Thursday, November 21, 2013

Whisky Advocate Singles Out New York Producers

In the Fall 2013 issue of Whisky Advocate, there are a number of places where New York distilled products were featured, and local distillers promoted!

In an article NAMES TO KNOW Tuthilltown's Ralph Erenzo was named one of the ten most influential craft whiskey makers! 
Here's Ralph's profile....

In a story on the state of craft distilling, Hudson Manhattan Whisky was featured.


And the McKenzies, Thomas and Brian (not related) were profiled on how big is big in craft distilling. Great series of quotes and a great story!
New York state spirits just keep on getting more and more press. Congrats!

Shaw Vineyards - Good Guys, Great Wine

I have known Steve Shaw a while now. We have shared dinners, bottles of wine. Phone calls.  We have broken bread, as they say. They care about quality wine. They are passionate about it. And I can say the same for Steve Shaw Jr. who is as smart a young professional as there is in the business today. If her were not working with his father he could easily hold his own in another organization. On the other hand, Steve Jr. is learning from one of the best in the business. They are two professionals.
Winemaker Steve Shaw has been a high-quality grape grower in the Finger Lakes for more than 30 years, contributing to the region’s growth and emergence as a world-class producer of vinifera wines. After learning the winemaking craft during the 1990s, Steve Shaw founded the Shaw Vineyard label in 2002 and in 2004 built his production facility and tasting room on the western shore of Seneca Lake near Himrod, NY.

Shaw Vineyard is dedicated to the production of vinifera wines in a dry, cool-climate style reminiscent of the great European producers. Steve is a strong proponent of the theory that the Finger Lakes possesses the soil and climate necessary to produce many of Europe’s great wine varieties, he continues to experiment with his vineyard and his production facility, improving the quality of both his white and red wines. 
The season Steve Jr. kept me very in touch with their harvest/ A bountiful and good one this year, 2013. The main vineyard for Shaw is located on the southwestern shore of Seneca Lake (behind the tasting room), sloping downward gently from the road toward the lake shore. The good drainage and southern exposure produce ripe grapes used in the majority of Shaw wines. The 22 acres of vines were planted between 1999 and 2001.
The original 28 acre Shaw vineyard (pre-dating the winery label), was planted from 1980-1981. This vineyard factors into some red blends such as the Keuka Hill Reserve. Located on top of a ridge overlooking the eastern shore of Keuka Lake.
I have a tremendous amount of respect for both Steves. They are committed to making great wine, and spreading the word about quality New York dry wine.
Here's a video of Steve pumping over his Cab Sav from 2013

I first met the Shaws at the Finger Lakes Wine Festival years ago. The first wine I tried was their LiBella Pinot Grigio. The Li Bella line at Shaw Vineyard is made with the same exacting standards as all other Shaw wines. The grapes for the Li Bella Pinot Grigio are sourced from Shaw’s Seneca Lake vineyard, and are picked by hand after extended hang time. The wine is fresh and fruity, with slightly more sweetness than the winery’s other whites (about 1.4% RS). But it also has a zippy acidity that keeps the wine lively, fun, and delicious. Light and beautifully balanced. 
The Sauvignon Blanc 2011 was wonderful!!! A big zippy white wine, with leon and green apples and tropical fruits on the nose, but with a lemony ending that makes this light, bright, sophisticated white absolutely spectacular.

This past July I visited the tasting room while up in the Finger Lakes. Neither Steve was there. I arrive with friends Bryan Van Dusen and Rich Srsich. I hadn't been there in a while, and I wanted to taste some of their wines and see how things were going. A god healthy curiosity is always important when drinking wine. That, and wanted to experience good wine. And I had no reason to doubt otherwise.

The Pino Noir 2008 Reserve is a lovely styled Burgundy. A gorgeous garnet color that sparkles in the glass. The wine has a earthy nose with bright cherry and strawberry. Those flavors come through across the palate, as well a lovely mineral quality and some nice spicy notes at the back. It's complex, beautifully balanced. Their Pinots have to be listed among the best Pinots on the east coast. Fabulous!

The Keuka Hill Reserve 2007 is from the original vineyard, with vines that are up to 20+ years old. This dark, complex wine. It is a Meritage of Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Merlot. Aromas of chocolate, dried herbs, and dark blueberry come through as promised as well as dark cherry. A nice, dark, smoky wine with lovely, easy tannins and good balance. This a great bottle of wine, perfect for dinner, and entertaining

The Cabernet Sauvignon 2007 was incredible. The Steves have a way about them when it comes to red wines, and this one is no exception. This is a classic, chewy red, with lots of dried cherries, blueberry and cassis not only on the nose, but on the palate to. Dark chocolate and a hint of vanilla also come across. Big, dark, red, this lovely dry wine has big fruit up front and lovely tannins, and enough acidity on the tongue to keep the fruit alive there for a good long time. Wonderful!!!!!

The Cabernet Franc 2007 Reserve is a special wine. It again reminds me more of Burgundy than California. But the wine is so good, it's almost an absolute shame to have to describe it. Bright and dark cherries, flint, exotic spices, vanilla, a touch of raspberry? Lingonberry? A slight whiff of green hay, The acidity here is wonderful, and the tannins and fruit are all in balance. Drink it, store it, do both. This is a quality wine that stands out like nothing else. An absolutely fantastic wine!



The tasting at Shaw, which was completely unplanned, and impromptu, confirmed what I already knew...Shaw Vineyards is one of the best producers of quality wines in New York state, and deserves to be mentioned in the bigger conversation of east coast...and beyond. If you are not visiting Shaw Vineyards when you are in the Finger Lakes, and especially if you are a re wine drinker, you are missing out!!!

If you don't believe me, go to this page and read the dozens of positive reviews of their wines!!!

Friday, November 15, 2013


The holidays are fast approaching, and you and family and friends will soon celebrate gatherings across North America. You will be toasting because you are thankful or celebrating the season. You will be toasting the passing of the old year, and the bringing in of the New Year.
And what better way to do so than with sparkling wine? Sparkling wine makes every occasion a special occasion. What would make it more special is to celebrate the season with LOCAL sparkling wine. What a great way to celebrate the bounty of this fine nation than with wine not only made in the US, but made in your region as well?!

I have put together a list of producers who make some of the best sparkling wines on the east coast!  While there are a great many wineries that sell a sparkler, I could not include all of them. They are in no particular order. This selection tends to feature wineries who focus on sparkling wines or have a serious sparkling wine program. These are in my estimation the best producers of such wines. Whether you like classic, elegant dry bubbly, fun, fizzy wine, or sweeter, prosecco-styled wines, there is something on this list for everyone!
And tell them I sent you! And by the way? Cheers!!!

Sparkling Pointe (NY)
One of the premiere sparkling wine makers on the entire east coast. A favorite of Howard G. Goldberg of the New York Times. The winemaker is Gilles Martin, who was born and reared near the Champagne region of France. He produces a bright, elegant style that is, according to Goldberg, “ generally light, delicately fruity and animated by fine pinpoint bubbles.”  From 1990 to 1996, Mr. Martin was the assistant winemaker at Champagne Louis Roederer’s Roederer Estate, in northern California. Fabulous Blanc de Blancs made from 100% chardonnay. Also, lovely Brut  and Brut Séduction, great yeasty nose with long, lingering finish and lots of fine, fine bubbles. The rose sparkler nonvintage Topaz Impérial is a wonderful wine that has incredible balance. A lovely wine.

Westport Rivers Winery (MA)
Westport Rivers in Massachusetts makes one of the best sparkling wines on the east coast with their Brut RJR. Their stunning sparkler (has been served in 3 White Houses( has rightly won praise and award from around the world.  The Westport Brut “RJR” has won 9 Gold medals from San Francisco and San Diego to the east coast. And has won a hefty 37 gold and silver medals. Bright golden yellow color. Aromas of toasty brioche, peach marmalade and lemon curd with a crisp, dryish light-to-medium body and tart, mouthwatering roasted citrus, green apple skin and mineral accents on the finish. Very vintage Champagne like. The Blanc de Blancs is beautiful. Crisp, green apples and dry toast are luscious. Zippy acidity and a dry finish combine to create a wonderful balance of fruit, yeast and acidity. Add another 15 medals for this wine. NV Farmers Fizz is a blend of 60% Pinot Noir, 34.4% Chardonnay and 5.6% Pinot Meunier. Toasted brioche, baked pear and fresh apple aromas come across as promised. A slight, slight hint of sweetness tempered by great acidity and finished with a hint of caramel. Fabulous and fun! “Westport really seems to specialize in these kinds of ultra-versatile food wines…for my money, they’re the best thing going in the Northeastern United States by a fairly wide margin,” opined Fringe Wine (

Chateau Frank from Konstantin Frank (NY)
In 1962, merely a decade after arriving in America, Dr. Konstantin Frank founded Vinifera Wine Cellars. The winery quickly earned a reputation for spectacular Rieslings and its original planting of vines formed the backbone of New York’s world-class wines and champagnes. Dr. Frank’s son, Willy Frank continued the tradition of excellence and determination. Willy amazed the industry in the late 1980’s by releasing an exquisite sparkling wine made at his very own Chateau Frank.  Chateau Frank adheres to the “methode champenoise” using the three classic French Champagne grape varieties successfully creating another first for the Finger Lakes Region of New York – world class sparkling wines.

Chateau Frank Blanc de Blancs is a great example of the traditional Blanc de Blancs style with complex and delicate flavors. Chateau Frank Blanc de Noirs is a rich and complex sparkling wine with great structure and length. Chateau Frank Brut is made in the classic Champagne-style, which features apples and pears, whiffs of toasty yeast, and lots and lots of tiny bubbles. Chateau Frank Célèbre (NV) is a delicious, fruity Crémant style sparkling wine is very inviting and easy-to-drink.  Chateau Frank Célèbre Rosé (NV) is a Crémant style Rosé sparkling wine that offers lovely red berry aromas. Pink and fabulous and filled with fruit, but finishes dry! Tracey Weiss of the New York Cork Report of the Blanc de Blanc, “This hits my 3 G’s: Great Beading, Green Apples, and Grand Minerals. A longer finish, deep richness, good body with a happy acidity.” 
Clinton Vineyards (NY)
Clinton Vineyards was established in 1976 by Ben Feder, a Bronx-born book designer and artist who fell in love with New York State’s Mid-Hudson Valley. Ben was part of the Mad Men scene of the 50s and 60s. A WWII vet and a Madison Ave star, he modeled the 100-acre Clinton Vineyards in the tradition of European vineyard estates, and chose to specialize in producing white and sparkling wines, the latter made in the classic French méthode champenoise. The first release, the 1977 Seyval Blanc, garnered strong praise from The New York Times. Feder’s wife Phyllis joined him in 1988. Phyllis continues to maintain her husband’s legacy. Clinton Vineyards is a high point of any trip to Dutchess County.
Jubilee is a sparkling méthode champenoise wine of 100% Seyval Blanc grapes that offers an elegant experience for the palate, with apple, vanilla, dried fruit and citrus notes. This is a premiere sparkling wine….period! Seyval Naturel is a unique 100% Seyval sparking méthode champenoise wine that offers bright, zippy green apple and pear. A great, refreshing sparkler. Royale is the Clinton version of the classic aperitif kir royale, which combines their Seyval Naturel with Nuit, their 100% black raspberry wine. Wonderful and festive! Peach Gala is a refreshingly dry, crisp méthode champenoise sparkling wine that introduces an elegant bouquet of white peach that is delicate on the palate. A fabulous brunch wine!!!! “Crispy, with brighter acidity than expected. Smooth, lemony with a beeswax finish. Thus far my favorite way to experience Hudson Valley seyval,” wrote Tracey Weiss of the Jubilee for NY Cork Report.
Brotherhood, America’s Oldest Winery (NY)
Brotherhood, America’s Oldest Winery makes lovely sparkling. They’ve been doing it since 1839. The Grand Monarque is aged for a minimum of 2 years before disgorging, producing a Brut with rich flavors and aromas bathed in tiny long-lasting bubbles. This elegant and gorgeous. One of the best of the fine, classic champagne-styled sparklers on the eastern seaboard. Carpe Diem is a unique sparkling wine is made from Muscat grapes, one of the world’s oldest known grape varieties. Handcrafted with great fruitiness, floral aromas and a hint of sweetness. Great fun prosecco style!
Brotherhood B Sparkling Chardonnay was the winner of the Best Hudson Valley sparkling wine. This sparkling wine was fermented from 100% New York Chardonnay. Crisp acidity and bright fruit highlight this wine. Big nose full of pears and light yeasty note come through as promised. Nice minerality, and beautiful long lasting dry finish. Great wine! Blanc de Blancs is made from Hudson Valley Chardonnay grapes. A very solid bubbly – soft but with great finish. Well balanced. Lovely.

Thibaut-Janisson (VA)
“The not surprising news [from this year's tasting]: Claude Thibaut’s wines finished in three of the top four spots, with Trump finishing in the top three,” wrote FrankMorgan in his notes from the Virginia Wine Trials — 2013 Sparkling Wine Blind Tasting Recap. “Crisp, vibrant, an absolute joy of a wine to drink…” wrote Katie Kely Bell in Forbes magazine. And Dave McIntyre wrote in the Washington Post, “The T-J (a nice abbreviation given the implied reference to Thomas Jefferson and his love of wines) has become a darling of the Washington restaurant scene, because it is both local and top quality.” And Sandra Silfven wrote in the Detroit News, “This delicate, complex, finely balanced Blanc de Blanc Chardonnay is the result of two Frenchmen, schooled in the traditions of the Champagne region of France, applying their standards and talent to Virginia fruit.” I think you get the idea! Their wine was poured at the first state dinner hosted by President Obama.
Thibaut-Janisson Cuvée D’Etat is their top of the line sparkling wine. Elegan. Complex. Fascinating. Incredible. One of the best of the entire east coast! Classic Champagne-style sparkling wine.
Claude Thibaut and Manuel Janisson bring to their sparkling wines generations of tradition from the Champagne Region of France. They have captured the flavors and essence of the Virginia Terroir. The Cuvee, made of 100% Chardonnay from the Monticello Appellation, has vibrant aromas of pear and ripe apples; the taste is perfectly balanced, crisp and refreshing.

Virginia Fizz is a fun and festive cremant-style wine made of 100% Chardonnay. Big whiffs of apples and peaches with hints of fresh baked bread. Think an aple/peach cobbler. Creamy and smooth, with lots of fine, fine bubbles.
Slack Vineyards (MD)
Winemaker Tucker Grube-O’Brien is assisted by Anna Ferguson and these two young wine makers, both under the age of 30, have proven to be a particularly clever pair with natural instincts of good taste. Slack White Shoals is a 100% Chardonel sparkling wine made in the classic Méthode Champenoise style with a controlled, continuation of fermentation in the bottle. Smooth, dry, incredibly well balanced. This wine was the talk of the Taste Camp 2013 final Grand Tasting in Baltimore earlier this year! Every writer was commenting on it! Fantastic!!! Slack Pink Shoals is a blend of 80% Merlot, 15% Cab Franc, 5% Cab Sauvignon from their vineyard at Jubilee Farm. 165 cases made. This wine has a big nose of fresh cut strawberries. A light salmon colored wine, this is an exceptional rose sparkler!
Bordeleau Vineyards (MD)
From start to finish, owner and winemaker Tom Shelton is involved in creating and perfecting all that it takes to make award-winning wines. After purchasing a farm in Allen, Maryland in 1998, he planted his first grape vines in 1999.
Blanc De Blancs (NV) is 100% Chardonnay from this family-owned vineyard. This crisp and light sparkling wine has green apple, pears, wrapped with a lemony finish. Nice notes of fresh baked French bread. Wonderful pin-sized bubbles. Had this at a dinner in Baltimore on Fells Point during Taste Camp 2013. Lovely. Elegant. Classic.

J. Maki (PA)
Ten years ago, the prestigious European wine competition, the Vinalies Internationales, put a tiny local vineyard—then known as French Creek Ridge Winery—on the map. I remember when it happened, I dragged my wife Dominique there when we went to visit her family in Chester County. I have been seeking it out every time I go back to Pennsylvania. I have a bottle in my cellar now. Now known as J. Maki, this winery has continued to make fantastic sparkling wine in the Brandywine region of Pennsylvania.

J. Maki Brut is a great, special occasion wine. Classic with green apples and a nice yeasty nose. Great bubbles. Lovely! The Blanc De Blancs is the classic sparkling wine that spawned their Gold Medal Winner in Paris, France. Ripe apples and pears, a classic toastiness, with a dry, zippy refreshing finish. An elegant sparkling wine.
Blanc de Noirs is 100% Pinot Noir. A big, full bodied sparkling wine. Big. Upfront. Big finish. The Rouge is a blend of Chardonnay and barrel aged Pinot Noir. A unique wine that has a solid corps of admirers.
Lenz Winery (NY)

Founded in 1978, Lenz Winery has some of the most mature vineyards in the region. Lenz have nearly 70 acres planted with vinifera grape varieties including sparkling wine mainstays chardonnay and pinot noir. Sam McCullough is the vineyard manager and Eric Fry I the winemaker. And together they make some of the best wines on the east coast.
2005 Cuvée is a traditional Méthode Champenoise sparkling wine made from 100% Pinot Noir. A big nose of yeast and apple and a whiff of something tropical is delicious. This 2005 Cuvée offer bright white cherries with hints of apple and a touch of lime and kiwi. This wine has big flavor, great acidity, and tremendous refreshing finish. Brilliant!
1999 Cuvée RD - If you can believe it, this is a new release! Lenz is releasing 60-70 cases of aged sparkling...a program they have established. Fantastic. Huge kudos just for that. The French refer to Champagnes made using this 'late-finishing' process as 'RD', or Récemment dégorgé (recently disgorged). This was incredible experience. This 1999 Cuvee' was more subtle. There was a nuttiness, or an earthiness around it. Something more developed and softer. There was apple, and pear, and honey, more delicate than the 2005. It was golden and soft, more wine than fruit, but an elixir hard to describe. Lots of layering flavors, Extremely complex. This is a fixed taste. If you like aged, vintage wines, you will absolutely love this wine!

Swedish Hill Winery (NY)
Family-owned and operated by Dick and Cindy Peterson, Swedish Hill is one of the largest wineries in the region. After 20 years of growing and selling grapes to area wineries, the Petersons crushed their first grapes in 1985 and opened Swedish Hill Winery in 1986. Just 1,300 cases were produced that year; this year they produced more than 60,000 cases of award-winning wines and sparkling wines. 
The Brut is their top of the line sparkling. Classic dry bottle fermented in the “Methode Champenoise” tradition. Blended from 50% Chardonnay and 50% Pinot Noir and aged on the yeast for 4 years, toasty yet with nice fruit. The Blanc de Blanc has a grapey smell, mixed with a touch of yeast. It is a very smooth semi-dry champagne. The of lemons and apples defintely come through. This sparkling wine is made from the Cayuga White grape which was developed by Cornell University for the Finger Lakes Region. It has only 2.5% residual sugar. It was excellent! It’s won more than a half dozen medals across the country. The Naturel is a deliciously dry sparkling wine that is blended from Chardonnay and Vignoles. The subtle, citrusy aromas lead to a fresh, crisp finish that lingers. Loaded with fresh floral and fruity aromas and flavors, this Riesling Sparkling wine is deliciously refreshing, complex and pleasing to both dry and sweet wine drinkers. Finished with just a bit of sweetness, this sparkling wine is an elegant addition to special occasions, or try it with stir-fry or many light summer meals.
Lamoreaux Landing
One of my favorite Finger Lakes wineries, especially for light bodied, delicate, elegant wines. Lamoreaux Landing controls over 100 acres of planted vineyards on the eastern hillsides of Seneca Lake. These holdings are separated into more than 20 different vineyard blocks, and are intensely managed to yield only the finest lots of estate-grown fruit for our award-winning, cool-climate, estate-bottled varietals. Lamoreaux manages estate vineyard blocks of Chardonnay and Pinot Noir among many others.
Blanc de Blanc shows delicate pear and lemon flavors with layers of toasted bready complexity. It has a lively acid structure, and a lingering creamy finish from three years spent “en tirage” on the yeast lees. Refreshing and refined, it is a classic sparkling wine. “Classic 100% Chardonnay with Bartlett pear and a buttery tart crust. The freshness and the tickle of acid made this a success,” wrote Tracey Weiss for NY Cork Report.
Trump Winery (VA)
Sparkling winemaker, Jonathan Wheeler, and wine consultant, Laurent Champs (owner and Champagne Master at Vilmart et Cie in Champagne, France), made this Méthode Champenoise brut Blanc de Blanc wine from the estate’s best Chardonnay grapes. The grapes were hand-picked and pressed gently using a Champagne press. Only the cuvée (first press) was fermented in stainless steel tanks. After bottling, the wine was aged on its lees for over 22 months to gain more complexity. A very low dosage was added at disgorging to complement the wine’s freshness. Rich, creamy, with a bright acidity, this Blanc de Blanc features a great stoniness while also offering a floral nose that hints at lemon custard and pears. Fantastic! The sparkling Rosé wine is made via Méthode Champenoise with estate grown Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. The grapes were picked at night by hand and gently pressed. After a combination of stainless steel and French oak barrel aging, the wine was aged on the lees in the bottle for 22 months. A gorgeous salmon colored wine, rose petals, blackberry, and light toast all come through as promied. The crisp acidity and nice minerality. The Blanc de Noir brut sparkling wine is made via Méthode Champenoise with 100% estate grown Pinot Noir. The grapes were picked at night by hand and pressed right away to avoid any color extraction and to preserve the fruit. After a combination of stainless steel and French oak barrel aging, the wine was aged on lees in the bottle for 36 months. Pair and toas come through on the nose as promised. Big and complex. Lovely!
Veritas Winery  (VA)

Veritas Winery, a family business owned by Andrew and Patricia Hodson, opened for business in June 2002; with the help of their three children Emily, George and Chloe at the foot of the Blue Ridge Mountains. Veritas wines are all of high quality. Winemaking is the domain of Andrew and daughter Emily, who has a Masters in Enology at Virginia Tech, Emily joined the family venture full-time.
Scintilla is a brut sparkling wine made in the traditional method that is used in Champagne, where the second fermentation is completed inside of the bottle to trap the bubbles. Scintilla is also a Blanc de Blancs style, which means it is comprised of 100% Chardonnay. This is a rich golden colored wine with tiny elegant bubbles. Lemon, green apple and pear, accented by a touch of yeast and toasted brioche all come through as promised. Bright acidic finish. Nice lingering after taste. Lovely. Elegant.
Heritage Vineyards (NJ)
Heritage Vineyards is a family owned and operated estate vineyard and winery located in Mullica Hill, New Jersey. Mullica Hill is located in the heart of the Outer Coastal Plain American Viticultural Area (AVA). Recently named New Jersey’s “Winery of the Year” by the Garden State Wine Growers Association, Heritage has begun cementing its reputation as a benchmark producer in New Jersey’s largest wine growing region.
Cuvée Blanc, 2nd Edition, is a bright and elegant blend of 74% Chardonnay, 16% Sauvignon Blanc, 6% Chenin Blanc, 2% Pinot Gris & 2% Albarino. Citrus, melon & ripe pineapple; flavors of ripe apple, lemon custard & freshly baked sugar cookies all come through as promised! Great acidity, and a nice finish that lingers. Lovely!
Cuvée Rouge, 1st Edition, is a smooth and intriguing non-vintage blend of Syrah, Merlot, Chambourcin, Grenache & Cabernet Sauvignon. Dense red-purple color. Ripe, dark berry fruit and toasty oak; flavors of raspberry and cherry with hints of dark chocolate, suede leather and baked croissant all come through as promised. Different and very, very good!

Other honorable mentions: Millbrook Winery (NY),  Whitecliff Winery (NY), Boordy Vineyards (MD), Wolfer Estate (NY), Bedell Cellars (NY), Tomasello Winery (NJ), Alba Vineyards (NJ), Hudson-Chatham Winery (NY), Prince Michael Vineyards (VA), Paradise Springs Winery (VA), Barboursville Vineyards (VA), Afton Mountain Vineyards (VA), and Twin Brook Winery (PA).

Wall Street Journal Raves About Hillrock Estate (NY)

Bourbon, Made in N.Y.
Ralph Gardner Jr. Gets Into the Spirit With Jeffrey Baker, Owner of the Hudson Valley Distillery Hillrock
By Ralph Gardner Jr.
Nov. 11, 2013 9:42 p.m. ET
Wall Street Journal

I was under the impression there was a reason bourbon is made in Kentucky: that there was something fun-loving about the climate or the soil that found its way into the alcohol. But Jeffrey Baker, the owner of Hillrock, a Hudson Valley distillery situated about two hours north of the city, told me that isn't necessarily so.

"In the 1820s, there were probably 2,000 farm distilleries in New York," he explained. "That was the case around the country. In 1800, George Washington had the largest distillery in the U.S. It was pretty much his most profitable farming venture."
Mr. Baker, a 53-year-old investment banker, makes delightful Solera bourbon. Launched in 2012, it's finished in Oloroso Sherry casts, a Spanish technique that give it depth and a sweet, slightly spicy flavor. He also makes a single malt whiskey, rye and a historically accurate, unaged George Washington rye whiskey created in partnership with Mt. Vernon. All told, the distillery produces about 5,000 cases annually.

"Our operation is very similar to what George Washington was doing at the time," Mr. Baker said. "The scale and the field-to-glass."

The distiller's hilltop 1806 home, with lovely views of both the Berkshires and his malt house, are surrounded by the fields that provide some of the grains that go into his liquor (hence the description "field-to-glass"). The corn used to make the bourbon comes from local farms.

For the sake of full disclosure, I should state that I'm not a bourbon connoisseur. It's a little too sweet to be a staple of my drinking diet. Instead, I'll have a single malt (or two) and, just before dinner, top it off with a shot of bourbon. I'm not picky. Jim Beam will do. It adds a festive note and serves as a punctuation mark, informing my brain and taste buds that it's time to head into the next phase of the evening.

But during a subsequent tasting of all Hillrock's beverages, I realized the bourbon was special. (Not that the single malt or rye was anything to sniff at, except to absorb the flavor notes.) It was smooth and delicate. In other words, at $80 a bottle, it would be a sin to waste it on me.

Mr. Baker said he worked on farms while growing up. "When I moved to New York, I was sort of missing something," he explained. "Pretty quickly I decided to do some farming. I set up one of the earliest rotational grazing herds."

This was in Washington County, an additional hour or two north of the city. It was also the '80s, before anyone had heard of locavores. "People weren't ready yet," Mr. Baker said. "They wouldn't pay a premium."

His distilling venture started after he bought a Georgian home in the Lake George area. Rather than live there, he disassembled it, moved it about a hundred miles south to Ancram in Columbia County, reassembled it and meticulously restored it. 

Before I proceed, several thoughts, or at least one, about people like Jeff Baker—he has an MBA from Wharton and also master's degrees in both architecture and city planning—who I run into occasionally in this line of work: Where do they find the time, energy and ambition? Are they as impressive as they seem, or are they simply expressing some deep-seated insecurity through their accomplishments?

I wouldn't purchase a house only to take it apart. Couldn't he find acceptable shelter atop a hill without inviting all the additional headaches? I'm still recuperating and basking in the heightened self-esteem from a trail I blazed through the woods. And that was a decade ago.

"I guess I don't like golf," Mr. Baker explained as we sat by his fireplace.

The idea of becoming a distiller started to crystallize as he researched his new home and discovered that Israel Harris, the fellow who built the house, had been a Revolutionary War captain who fought with the Green Mountain Boys. "He ended up being a successful grain merchant," Mr. Baker said. "In the 1820s, New York was producing two-thirds of the barley for the whole country and a significant portion of the rye. It was clear you could grow grass in the area. It started me thinking what we could do with grain."

"I have always been a big wine and spirits person," he added, his MBA whispering that the highest mark up came from turning grain into alcohol. Also, that people might be willing to pay a premium for locally grown spirits in the same way they're now mad for fruit, vegetables and grass-fed beef.
The only caveat: "I wanted it to be world class," Mr. Baker said.

So he tracked down Dave Pickerell, a master distiller who had worked at Maker's Mark for 14 years. "I called him up and said, 'Is it true nobody has done a field-to-glass whiskey operation in the States?' He thought it was a great idea."

The day-to-day operation is run by Tim Welly, who previously worked as the cellar master at Millbrook Winery. "Wine makers tend to be more careful whiskey makers," Mr. Baker argued.

I'll resist the temptation to get into the weeds, or rather the six-acre rye field that stands between Mr. Baker's home and his new malt house, for fear of describing the details of the operation inaccurately. Suffice it to say that if I thought his home was impressive, you should see the distillery and malt house. It's more than ready for its Architectural Digest close-up. "It's the first purpose-built malt house in the U.S. since before Prohibition," Mr. Baker boasted.

The handsome tool that Mr. Welly was using to rake the malt was made by a sculptor. "It's not like you can go to a hardware store to get malting equipment anymore," Mr. Baker explained. 

I am too discreet to ask what the distillery had cost so far—but did so anyway. "A number of million dollars," Mr. Baker said. But he noted that a ton of malt creates $60,000 worth of whiskey. "In terms of economics it's probably the highest-value farming around other than marijuana."

He added: "At this scale, you can be pretty profitable. Everything we made has been sold out pretty quickly."

He wasn't exaggerating. After our tasting, I discovered, much to my disappointment, that there wasn't any bourbon available to purchase. Fortunately, a new batch should be ready before Thanksgiving.


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Last Two Weeks of Fall In Love With Hudson Valley Wine 2013!!!

Only two weekends left!!! Look at everything that's going on!!! A great weekend to discover great Hudson Valley wine, beers, and spirits. There are more than 6 more events to choose from these next two weekends!!! Another series of amazing events!!! The Grand Portfolio Tasting at Millbrook; Bread, Wine & Cheese at Hudson-Chatham; and more music at Warwick Valley! There's music, wine tastings, food, fun, and laughter!!! C'mon, Fall in Love With Hudson Valley Wine!!!

Nov 16  5th Annual Bread, Wine & Cheese Event HUDSON-CHATHAM WINERY

Nov 16 Grand Portfolio Tasting 12-5pm MILLBROOK VINEYARDS

Nov 16 Josh Casano Concert 2-5pm WARWICK VALLEY WINERY

Nov 17 Redden Brothers Concert 2 to 5 pm WARWICK VALLEY WINERY

Nov. 23 & 24 – Pride of New York Harvest Festival – Desmond Hotel, Albany NY

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Eric Asimov in the NY Times Raves About Cider - Most of Them East Coast

Dry Cider, an American Favorite, Rebounds
Published: November 8, 2013
New York Times

In Paris earlier this year, I stopped for lunch at Breizh Café in the Marais, a Breton spot that is just about my favorite place to eat crepes. Not only is the food great, but Breizh offers an extraordinary list of dry artisanal ciders, most unavailable in the United States. It’s a joy for any cider lover. 

A list like Breizh’s demonstrates the esteem in which the humble apple is held in realms like northwestern France and northern Spain. If the United States has not yet embraced the apple for drinking with such unabashed enthusiasm, make no mistake, an American cider renaissance is well underway. Many restaurants now offer good cider, while wine shops and groceries have greatly expanded their offerings.

Five years ago, it was hard to find dry ciders beyond a few producers like West County and Farnum Hill. Most American ciders were sweetened to appeal to a clientele reared on cloying beverages. Fortunately, the audience is growing for dry ciders, which like beer largely range in alcohol content from about 5 percent to 8 percent. Nowadays, far more small producers are making serious dry ciders.

In fact, we found enough that the tasting panel was able to sample 20 dry American ciders, with many more to spare. For the tasting, Florence Fabricant and I were joined by David Flaherty, the beer and spirits director for Hearth and the mini-chain of Terroir wine bars, and Juliette Pope, the wine director for Gramercy Tavern. Both are cider aficionados.

It may seem silly to cast the United States as a cider newbie. If there was a national beverage in colonial America and through the first century of independence, it no doubt was cider, the fermented juice of apples as well as pears and other pomaceous fruits. But cider declined in popularity in the late 19th century, as waves of German immigrants brought a taste for beer, which could more easily cater to a nation that was industrializing and beginning its transformation from rural to urban.

The apple, of course, has remained popular, at least as food. Yet apples for eating and apples for cider can be as different as table grapes and wine grapes. The best ciders require a higher proportion of tannins and bittersweet flavors. Biting into a cider apple can be an astringent, face-scrunching shock with little resemblance to the sweet, crisp flavors of any variety a schoolteacher would welcome.

In European cider regions, hundreds of different apples are grown for cider and blended for complexity. Over time, many species have mutated to the point where farmers can no longer identify all the apples under their care. 

 In the United States, many cider orchards disappeared during Prohibition, which was what really killed cider here, as Pete Brown and Bill Bradshaw point out in their excellent new book “World’s Best Ciders: Taste, Tradition and Terroir” (Sterling Epicure).

When Prohibition ended, a thirsty nation sought immediate gratification. Beer and spirits were easy to produce, while new orchards, like new vineyards, require five years or so to become productive. In time, cider came to refer to sweet, unfermented apple juice. The traditional fermented beverage grew rare and eventually acquired a modifier, hard cider, to differentiate it.

Perhaps the clearest indications that the American desire for cider is growing are the corporate efforts to enter the market. Stella Artois, the brewer owned by Anheuser-Busch InBev, now sells Stella Artois Cidre. For those who prefer beer that tastes like nothing, another Anheuser-Busch brand, Michelob, now sells Ultra Light Cider. Meanwhile, MillerCoors bought the Crispin Cider Company last year, while Angry Orchard cider is the fastest growing brand of Boston Beer Company, producer of Samuel Adams.

The panel was thrilled with the quality and range of the dry ciders we tasted. Juliette was particularly taken with the breadth of styles, from firm and austere to rich and fruity. If many of the ciders lacked the distinctiveness and complexity of the best European ciders, that will come in time as growers and producers gain skill and experience and as orchards mature.

“Cider disappeared just long enough that much of the knowledge is gone,” David said. “There’s lots of experimentation going on now.”

Tasting Report
The panel tasted dry American ciders.
1.Foggy Ridge
2.Leonard Oakes Estate
3. Farnum Hill
4.Wandering Aengus
5.West County
6.Wölffer Estate
8.Eve’s Cidery
10.Original Sin

Great article!!! Read the whole thing at: