Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Edible Manhattan, Amy Zavatto Features Local Wineries and 4 Hybrid Grpes You Should be Drinking

4 Hybrid Wine Grapes and Why You Should Be Drinking Them
By Amy Zavatto
April 29, 2014
Edible Manhattan
Our next issue is about to hit the streets, and inside is a story on one of my favorite New York State winemakers Carlo DeVito, the baron of Baco Noir. Not only is DeVito just a super nice guy, he’s got enough passion to fuel a nation — or, at least, a region on the rise. The Hudson Valley and its sister winemaking spots further upstate were long known for growing hybrid grapes: sturdy, cold-hardy cross species between Europe’s vitis vinifera and American-centric vitis riparia, vitis rupestris and vitis labrusca. But Latin lingo aside, hybrid grapes have never  gotten a lot of respect. DeVito certainly has been part and parcel to changing that, but he’s not the only one making magic in the bottle. Keep your glass open to check out the wines made from one of these hybrid grapes:

Baco Noir: As writer Lenn Thompson explains in the upcoming story, Baco can be beautiful. This red hybrid grape is, like all hybrids, the gorgeous child of a mixed marriage: Folle Blanche, a French white vitis vinifera grape, and a red vitis riparia. It produces medium-bodied wines that can range in style from rustic and inky to elegant and bright. I, for one, totally dig it. Get yourself some Hudson-Chatham Baco and behold its Burgundy-like allure.

Seyval Blanc: This interesting little quaff is a sort of hybrid of hybrids; an X-Men of grapes, if you will, with super powers! Mighty enough to withstand the nasty winters, but with a soft-spoken nature that makes pretty, fruit-forward whites that can stand on their own as still or sparkling versions, or, as many winemakers like to do, blended to add some of its trademark apple and peach notes to the mix. Clinton Vineyards makes a lovely sparkling (and a great cassis — put them together for a really special Kir), as well as a straight-up version worth checking out.

Vignoles: If you love Riesling, this is your hybrid. Vignoles (pronounced vin-yohl), also known sometimes as Ravat, is a cross between a French-American hybrid and a clone of Pinot Noir. It’s super aromatic — think flowers, flowers, flowers — and makes really pretty, delicate off-dry whites. Keuka Lake Vineyards does gorgeous things with it; it’s a favorite.

Vidal Blanc: Charming as all get out, white Vidal Blanc is the main grape varietal in Brooklyn Oenology and Vino50’s collaborative juicy project, Shindig (you can hit up her Williamsburg tasting room if you want to try it out, and you should). But Vidal likes to chill out, too — when the winter weather allows (and, in the Niagara region, it allows more often than other spots) Leonard Oakes Winery hand-harvests their frozen Vidal in thirteen degree weather to make one outstanding ice wine. It’s worth a lot more than they charge for it, so if you see it, do not hesitate — get it.

Photo credit: Jennifer May

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Whitecliff Vineyard Sky Island Red Wine 2012

What else is there to say about Whitecliff Vineyards? They've been featured in the Wall Street Journal, Valley Table magazine, and many others. Michael and Yancey Migliore have gone from a start up to a burgeoning star on the New York wine scene. Whitecliff is a star in the Hudson Vlley and is becoming a well regarded producer state wide.

Recently I brought a bottle to a party. I walked around pouring the wine, and not teling people what it was. Many came back asking it I had any of the fabulous Italian wine! I laughed, These were real wine people. Oooops!

What was it? Whitecliff Sky Island Red Wine 2011! Michael and his team drew their inspiration from the blends of Bordeaux. Like a good Meritage, the wine is a blend of five noble grapes - Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Malbec and Petit Verdot.  The nose is one of dark stewed fruits - plums, raspberries, cherries, and red cassis. Also whiffs of vanilla and spice. All those red flavors come through on the palate as well. The fruit has good enough acidity to linger. And the back of the wine provides great tannin and structure. A beautiful and elegant red.

The people at the party were astonished. And you will be to!

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Waters Crest Cabernet Franc 2009

So I was walking around the Governor's Mansion in Albany, New York, during the Governor's second Wine, Beers, Spirits, and Ciders conference Grand Tasting. And I spotted a bottle of Water's Crest Cabernet Franc 2009, which is a new release!

According to the notes, "The grapes were harvested from a small private 7 acre farm in Southold. The vines are planted North/South harnessing all available sunlight for ripening/sugar development and tannin structure.  The sandy loam soil retains any moisture received, making it available for the roots of the vines during the driest summer months optimizing overall grape development.The wine was aged 18 months in New French Oak."
Big, ripe cherry, raspberry,  and cassis come across on the nose. Also some earthiness and spice. The cherry and cassis come across as promised, as well as some plum. The fruit lasts a nice long time due to a good acidity. There's also some mocha and other spices on the back end, as well as some nice tannins. Complex. Mouthwatering. A long, long finish. The flavor just lasts. Nice!

Southern Tier Creme Brulee

I can't lie. I bought this on a goof. I wanted a dessert beer, and I thought I've done the chocolate thing (which I love) but it just kinda caught my eye. And I love almost everything I've ever tasted from Southern Tier, which is based in Lakewood, NY.

First off, this is a big beer. A very big beer. It's an American Double Imperial Stout. The 10% ABV gives you a bit of a clue right off. But let me tell you, you never taste or smell the alcohol. You never see it coming.

This beer pours opaque black color. It seems to pour out in globs, it's so thick. I drank it in a  The head is a beige foamy layer that never seems to go away.  And when you smell this thick, rich ale, you start to see (or smell) what all the fuss is about. Big whiffs of vanilla and caramel come through on the nose. And the also come across on the palate. Just the right amount of bitter balances it out, but make no mistake, this is a dessert beer. A big, blonde brownie!


Pollak Vineyards 2007 Merlot - Fantastic!

The first bottle of Pollak Vineyards I ever had was when I visited Virginia to Charlottesville, to visit Richard Leahy. I stopped off one night before we met, and went to a wine bar, that featured a few Virginia wines by the glass. Feeling somewhat giddy, I ordered two glasses. One of the wines I ordered was a Pollak Merlot 2008.

Pollak Vineyards is a small family-owned winery founded in 2003 with the purchase of a 98-acre farm just west of Charlottesville, Virginia. Today they have 26 acres of French vinifera planted with the intent of making estate grown wine that has the finesse and balance of the traditional French varietals. Margo and David Pollack opened their doors to the public in 2008. Their wines have been an immediate success with critics and consumers.

So recently, I attended a blind tasting. The idea was to bring a varietal wine. We were supposed to be able to identify a grape and country or region. It was for fun. Of course, I took an east coast wine. I brought a bottle of Pollak Merlot 2007. Their 2007 was one of their best wines.

We rightly identified an Italian Pinot Grigio and a were fooled by an Italian Tocai Fruliano. And then up was a medium bodied red. The reactions were interesting. The first comments were that they didn't care what it was - they just wanted to drink more.

They were convinced it was a California wine, but maybe Santa Barbara Then it was off to sunny Italy. Was it a Barolo? And then more comments what a wonderful wine it was. Was it Chile?  They were convinced it was a warm weather wine. The fruit was too big, too deep. The wine was so complex, so balanced.

Of course, they were stumped. But Pollak is like that. I remember the first time I tasted and was absolutely astounded. And this wine did it again. Impressive.

Pollak makes awesome Merlot and you definitely need to try some!

Sunday, April 27, 2014

New York Times: Is New Jersey the New Napa?

Published: March 12, 2013   
The Outer Coastal Plain might be the perfect place to make fine wine in America. The region, which has nearly the same sandy soil composition as Bordeaux, experiences a warm growing season; spring frosts are rare; and the breezes from the Atlantic Ocean and a local bay are ideal for winemaking. The O.C.P. has only one real challenge: it’s in southern New Jersey, a state associated with many things — Springsteen, Snooki, industrial pollution, the mob — but not great wine. Much of what is bottled there, in fact, isn’t even grape-based.
Surprisingly, there’s a lot of great wine in New Jersey. But it can be hard to find among the plonk. That’s not a taste problem; it’s a financial one. Louis Caracciolo, a vintner in Atco, N.J., just down the road from the Camden County Airport, is trying to change this reputation. Caracciolo, who refers to himself as Johnny Grapeseed, has spent a considerable amount of time promoting the notion that New Jersey may yet become an internationally recognized wine capital. It’s a long process but not without precedent. Caracciolo started making wine there in 1976, the same year as the famous blind tasting in which a bottle of Napa Valley cabernet sauvignon scored higher than several from the finest wineries in France, like Château Mouton-Rothschild and Château Haut-Brion. The Judgment of Paris, as it became known, transformed the reputation of the California wine business and helped build it into a $20-billion-a-year industry.
New Jersey’s wine industry currently generates about $35 million a year, but Caracciolo has large ambitions. A trained food scientist, he has learned that while merlot grapes have a rough time with his region’s cold winters, cabernet franc does remarkably well. He has visited wineries in Bordeaux and Burgundy and even consulted with winemakers at Château Margaux on his method of cleaning old barrels. A few years ago, he also reached out to George Taber, the respected wine journalist and author of “The Judgment of Paris.” Taber, who lived in New Jersey for 25 years, knew the state had a tradition of “mass production of rotgut,” but he was impressed by the wines at Caracciolo’s Amalthea Cellars. Last year, Taber helped organize the so-called Judgment of Princeton, in which a panel of respected wine critics, including two from France, compared New Jersey wines with some of the best French ones in a blind tasting. Shockingly, the results showed a near tie. Several Garden State vineyards — Heritage, Tomasello, Silver Decoy and Caracciolo’s Amalthea — scored nearly as well as Mouton-Rothschild and Haut-Brion. In several cases, the Jersey wines were hundreds of dollars cheaper per bottle, too.
After reading about the Judgment of Princeton, I took a trip to the O.C.P., which forms a wide crescent around Atlantic City. I am not an expert, but I really enjoyed a number of the wines at Amalthea, like a 2010 red blend inspired by Château Margaux. I also visited the Tomasello Winery a few miles away. Tomasello placed fifth among reds at the Judgment of Princeton, and I especially liked its Palmaris cabernet sauvignon, which retails for $48. The vineyard owner, Charlie Tomasello, explained that his core focus these days is on the high-end market. But he also confessed that the company still makes most of its money in more traditional Jersey wines. The company has more than 40 varieties, including blueberry, cranberry, raspberry and Concord grape ($8.95 a bottle). When I arrived, the staff was preparing for a Groupon event that would bring in nearly a hundred customers the next day.
My guide on the trail, via telephone, was Orley Ashenfelter, a Princeton labor economist and president of the American Association of Wine Economists, a group that sometimes seems to exist to give economists a cover to drink lots of wine. New Jersey’s quality winemakers face a classic economic conundrum known as a collective-action problem. There are about 50 wineries in the state, and 10 are making great wine. The other 40 are, well . . . the nicest phrase I heard was, “Not very good.” To make more money and earn prestige, Ashenfelter noted, the good winemakers need to shift the attitude of tastemakers (critics, sommeliers, distributors) about New Jersey wines. But every time they improve the reputation of their state, and the prices of their wines, they create the opportunity for producers of the state’s traditional sweet wines to take advantage of that improved reputation. This increases the likelihood that on-the-fence observers, unaware of which New Jersey wine to try, might sample the wrong one.
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Philadelphia Weekly: Pennsylvania Wines Shine

Well, the media finally catching up to me again, LOL. Here we are, and people are finally coming around to understand that there's some great wine being made in Pennsylvania. I'm not crowing, a much as I am thrilled that people are finally getting it. Some great stuff being made in the Keystone sate. Glad the world is getting out!  - C. DeVito, Editor
It's Pennsylvania wine's time to shine
By Brian Freedman
April 23, 2014
Philadelphia Weekly
Some of the most exciting food-and-beverage pairings I’ve had recently were at Fork a few weeks ago—no surprise there. What was unexpected is the fact that so many of those remarkable wines were local; our area has never enjoyed a reputation as a hot-spot of international vinous intrigue. But savoring the stunning “Our Terroir” menu alongside wines like the Penns Woods Chambourcin and Traminette was nothing short of revelatory. I mean this in the old-testament religious sense—I felt as if a deep universal truth had been revealed to me for the first time, and it was this: Pennsylvania wines are better than ever. And with brave restaurateurs like Ellen Yin, visionary chefs like Eli Kulp and deeply intelligent beverage directors like Fork’s former drinks impresario Paul Rodriguez, the fruit of the local vine is finally getting its well-deserved time to shine. Now more than at any time I remember in the past, brave winemakers and grape-growers are focusing on the varieties that will thrive best in their own little pocket of the commonwealth and producing wine with both character and charm.

Among my favorite producers is Va La Vineyards, located in Avondale, a quick drive from Kennett Square. There, farmer, winemaker, owner and all-around grape genius Anthony Vietri crafts four wines, each made mostly from varieties more typically associated with northern Italy, yet deeply expressive of his own wonderful land in eastern Pennsylvania. Talula’s Garden offers Va La, and the pairing possibilities with these gorgeously stylized wines are limitless. (Note: I consulted on Talula’s Garden’s beverage program.) Aimee Olexy also offers an excellent rosé from Galer Estate Vineyard and Winery in Kennett Square. New Jersey, too, is cranking out some great grape juice. Among the best is Heritage Vineyards in Harrison Township.

The point, really, is that the time has come to start taking our local wines more seriously. And lucky for us all, more and more restaurants are doing the hard work for us, parsing the options and offering the best of the bunch. Of which, now more than ever, there are plenty.


Friday, April 25, 2014

Bartlett Estate Wild Blueberry Wine Oak Dry

Recently we had friend and fellow wine writer Todd Trzaskos visit us. He spends a lot of time in upstate New York and Vermont. He's a cold climate kinda guy who makes great wine in a cold climate. When I told him the best red wine north of Massachusetts was from Maine, he balked. That's when I pulled out a bottle Rob Bartlett's Wild Blueberry Wine Oak Dry red wine.
Barlett Estate has made lots of news in recent years with their very excellent distilled spirits, so I am a little behind there. But I refuse to let go the idea that Mr. Bartlett remains a national treasure in the midst of the National Witness Protection Program in the wilds of Maine. If he were in Belgium or France, he would be regarded as a national treasure. And I posit that he is here anyway!
Bartlett and Farnum Hill remain two of the best wineries (ok, one's a cidery) on the east coast. They are both evidence that professionalism, no matter where it flourishes, sets the pace. Both would be making quality wine whether they were in New England, Virginia, California, or Europe.
Anyway, my good friend Todd did not believe. So we needed to make him a believer. The wine is made from wild Maine blueberries, and is barrel-aged in a combination of oaks. This is an exceptional dry red wine. And if I told you it was red wine and didn't tell you it was made from blueberries, you would never know. It's one of the best red wines made in the northeast.
The first sip, Todd had a screwed up face. Then about the third sip, his eyes opened wide. He'd been expecting blueberry pie in a glass, instead he discovered a big, deep, red wine, with great fruit up front including blackberries, cranberries, and cassis with a great balance of acidity and tannins.
Another believer was born. Todd was in shock.
You need to try it! Become a believer!

Furnace Brook Winery Blanc de Blanc

Furnace Brook Winery located in Richmond, Massachusetts is one of my favorite Massachusetts state wineries. And they have a way with anything fizzy...whether it's apple cider or sparkling wine.
Their Johnny Mash Cider and their French Cidre are both excellent.
One of my favorites, is that they make a lovely Sparkling Muscato. It's only slightly sweet and very refreshing. It's got a lovely aroma with wonderful tropical nose. Crisp, with great acidity. A really lovely, light sparkling wine. And it's won half a dozen gold and silver medals at The Big E and other regional competitions.
But recently, we had the opportunity to try a bottle of Furnace Brook Winery Sparkling Blanc de Blancs. Made with a blend of Chardonnay and Seyval Blanc, it's got a tremendous nose of bread and green apples and exotic spices. The fruit is also big up front. Big green apples and a touch of pear, as well as hints of peach and apricot. And a nice, tart finish. A lovely, refreshing wine. Absolutely a lovely sparkling wine for any celebratory occasion. Nice complexity. It had medaled at the Big E four years in a row, from 2009 to 2011. And you can see why! 

New York Times, Eric Asimov, Highlight Hudson Valley Bourbon

Fantastic piece on Hudson Valley Bourbon by Eric Asimov. The valley's distilleries get a well earned star! And the praise just keeps on coming as the Valley cements its reputation as a stalwart of the US distilling world, and how the Valley just keeps growing in so many different directions. Exciting stuff. - C. DeVito, editor
Bourbon’s Masters of the Craft
                With the approach of the Kentucky Derby, you can bet a lot of bourbon will be consumed. Nowadays, that’s nothing new.

Over the last decade, bourbon has been on the kind of streak that horseplayers can only dream about. This is particularly true of the most expensive bourbons: not merely high-end ones, but those that are super-premium, in the parlance of the Distilled Spirits Council of the United States, a trade association. From 2004 to 2013, sales of these bourbons and Tennessee whiskeys more than tripled, to more than 1.2 million cases from 385,000. Among super-premium whiskeys, this rate of increase has been matched by only that of Irish whiskey, though the volume sold is puny alongside bourbon.

Recognizing the urgency of the moment, bourbon distillers successfully overhauled themselves as a significant option for connoisseurs. Instead of the inexpensive mass-market bourbons that for so long had been the industry’s focus, a new array of small-batch, single-barrel and special-selection bourbons emphasized the complexity and elegance prized by whiskey experts.
This was not simply marketing. It required recognition that bourbon could offer excellence. Rather than diluting greatness by tossing exceptional barrels of whiskey in with the mass of mediocre stuff, distillers realized that a small but significant group of consumers thirsted for what was exceptional. American society had given birth in the last 30 years to a connoisseur class for comestibles and beverages, whether for beer, barbecue, pizza, wine or cocktails. Whiskey was no different.
This was where matters stood in 2007. But bourbon has continued to evolve. Books exploring the spirit and its distillers have come out, including recently “Bourbon: A History of the American Spirit” by Dane Huckelbridge, and “Kentucky Bourbon Country: The Essential Travel Guide” by Susan Reigler. Cult bourbons have emerged, like Pappy Van Winkle (which incidentally was No. 1 in our 2007 tasting, when you could still find it at retail shops). Most significantly, small craft distillers have turned their attention to bourbon.

In 2007, when Sean Josephs opened Char No. 4, a whiskey bar and restaurant in Cobble Hill, Brooklyn, he said he knew of only two American craft distillers. “Since then, the category has exploded,” said Sean, who is also an owner of Maysville in the Flatiron district.
No. 2: Kings County Distillery Bourbon Credit Tony Cenicola/The New York Times

This time, we focused on only bourbons from craft distillers. For the tasting, Florence Fabricant and I were joined by Sean and Robert Simonson, who writes frequently on drinks for the Dining section.
Bourbon can be made anywhere in the United States, not just in Kentucky, though that state and a handful of big distillers, who comprise dozens of different brands, account for roughly 90 percent of the world’s bourbon. By law, bourbon must be distilled from grains made up of at least 51 percent corn, and the whiskey must be stored in charred new oak barrels before bottling at 80 proof or higher. If it is aged in charred oak for two years or more, it qualifies as straight bourbon whiskey.
It is easy to understand the appeal of small craft distillers. Given the perception that corporate ownership diminishes the so-called authenticity of foods and beverages by focusing more on profits and efficiency than quality and craftsmanship, connoisseurs may be drawn to those distillers the way they are to microbrewers and family wine estates. Throw in the attraction of the local — small distilleries can be found all over the country, with more than 30 in New York State alone — and you have a formula for obsession. Of our top 10 bourbons, five came from New York, two from Colorado and one each from Tennessee, Ohio and Illinois.

Yet, as the panel found previously with gin, craft distillers are not automatically successful with bourbon. Or, to be more precise, newer distillers are not always better bourbon producers.
No. 3: Hillrock Estate Solera Aged Bourbon Credit Tony Cenicola/The New York Times

Partly, this may be a function of expertise. The big producers have decades of bourbon-making experience, and, as the marketing term “small batch” indicates, they are not always producing vast quantities. But it’s also literally a question of aging. Start-up distillers do not often have the luxury of aging their spirits as long as they may like, not when they need cash to start flowing. Younger whiskeys have their attractions, but by and large they tend to be fiery and aggressive, while smooth complexity generally comes from time in the barrel.

Indeed, many of the bourbons in our lineup seemed raw and unrefined, tasting more of cereal and grains than more-developed whiskey flavors, though our favorites surprised us with their complexity. In 2007, our top bourbons had plenty of age, at least eight years for most and 20 for the top-ranked Pappy Van Winkle. This time, none of our top 10 included an age statement.
“It’s almost unfair to judge them at this point,” Robert said. “It’s still a nascent industry. We’ll see where they are in 10 years.”
Nonetheless, they are in the market, and at super-premium prices, so they are fair game for judgment.

Most bourbon distillers use 65 percent to 75 percent corn, blended with some combination of rye, wheat or malted barley. Our No. 1 bourbon, Tuthilltown Spirits Hudson Four Grain Bourbon, used, as the label suggests, all four of these grains to produce a lovely, complex, savory and sweet spirit. No. 2 was from Brooklyn’s own Kings County Distillery, a raw yet exotic and deep spirit, while No. 3, from Hillrock Estate in Ancram, N.Y., was aged in a solera system, like sherry, which combines spirits of multiple ages.
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Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Finger Lakes 5th Annual Kentucky Derby Party May 3, 2014

One of the best events in all of the Finger Lakes is fast developing into a tradition. A massive Kentucky Derby event at Finger Lakes Distilling!

Friday, April 18, 2014

Millstone Ciders - Big Things Are Going on in Monkton (MD)

What?! What is it with all of these cidermakers?! What? What?
So I was walking the floor of the Grand Tasting on the final day of Taste Camp 2013 held in Baltimore, Maryland, in a conference room overlooking Camden Yards, with Lenn Thompson of the New York Cork Report. And like many of the other attendees we stumbled upon Millstone. The cool part was that they were a different kind of producer. They made meade and cider. Normally I am not such a big meade guy, but there are some very good ones out there these days. These folks are in Monkton, MD. The place is run by Curt Sherrer and his son Kyle.
Millstone uses only heirloom apples. Good cider apples may not make great table apples as they can be extremely acidic, tannic, some to the point of being unpalatable. Not only are these guys using heirlooms, but they are also doing some cutting edge stuff. And they take it very seriously.
"Most of the apples we work with are American heirloom varietals, as early Americans typically cultivated specific apple varietals more for hard cider than eating (averaging 52 gallons of cider consumption annually per capita). Unfortunately with the rise of monoculture these varietals are grown by only the most passionate orchardists committed to preserving our countries unique apple bio-diversity. When creating our blends we group our cider apples into four main types according to the nature of their flavor components. A truly complex and well balanced cider takes blending to create just the right balance"
Sweets -  Contain high sugar levels which encourage fermentation and raise the final alcohol content.
Sharps -  High in acidity and add tartness to the cider
Bitters - High in tannins, adding the bitter and astringent ‘bite’ to the cider.
Aromatics-  Have strong bouquet, creating the nose of the cider
The Winesap was a cider made with raw honey. I was a little suspicious at first. I've had plenty of bad ones of these. But instead of the mustiness you can sometimes get from a meade, this was all apple, with a hint of honey and complexity that kept this from being something sweet and gooey, to complex and elegant. Hard to describe it really, only to say that it was like a nice, well cellared white wine. A nice citrus angle played up well here, leaving a hint of Meyer Lemon. There's some carbonation going on here. The wine is bottle conditioned. This isn't semi-sweet cider to swill. This is a fine wine. I point that out as painfully as possible, because these guys are making an artisan product that needs to be appreciated. This isn't apple juice with a shot of booze in it. Someone hand-crafted this stuff. It's beautiful. It's not to be had with burgers or with nachos, but to be served with dinner, fish, especially poultry, especially roasted chicken or chicken paillard. And maybe a nice salad? Lovely wine.
This guys approach meade like winemakers approach wine. They vinify it and they treat it with wood. Their single barrel dry hopped mead is crafted from bittering chinook hops and raw clover honey.  Robust and full flavored nectar bottled unfiltered, preserving the purity of its ingredients. The wine is hazy, and scented with hops. But boy, was it different and it was good! Very complex, without being too funky. We both really enjoyed this.

Ciderberry was a real show stopper. This an oak aged cider, made from Rome Beauty and Stayman Winesap an then they add raspberry wine pressed straight from the farm and blended with that oak aged cider. Fruity and tart, the acidity keeps this wine honest, and makes it into a lovely rose' styled wine instead of a funky, sweet blush. A complex wine.

Overall, a very good impression was made. And some excellent wines. This is a cidery and meadery to look out for. Big things are going on in Monkton. Who knew?

Nice write up from another blogger more at:



We meet at a website noted for knowledge, in a Valley noted for progress, in a State noted for strength, and we stand in need of all three, for we meet in an hour of change and challenge, in a decade of hope and fear, in an age of both knowledge and ignorance. The greater our knowledge increases, the greater our ignorance unfolds.

The vast stretches of the unknown and the unanswered and the unfinished still far outstrip our collective comprehension. No man can fully grasp how far and how fast we have come. Brewing has grown at a breathtaking pace. So it is not surprising that some would have us stay where we are a little longer to rest, to wait. But this city of Hudson, this State of New York, this country of the United States was not built by those who waited and rested and wished to look behind them. This country was conquered by those who moved forward--and so will this challenge be.   Those who came before us made certain that this country rode the first waves of the industrial revolutions, the first waves of modern invention, and the first wave of nuclear power, and this generation does not intend to founder in the backwash of the coming age of brewing. We mean to be a part of it--we mean to lead it.  We set sail on this new sea because there is new knowledge to be gained, and new rights to be won, and they must be won and used for the progress of all people.  We choose to brew a Blonde Imperial Stout. We choose to brew a Blonde Imperial Stout in this year and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard, because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills, because that challenge is one that we are willing to accept, one we are unwilling to postpone, and one which we intend to win, and the others, too.  To be sure, we are behind, (BrewDog Abstrakt already stands tall in Europe) and we will be behind for some time in the brewing of a Blonde Imperial Stout. But we do not intend to stay behind, and in this year, New York brewers shall make up and move ahead.  Many years ago the great British explorer George Mallory, who was to die on Mount Everest, was asked why did he wanted to climb it. He said, "Because it is there."  When President John F. Kennedy was asked why we were going to the moon, he said, "Because it is there, and we're going to climb it, and the moon and the planets are there, and new hopes for knowledge and peace are there. And, therefore, as we set sail we ask God's blessing on the most hazardous and dangerous and greatest adventure on which man has ever embarked."  I put it this way - a Blonde Imperial Stout is there, and we are going to brew it! Because there is hope and honor and knowledge to be gained and new discoveries to be unfolded.


Qualifications and Rules
1. A minimum of one barrel must be brewed, bottled, and labeled for sale. Growlers of any size do not count. It must be available for sale at retail brewed, bottled, and labeled.
2. Must generate a sufficient sudsy head as a traditional Imperial Stout
3. Must exhibit on the nose the roasty, chocolate, and malty aromas of a traditional Imperial Stout
4. Must exhibit the flavors consistent with those mentioned above.
5. Must ensure at least a 9% ABV
6. Must exhibit the mouthfeel of an Imperial Stout
7. It must have a state approved label
8. It must be yellow to gold in color.
9. The brewer must be licensed in the state of New York.
10. This offer ends at 11:59PM, December 31, 2014

A bottle must be shipped to me. First one to serve their beer to me that matches the conditions above wins. I must taste it for the winner to take the prize. No exceptions. I may be contacted through the Hudson-Chatham Winery.

Thank you.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Luckett Vineyards (Nova Scotia, CA)

Jeff Pinhey is a Nova Scotia wine geek, and a smart one at that. It was he who brought three bottles of Luckett Vineyards wines to the Quebec Taste Camp 2013. He is from Nova Scotia. Jeff is an Associate Member of Canadian Association Professional Sommeliers and has been a Board Member for 8 years.  He is one of the senior BJCP Beer Judges in Canada, and also has significant wine judging experience. An avid traveler, he is adding at least one new wine region every year to his experience. When not tasting beer or wine, Jeff works as a Professional Environmental Engineer. He is on the National Board of Directors of the Stanley Thompson Society and sits on Halifax's Downtown Design Review Committee. 
So, why am I writing about Jeff and about Luckett? ell, I was at the Montreal Taste Camp last year and we had a winemaker's dinner. And as we sat there sampling bottles, left and right, these three babies drew my eye. And so I made sure to taste each one. And they were fantastic! So even though Nova Scotia's not my normal realm, I felt compelled to write about these fantastic wines! I was compelled to research about them online. Apparently, they have a phone booth in their vineyard, which is obviously very distinctive. According to their website, and by other people's agreement, Crisp maritime breezes, legendary ocean tides and brilliant sunshine meet to create an outstanding terroir on a hillside overlooking the magnificent Gaspereau Valley. Luckett Vineyards captures the magic of Nova Scotia’s distinctive character through wines that truly are worth phoning home about.  
Pete Luckett is a name synonymous with fine fare in Nova Scotia.  His culinary explorations began as a stall owner in Nottingham, England, and led him around the world before he chose to settle in the Maritimes. Here he formed one of Atlantic Canada’s best known and loved brands: Pete’s Frootique.  Three award winning stores and countless well-fed customers later, Pete has kept close to his roots as the charming grocer and energetic personality.  Always looking with an entrepreneurial eye towards new adventures, he sees the vineyard as a true calling. A fun fact about Pete? He did a stint as a Queen’s Guard but wasn’t able to keep from chatting up the tourists.  He still has the hat.

Mike Mainguy, Executive Winemaker is indeed the Main Guy for all things wine at the winery.  He brings a well-rounded knowledge obtained from areas with similar growing conditions.  A Nova Scotian at heart, he has extensive winemaking experiences in the Niagara region and right there in their own backyard, spending a year at Gaspereau Winery. 

Marcel Kolb, Vineyard Manager. Don’t let the accent fool you.  Marcel’s background in wine is as French as his prized bottle ofChâteauneuf-du-Pape. Growing up in Switzerland,  he learned growing techniques from the precision masters and has parlayed that knowledge into getting the most out of our unique Nova Scotian terroir.  Just a glance at our meticulous rows of vines is enough to see that Marcel is serious about growing grapes. Marcel is an avid follower of Metallica. Word on the street is that he joined them for a stint as their drummer.


L’Acadie Blanc is Nova Scotia’s most talked about grape. Briefly aged in Hungarian Oak to develop a hint of vanilla, this wine has a complex structure and crisp, refreshing notes. My notes reflect very much the same experience. Nice acidity which gave the fruit its length and a great refreshing quality.
L'Acadie 2011 was reviewed by Natalie McClean, she wrote, "Crisp and clean and refreshing with bright lemon-lime notes." A very elegant, light, bright white with wonderful complexity and a nice lingering flavor. Fabulous!

OK, so I was impressed by the L'Acadie, so now I had to try their Muscat 2012. It pours with a decidedly yellow-ish tint, but very clearly has a hint of pink to it. Big, beautiful nose! Floral with hints of lavender as promised. Citrusy with hints of lychee as well. A hint of the tropical. A gorgeous white wine. A dash of sweetness here, but with enough acidity that is very well-balanced. Very sexy.

OK, so now I had to try the red. I was very curious! Triumphe 2012 was the next big surprise! This medium-bodied, dry red, aged in French oak, had impressive dark red fruit, of a dark berry stewed quality to it, including dark cherry, dark raspberry, and hints of cassis and vanilla...and a hint of mocha.  Triumphe is easy-drinking with a pleasing complexity that never leaves you on hold. A very beautifully balanced red. I was super impressed. These people are far up north, and a red wine with this kind of depth is no small feat! Extremely well done. 

Billsboro Winery - Some Places You Just Like to Go Back To

How many times have I been to Billsboro Winery? I can't even begin to count. But I know this - it's just one of those places that I love to back to. The tastingroom staff is friendly and professional. The tasting atmosphere is enjoyable. There's lot of chochkies and eye-candy in the tasting room to keep you entertained without being annoying. Oh, yeah, and the wines? Amazing!

I did this tasting sometime late last summer, so I am behind a bit, but the wines here are always fantastic, whatever time of year you go!
Billsboro Winery sits on 28 acres overlooking the northern end of Seneca Lake. Since 2007, Vinny and Kim Aliperti, along with their three children, embarked on a quest to create great dry wines from locally grown grapes.

Vinny Aliperti, Owner and Winemaker, has been hooked on winemaking for over 15 years. Starting out in the Hamptons of Long Island, he apprenticed for three vintages (1997- 1999) at Wolffer Estate under long-time winemaker Roman Roth, producing mostly Chardonnay and Merlot. In early 2000, Vinny moved his family to the Finger Lakes to work at the legendary Hermann J. Wiemer Vineyard, where he was first exposed to Riesling production. In 2001 Vinny joined then startup Atwater Estate Vineyards, where he continues today heading up winemaking operations of over 15 different varieties. Vinny's winemaking style is often described as crisp and fruit-driven with a focus on creating intense but balanced wines. His dynamic approach has earned him praise both locally and nationally, including several write-ups in The Wine Spectator and New York Cork Report.

Kimberly Aliperti, Owner and Operations Manager, is a former Peace Corps volunteer and high school English teacher. She is especially devoted to children and is an active member in many civic organizations in the Geneva community. A long-time wine enthusiast, Kim was the impetus in moving forward to purchase Billsboro Winery in 2007. Kim puts her classroom and boardroom skills to work in juggling all the elements involved in running Billsboro, one of the Finger Lakes best destination's for wine tastings and special events.

So, the Sauvignon Blanc 2012 was absolutely fantastic. Big, bright, bold, clean, refreshing with a big hand of tropical fruits and citrus notes, this is a light, elegant wine with a great ending. A lovely food wine or a great sipper. Writing this now reminds me, I need to go up and pick up a bottle or two, despite the crappy winter weather...spring and/or summer is coming. And I'll want a few bottles of this.

I love Anthony's Pinot noir. And this 2011 was no exception. Beautiful bright cherry, in this light-to-medium bodied red wine. Great fruit and great acidity make this a lovely wine that finishes long. Grown on the southeastern slopes of Seneca Lake, it has a nice hint of pepper on the finish, with notes of vanilla and a hint of bright red currant? Fabulous! One of the nicest reds in the Finger Lakes region.

Anthony's Cabernet Franc is always lovely. Bright and medium-bodied ripe cherry, with hints of plum, hints of red raspberry, vanilla and anise. Beautiful Chinon-styled red wine.

This was a surprise. A beautiful medium-bodied blend of Cabernet and Syrah. Nice dark fruits of blackberry, dark cherry and dark raspberry. Lovely purple-reddish color. I love blends, and this is a perfect example why. Lots of lovely fruit, with no holes in the wine, which sometimes varietal wines will give you. This was a nice, big surprise at Billsboro. A very handsome wine that begs for grilled pork chops or a small steak, or a grilled Portobello mushroom. Beautiful. 

This is always one of my favorites. The fruit is grown at Sawmill Creek Vineyards They made less than 100 cases of this stuff. It's got a residual sugar of 19%. Honey, apricot, peach, and hints of fig all come across on the nose and in your mouth. A luscious, unctuous wine, with enough acidity to keep the sugar in check. Beautifully balanced.
Anthony remains amongst my favorite winemakers in the Finger Lakes. 

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Meet Sam Filler - The Most Popular Man in New York Wine

OK, so you have to know first that winery, brewery, distillery, and cidery owners are a fairly cynical bunch. Not a lot rocks their boats. Not a lot makes them hoot and holler - except booze. So it was with great delight then, when I attended the recent, second Wine, Beers, Spirits, and Cider Summit in Albany last week, a singular exception occurred.

Any time the name Sam Filler was mentioned, and it was mentioned many times, the owners would begin to clap, whistle, and generally exclaim like I have never seen before. It was like a casino full of armed bandit types with their cups full of quarters all hit the jackpot at the same time! Near bedlam! What makes a bunch of cranky business owners cheer for an Albany state government representative at 10 o'clock in the morning? He's not giving away money. He can't even make a parking ticket go away. Who is this guy?!

He Sam Filler! The answer man!

Samuel Filler currently leads Governor Cuomo’s Craft Beverage Initiative at Empire State Development. Samuel served as the Director of Programs for the Transportation and Land Use Collaborative (TLUC), an urban planning consulting firm in Southern California that specialized in stakeholder engagement in Latino communities. He was also selected to be a Coro Fellow in Southern California and an Americorps member with City Year. He earned a Bachelor of Arts in economics and political science from Vassar College, and a Master of Urban Planning from the
NYU Robert F. Wagner School of Public Service.

To understand, you need a little background.
Filler, and Gov. Cuomo's new approach to the industry have been a huge sea change, best explained by New York Wine & Grape Foundation President, Jim Trezise, who wrote, "I've often pinched myself in the past year or two to make sure I'm not dreaming when I'm dealing with the New York State government.  I've been doing that for over 30 years, often with difficult and unpleasant encounters, but there has been a sea change under the leadership of Governor Andrew Cuomo."
"The latest example came on Tuesday when Lieutenant Governor Bob Duffy, State Liquor Authority Chairman Dennis Rosen, Deputy Secretary for Agriculture Pat Hooker, and other State officials met with about 60 winery representatives at the Geneva Experiment Station.  The purpose: Continue the dialogue between the public and private sectors."
Five years ago? Never!
But now there is Sam Filler! At the first Wine, Beer, Spirits, and Cider Summit in October 2013, Gov. Cuomo and his team announced among a slew of changes, a "one stop shop" for New York craft beverage makers. Governor Cuomo launched a one stop shop designed to provide New York’s wine, beer, and spirits producers with a single point of government contact for assistance regarding regulations, licensing, state incentives, and any other questions or issues facing the industry. As a result of last week's Summit, the one stop shop will now market available state financing options to the farm-based beverage industry. In addition, a new on-line marketplace will be launched to connect farmers to beverage producers, a new business mentor program for the craft beverage industry will be launched at ESD, and state-operated webinars will be hosted on a variety of industry-related topics.


This was greeted with skepticism by the usual congregation when it was first announced last October. And Gov. Cuomo promised the faithful, if they got word from Sam, they could act on it. And if it turned out Sam and forwarded the incorrect information the NYSLA and the state would not hold the beverage producer liable in any way. When this new announcement was made last week? Nothing but applause!
Trezise waxed rhapsodically about the meeting with Fuller, "Also present was Sam Filler, whom I call "the answer man" because he runs the "One Stop Shop" office where industry members can ask any question in any area--alcohol policies, environmental regulations, tax guidelines, etc.--and Sam and his colleagues will contact the appropriate agency and get the answer back to the source.  I have heard nothing but praise for his efforts.  This has been a dream of mine for decades that is now a reality. (Pinch.)"

As both an industry watcher, and as a winery owner, Sam Filler is in fact "The Answer Man!" in the fullest sense of the word. You call up with a question, and if he doesn't know the answer, he gets your number, gets an answer, and calls you back. Done! It's fantastic! It's no more, "You'll have to read the rules and regs to find that out. Please consult your NYSLA handbook. Thank you." It's now real, live answers. And they are fast and you can rely on them!

He's an answer to a business owner's prayers.

You getting the idea?  Wait....there's more! He's become something of a star in his own right. As a member of the Economic Development team, he's out there not only answering questions, but promoting the industry as well!
In August 2013, Filler attended a Cornell University Extension meeting for new growers and new winery owners as an emissary of the Empire State Development agency's "one stop shop" for wine beer and spirits. He gave a presentation and answered questions related to licensing and other legal aspects of starting a winery.

In September 2013, he attended a Farm Brewery and Cidery Start-up Workshop at Cornell Extension as well.

In November 2013 he was a panelist at the American Farmland Trust discussion on Harvesting Opportunities for wines, beers, spirits, and ciders in New York state. Again he provided answers and shared examples of what others were doing in the industry.

He even appeared on WAMC radio in December 2013, promoting the cider industry. Filler explained that farm brewing, distilling, winemaking and cidermaking (especially in this instance) is all part of a larger plan to aid New York agriculture through an emphasis on the products that can be made from crops.

“As an Orchard, instead of selling just raw apples, you can take them and turn them into a vodka, or turn them into a brandy, or turn them into a hard cider, and get even more value out of them,” Filler said.

In February 2014 he stopped by the famed Jimmy Carbone's radio show. Jimmy Carbone discussed the state of beer in New York State! Jimmy was joined in the studio by the Beer Czar of New York, Sam Filler. Carbone talked with Sam  and how he helps facilitate local beer production using regional grains and hops.

He's so in demand he's been on conference calls regarding industry meetings with Economic Development concerning our industries with Virginia business leaders (just this past February) looking to hear his insights, thoughts, and answers.

But the real proof in the value of Sam Filler goes back to that applause. When you've got this crowd that excited, you've done something really right. Conversations and comments from the back of the room included, things like... "Great guy!"..."They better never let that kid go!"..."Straight shooter"..."Best thing that ever happened to us!"

Now, we all know that it's NYSLA Chairman Rosen and his lieutenant Tom Donahue, that back up Filler and make him so valuable. And that they are the real power behind the curtain so to speak. But it is also a testament to their cooperation with Governor Cuomo that Sam's job exists at all. And a sign of the fundamental changes going on over at the NYSLA.

That said, you need a smart, reliable, straight forward person on the end of the line who people can count on and know as sound and responsible. That's Sam Filler.

THAT's why he's so popular!

Watch Out, Baby! New York Wine, Beers, Spirits, and Ciders, Is Back!

Now is the winter of our discontent
Made glorious summer by this son of New York
-          William Shakespeare 

With apologies to William Shakespeare the line has never been more apropos. It has been a long and ugly winter, both metaphorically and realistically. In recent memory, this was one of the worst winters of recent memory, and a seeming nightmare for vintners throughout the north east. From Michigan to Niagara to New England, cold weather has wreaked havoc with vineyards, as the thermometer plunged ever southward.
And metaphorically speaking, New York’s booming beverage industry has endured a long, cold winter, while watching states like Oregon, Washington, and closer to home, Virginia, forge ahead in reputation, with the help of their states’ governments, to be ever more competitive in the wine industry, while New York’s winter of neglect stretched for the last five or six, as the state legislature gutted spending programs, and disregarded a home grown industry valuable to its own survival.
New York craft beverage producers, especially long suffering wineries owners, have awoken from a long nightmare.
But now, compelled by a force it cannot ignore, state government has finally risen to the challenge, and agreed to enable our booming wine, beers, spirits, and cider industries to truly compete, both nationally and internationally.
The “son of New York” is refer to is none other than Governor Andrew Cuomo, and his administration. In two quick blows, one struck in October of 2013 and one recently struck just a week ago, Andrew Cuomo has done more for any other governor in this state since his father back in the mid-1980s. It was very clear that he and Lt. Gov. Duffy clearly see the value of the industry and finally get that other states governments are doing everything they can to help these industries compete.
There is no question that the wine industry has benefitted completely from the recent booms in craft beers, distilling, and cider industries. The distillers and cider makers deserve much of the credit for rocking the cradle of government, and pounding on the door, asking for changes to antiquated laws. People like Elizabeth Ryan and Sarah Grady, people like Ralph Erenzo and others in distilling, even Tom Edwards of the Tom Edwards, President of the New York State Liquor Store Association, pushed and pushed the government. And kudos to Jim Trezise, president of the New York Wine and Grape Foundation for taking advantage of the situation, and helping force changes in the wine industry as well.
Governor Cuomo and his team, by changing archaic laws invented to inhibit bootleggers back in the thirties, will allow thriving businesses to grow stronger and faster, which intern makes for more taxable revenues for the state, more agritourism, and for more jobs.
Some of the shocking statistics that came out of the summit? New York is America’s No. 3 producer of wine in the country. We are No. 2 in distilling. That the New York wine industry was valued at $4.8 billion dollars to the state. How fast in the business growing. The cider business grow by more than 300%! The distilling and beer business almost more than doubled in the last four or five years. In the small community like Columbia County, for example, where there was one business in 2007, there are now eight, and there are more businesses planned to open in the next two years.
What other industry in New York is offering that kind of expansion? That kind of growth?
Now, with the Governor’s help, this craft beverage industry, across the board, can explode in a way that only New York can do. With our massive number of tourists, and our fast growing industries,

To his credit, Governor Cuomo has not just thrown money at the problem, but instead has turned around the industry through institutional change. The moribund and byzantine NYSLA has transformed into a dynamic force, looking to partner with an industry it seemed it sometimes wanted to strangle only three or four short years ago. Even the fiefdom known as the Department of Transportation, long Kafka-esque in bizarre and wilful disregard of mandated issuances, seems to have gotten more friendly (let’s not go too far in our effusiveness – but a change is palpable.
And he’s offered disaster relief to winemakers in the Finger Lakes and Niagara and Lake Erie to help get through the losses many will incur this year to to buss loss and winter damage caued by this year’s devastating winter.
And yes, he had promised more money to promote the regions and the business of those regions through promotion and advertising.
“Agriculture and tourism have the potential for tremendous growth in New York, and over the past few years we have seen that our investments in the farm-based beverage industry are resulting in new opportunities for small business owners throughout the State,” Governor Cuomo said. “The proposals and actions announced today will make it easier than ever before to start a farm-based beverage business, raise the profile of producers across the State, and open up new markets where our entrepreneurs can succeed. Today’s summit was all about creating jobs and stimulating the economy, and I am confident that by working alongside our partners in the private sector our producers will be able to thrive and compete anywhere in the world.”
To the Governor’s credit, it’s become so obvious that the craft beverage industry is one of the better bets in New York state, that the legislature, who have long ignored us after they gutted Jim Trezise’s budgets over the years, are suddenly even trying to get into the act. Even Sheldon Silver, who has not mentioned the wine industry in as long as I have been a watcher of New York state government these last seven years, for the first time held a news conference to promote the industry. Cuomo gets my vote the next election regardless, just for that.
Now, I have complained bitterly in the past, that the New York wine industry was falling behind many of its peers. But let me say emphatically, that it is with love and passion that I did so. I can complain about my Mother, but YOU can’t! Let me say now, with the hackles of antiquated laws lifted from our hands, unchained, New York can rise to the occasion.

It's not all strawberries and cream just yet. There's a lot of work still to be done. We need innovative marketing for our industry, we still need to band together better than before, and there's lots of good wine, beer, spirits, and ciders to be made. But....
We have some of the best winemakers on the east coast. We’ve got cider and distillery industries second to none. And we’ve got an ocean of terrific craft beer that helps lead the national industry! New York is poised to take it’s spot. To reach and to grow.
So, to this Glorious summer, made possible by the son of New York, Governor Andrew Cuomo, I salute you!
And to you, Virginia and Pennsylvania, you are on the move. But watch out, New York is back! 
Read the governor's press release - worth reading: