in the wine industry.

Both Whitecliff and Baldwin are located on the Shawangunk trail. Shawangunk Wine Trail is composed of 14 distinct wineries. The wineries along the Shawangunk Wine Trail range from large to small and feature a variety of award-winning red and white wines, from sparkling and fruit wines to sweet and bone dry blends.

Friday, July 05, 2013

Empire Brewing India Pale Ale

I first had Empire Brewing when I went to Syracuse last winter. A big place. Good stuff. But I was surprised when I was in the little town of Hamilton, and there they have several beers on the menu.
David Katleski, owner of Syracuse’s Empire Brewing Co. and president of the New York State Brewers Association. Speaking to Don Cazentre of The Post-Standard (Syracuse), he said of the new farm brewery act in June of 2012, “It absolutely green lights Empire’s plans for Cazenovia,” Katleski said. Empire hopes to break ground on the project on Route 13 just south of the Lorenzo State Historic Site this fall, with an opening pitched for some time in 2013.
Cazenta reported, “The new brewery would allow Empire to make and sell beer to more outlets across the state. It’s currently limited to 1,200 barrels a year at the Armory Square brewpub and another 2,800 made under contract in Brooklyn. The new brewery would likely make an additional 10,000 to 12,000 barrels per year, with an ultimate capacity of 20,000…Among the benefits for breweries that use New York farm products are access to increased retail outlets, the ability to operate restaurants and inns on their premises, the ability to hold tastings and sell beer-related products.”
“We’re proud to have Empire Brewing Co. take the lead as the prototype for a New York farm brewery,” said Katleski, who already operates a farm growing the ingredients he will use at the Cazenovia site. And expand they are doing! Their distribution is up and running.

While at the Colgate Inn, in Hamilton, NY I tried the Empire India Pale Ale It came in at 7.2% ABV, so it's not a light beer by any standard. It's an American IPA. It's heavily hopped w/ 6 kettle additions of Falconers Flight. The beer has a very big, floral nose as you might expect. Lots of citrus too!The malt was nice on this beer. Dark golden. Some nice earthy tones to it. Very, very drinkable. I had it with a cheeseburger. Very, very nice.

Also nice to see a local brewer growing!

To read The Post-Standard article click below:

Harvest Moon Red Barn Raspberry Hard Cider

So we went to Hamilton, NY to visit Colgate college and decided to have lunch and the beautiful old Colgate Inn. It's a beautiful old inn, and the town is picturesque. Very New England-y old college town type place. Colgate was ranked18th by US New and World Report as one of the best liberal arts colleges in the country.

While we were there I ordered a Harvest Moon Red Barn Raspberry hard cider. I was thrilled to have something local. It's basically about 20 minutes or so from Hamilton in  Cazenovia, NY.

Critz Farms is a family owned business that was established in 1985. Recognized by the New York State Department of Economic Development as recipients of the New York State Agritourism Business of the Year. Critz Farms consists of approximately 325 acres of land, situated just 3 1/2 miles south of scenic Route 20, Cazenovia, New York, in Madison County. Most of the Critz Farms lands are now permanently protected through the New York State Farmland Protection Program so as to remain forever development free and available for agricultural purposes. The Syracuse area is less than 30 minutes from this beautiful Central New York farm. Owners Matthew and Juanita Critz live on the farm and their three adult children remain involved in the business during different times of the year.
A wide variety of crops are grown at Critz Farms. The primary crops are pumpkins, apples, and conifer trees. Tree varieties include balsam fir, fraser fir, white pine, white, blue, and Norway spruce; for use as Christmas trees as well as for landscaping purposes. Other crops include gourds, decorative corn, blueberries, and flowers. Farm products include farm fresh sweet apple cider, six different Hard Cider products, New York cheddar cheese, pure maple syrup and other maple products, as well as balsam fir wreaths.
The Harvest Moon Cidery at Critz Farms is their small farm winery specializing in making hand crafted hard ciders in small batches.  Established in 2011, the Farm Winery is the culmination of years of planning and experimenting with product development.  Their ciders are all made from a base of their farm fresh sweet cider, fermented with champagne yeast, then blended with either maple syrup, honey or fruit juice, to create a variety of delicious products.


Red Barn Raspberry is of course hard Cider with raspberries. Wild red raspberries, growing plentifully in the fields behind their historic 200-year-old barn, are the inspiration for the Red Barn Raspberry hard cider. Made in small batches from sweet and tart apples, this hand crafted cider is blended with New York raspberry juice and lightly carbonated. Red Barn Raspberry Hard Cider won a Bronze medal in the New York State Fair Commercial Wine Competition in 2012.
I found this cider immensely drinkable. It had a slight flavor of raspberry, and a lovely, tart finish. And the apple still absolutely comes through. It definitely made me want to try more of their products.

The Beer Diviner - Ancestral Red Ale (NY)

There is a great new brewery in Stephentown, NY, about 20-25 minutes outside Albany, called The Beer Diviner. Chad Polenez turned me onto it. The guy has a really cool story, but rather than re-hash his story, I thought I'd give it to you straight from the horse's mouth, owner and brewmaster himself:
My name is Dr. Jonathan Post. I brew small, controlled two barrel batches using a Psycho Brew Recirculating Infusion Mash System (RIMS). The result is smooth, delicious pale, red, brown, stout and medieval gruit ale. Each bottle is filled by hand and conditioned at optimum temperatures. In 2012, I received my licenses for Bly Hollow Brewery, d.b.a.The Beer Diviner.

Back in 2002, I was invited to brew beer by the elders of the Dagara village of Dano in Burkina Faso, West Africa. Dano means "Good Beer" in Dagara. While sharing my first batch with the elders, I was asked to build a small brewery. On a second trip the shamans divined that I was to do beer divination. I asked what beer divinination was. "We don't know," they said, "there has never been a beer diviner in Dagaraland. In fact there has never been a man who made beer." Thus began my quest.

In a Dagara ritual recitation, little beings called kontomblé, the Spirits of divination, gave the secret of beer making to the first agriculturalist, a woman. They told her they wanted her to experience joy after all her hard work taking care of her family and community. She could feed her mind as well as her body, they said; it was her choice.

My experiences in Africa and here in Cherry Plain. NY,  have taught me that beer and  community are identical. Beer divination is part of the ancient, sacred technology of beer making, connecting individuals to community including Nature. This is the joy the
kontomblé were talking about...

So I was sitting at home with my family and Dominique excitedly rushed it. She had had to pass by The Beer Diviner, and she brought me a present - a bottle of The Beer Diviner's Ancestral Red Ale. I was doubly thrilled, because my son Dylan has insisted he had come up with a new rub for the grill, and wanted to cook dinner. Who was I to refuse. While he cooked, I kicked back!
According to the brewmaster himself, Ancestral Red Ale was "Divined for our connection to our ancestors, for forgiveness." This is a higer alcohol beer at more than 7%. It's fruity and spicey with Wheat Belgian ale yeast, coriander, bitter orange peel, ginger root, Fuggles and Goldings hops​. It's somewhat creamy, and the hops is not over powering. Very pretty beer. And it went beautifully with my son's grilled ribs with his new secret rub, which was pretty damn good too! I don't think the ancestors had it this good!
If you don't believe me, why not read these two reviews here:
Chad Polenz's review here:
All Over Albany, another trusted voice here:

Wednesday, July 03, 2013

John Bruno of Oak Summit - A Life Rich in Steak and Pinot Noir

Some of the best wine made in the Hudson Valley is produced by Oak Summit Vineyards. Their Pinot Noir especially, has been lauded by numerous magazines and wine writers. Their Chardonnay is also excellent. The man behind the label is John Bruno, who is a veteran of two industries.

Oak Summit’s philosophy is that great wine in made in the vineyard. According to Bruno it was and an oenological rule first penned by the Latin poet Virgil in 48 BC, and it has not been questioned in over 2000 years.

This why Bruno, his wife Nancy, and their team work hard in their beautiful vineyard to grow only healthy, pure and luscious grapes.

Their 6 acres of vines are planted in Dutchess Cardigan, a gravelly loam of great depth. The natural pH is 6.3, and the soil is rich in nutrients, well balanced in minerals, and has no need for artificial amendments. Their PINOT NOIR vines are all traditional Dijon clones grafted on American rootstock. They are hand-planted and hand-trained onto a VSP trellis system. Every year they prune and discard at least 30% of our crop to maintain the intensity and character which are their trademarks.


John cuts a dashing figure with his well coiffed beard, emblazoned navy blue blazer, complete with pocket square, and an absolutely sarcastic and witty humor. He is without a doubt the most entertaining speaker of all the winery owners in the valley.


John once described grape growing, saying, “Farming is very easy. First, you find yourself a good farmer,” he said, chewing on his beard. “Then you have him carve you some very nice, neat rows spread down your field. Then I want you to line those rows with $100 bills end to end, like dominoes, and then I want you to light those babies up with a match. That’s what farming is.”


He is a restaurant veteran. His family’s restaurant in NYC was a mecca for sports writers for generation. The walls were festooned with water colors and sketches. Many famous sports writers ate there. It was located on what was known as “Steak Row.”


“East 45th Street between Lexington and First used to have so many red-meat joints that it won this moniker. By most accounts, the ‘Mayor of Steak Row’ was John C. Bruno [John’s father], the owner of the Pen and Pencil at 205 E. 45th Street. Also on this strip were Joe & Rose's and The Pressbox, The Editorial and Danny's Hideaway. These last three were founded by former Pen & Pencil employees,” remembered Brooks of Sheffield in his column Lost City.


Bruno had been the head waiter at the Lincoln Hotel’s Blue Room until 1939 when he left to work at the Pen & Pencil. Eventually he became an owner, and then the owner. Read one article, NORTH, EAST, SOUTH, WEST, YOU'LL FIND THE "NEW YORK CUT" IS BEST from 1959, “John C. Bruno, tall, still slim and handsome, is an opera fan (owns a box at the Metropolitan every sea-son) and indulges in an expensive sideline—horse racing; but can still take time out to tell you how to cook a steak. Several seasons ago, to introduce his restaurant to a newer set of patrons, he employed publicist Michael Sean O'Shea to stage semi-annual champagne-and-steak supper parties for celebrities of the stage and screen. At one memorable affair that went from mid-night to dawn the guests included Ethel Merman, Joan Crawford, Tallulah Bankhead, Shirley Booth and Ginger Rogers.”


John C. Bruno Sr. died 1965, and with his passing, Steak Row began to fade, and the landscape of the restaurant world started to change. Years after his father’s passing, John admitted that steak for example only accounted for 20% of their lunch trade, while fish had had become the popular choice. John took it over running the restaurant when his father died and ran it for 33 years until 1998, when the building’s  landlord sold the address to a developer. 

John was a graduate of the Dartmouth’s Amos Tuck School of Business. As far back as the early 1980s, John was quoted in Field & Stream magazine in October of 1982, as an advocate of local food, saying, “Lots of food grown here is far superior to that found in other countries. We are learning to refresh our fresh food, things such as tomatoes, corn, squash, and aged beef, and to cook them intelligently using simple, basic  recipes that bring  out the best in  this wholesome food.”
"My grandfather was a bootlegger," Bruno told the Poughkeepsie Journal in 2011, about Charles Stradella, his mother's father, who made red wine and "bathtub gin" in New York City during Prohibition. 

Pen and Pencil was a big hot spot. Here's a picture of Yogi Berra there at the restaurant.

John was one of the feisty restaurateurs who were involved in the famous New York City  "steakhouse wars" of the 1970s.

Pen and Pencil

The Pen and Pencil was recently mentioned in Mad Men. According to, "While waiting for Don to show up to a meeting in the Season 2 episode ‘For those Who Think Young,’ Freddy Rumson complains about "not being at the Pen and Pencil by 12:30.""

Ownership of Pen & Pencil was passed down through the generations and Bruno owned and operated the restaurant for 33 years before selling it in 1998, purchasing 40 acres in Millbrook and establishing Oak Summit Vineyard.
"I had wanted to find something to do, some gentlemanly endeavor like a B&B, but it sounded too much like restaurant work.Then I thought, I'll go back to the old family business," Bruno joked about his transition from the restaurant business to retirement to the farming industry.

In the meantime, John moved up-state and began the beautiful vineyard Oak Summitt. He is obsessed with his grapes.

Accordingly, his Pinot Noir is dark, rich, and incredible. Many wines critics rate his wine as some of the best Pinot Noir New York state has to offer. Their Chardonnay is also quite excellent. And their new Rose is also quite lovely.

Another one of the reasons John is so important in the Hudson Valley is because since I have known him, low these seven years since we first met, he has spoken of only one thing- quality. He has preached it, demanded it, cajoled it, and been out spoken about it. He has been the uncompromising conscience of he valley in pushing the wine making community towards this goal. And he does it with massive doses of self-deprecating humor, colorful language, and good will.

So now you know. What you need to do, is call Oak Summit, and get yourself some. It's great stuff!