Monday, June 30, 2014

Victory View Vineyard - One of the Shining Stars of the Northern Hudson Valley

Here's the first thing you need to know about Victory View Vineyard - it's easily one of the best quality wine producers in the Upper Hudson Valley. The other thing you need to know is they work with cold, winter hardy, Minnesota grape varieties. They also may be one of the better wineries making wines with that kind of fruit today. And the last thing you need to know is - after drinking it - you'll want more.
Victory View Vineyard is a family owned and operated, small farm in rural Washington County, New York. It is owned by Gerry and Mary Barnhart in Schaghtichoke, NY. They produce 'estate' bottled wine only! They grow all their own grapes sustainably on their farm. Our wines are made from French-American hybrid grapes and Minnesota varieties as well, which thrive on their sloping site with a southern exposure.

Gerry is a dynamo. He is one of the moving forces behind the Upper Hudson Valley Wine Trail, where he was reelected President of the growing association in January of 2014. As I aid, Gerry and Mary are very serious about what they are doing.

I finally got to meet Gerry at the Taste of Upstate New York just this past spring. He and I had corresponded over the years, but we had never met. They are a relatively new winery, and I was only able to try three wines. I understand they have a fourth now, and their list will continue to grow.

According to Gerry and Mary, "the name for this wine came to us after long hours of picking rocks and numerous tiller repairs caused by hard work in our stony ground. We honor those who came before us and built the miles of stone walls on our farm, all by hand."
For those of you unfamiliar with La Crosse, it is a modern hybrid cultivar of wine grape, mostly grown in North America. It produces grapes suitable for making fruity white wines similar to Riesling or as a base for blended wines. The grapes also make a good seeded table grape for eating. It has the benefits of early ripening and when hardened properly in the fall it is winter hardy to at least -25° F. As such it best suited to growing in more northern climates. La Crosse was produced and patented by famed Minnesota hybridizer Elmer Swenson around 1970. It is a hybrid of Seyval crossed to a cross of Minnesota 78 by Seibel 1000 (aka Rosette).
This wine was made in stainless steel, and then aged in oak. It's has the feel of a light, oaked Italian white. A complex nose of green apple and tropical fruits. The mouthfeel is slightly lighter than oak, but it ha a creamy finish reminiscent of an oaked chardonnay. A very interesting, and very nice wine.

First, a bit of history (I am an absolute sucker for dogs and history). According to Gerry and Mary, "We named our La Crescent wine Charlotte to honor the history of our area. After splitting from Albany County in 1772, our area was named Charlotte County in honor of King George III’s eldest daughter. The County was renamed Washington County in 1784 to honor the service of General George Washington during the American Revolutionary War. The name Charlotte calls to mind the Baroness Fredericka Charlotte Riedesel. The Baroness, and her three daughters, traveled with her husband, General Friedreich Riedesel, commander of the German troops in General John Burgoyne’s army of invasion that was defeated during the battles of Saratoga. The red-haired Baroness was described as being, "full in figure and possessing no small share of beauty." She was adored by the German troops and was credited for being "an angel of comfort" who "restored order to chaos" for her work caring for wounded soldiers and the women and children in Burgoyne’s defeated army."
Charlotte is an off-dry, Germanic style wine from our 'estate' grown LaCrescent grapes. La Crescent, a Minnesota, cold-climate variety, combines St. Pepin and an Elmer Swenson (famous Minnesota grape hybridizer) selection from V. riparia x Muscat Hamburg. With this hardy heritage, trunks have survived a frigid -34°F when well cared for in good vineyard sites. It's moderately disease resistant and it can be very productive at harvest. LaCrescent is making more and more inroads in wine everyday.
Victory View Charlotte 2012 has a big frontal attack of pink grapefruit, melon, and hints of dried apricot. Those flavors come across on the palate as well as a few other tropical fruits. Off-dry, with a nice bit of bouncy acidity makes this a bright, refreshing, mouthwatering white. A lovely wine!!! And easy favorite!

Maréchal Foch was named after the French marshal Ferdinand Foch (1851-1929), who played an important role in the negotiation of the armistice terms during the closing of the First World War. It was developed in Alsace, France by grape hybridizer Eugene Kuhlmann. Some believe it to be a cross of Goldriesling (itself an intra-specific cross of Riesling and Courtiller Musqué) with a Vitis riparia - Vitis rupestris cross. Others contend that its pedigree is uncertain and may contain the grape variety Oberlin 595. It ripens early, is cold-hardy, is resistant to fungal diseases, and can produce a flavorful wine
Like many French-American hybrids, Marechal Foch has a bad rap. Mishandled for years by beginning eastern wineries, there were a great many that made awful, foxy varietals that scared away several generations of American wine consumers. But now, with the immense amount of knowledge out there, about vineyard practices, winemaking, and cellaring techniques, French-American hybrids, in the hands of a growing few, have made a real strong case for reconsideration. A real hint I that the wine was developed in Alsace the home of light bodied reds. Instead of trying to make inky wines with these grapes, I've always thought it better to make a lighter style wine that would carry all the fruit and by only limited wine/skin interaction carry fewer of the negative flavor profiles sometimes developed through extended fermentations.
Thrown into this conversation my be Victory View Layfayette 2012. A stew of strawberries, cherries, and plums comes across the nose with hint of vanilla and spice. And as promised, their were light hints of leather and tobacco. Nice acidity kept the fruit vibrant in the mouth, and the medium tannins kept this medium-bodied dry red in balance. A lovely, drinkable red, made for the dinning room table. A lovely wine. Very impressive. Brought home several bottles of this!
Again Gerry and Mary invoke a little history lesson here, writing, "Our Lafayette is named to pay respect to Gilbert du Motier, Marquis de Lafayette, the French general who became one of George Washington’s most trusted lieutenants and a hero of the American Revolution. While Lafayette was not present for the 1777 Battles of Saratoga, his efforts along with the Colonial Army’s success at Saratoga were pivotal in bringing France into the Revolution as allies of the fledgling United States."
How can you not like these people?!!!
I love their passion for history, their passion for estate fruit, and their passion for making quality wines. Victory View Vineyard is on of the shining stars of the Northern Hudson Valley and a credit to the Hudson Valley as a whole.

Nine Pin Cider Announces New Ginger Cider! (NY)

Nine Pin Cider Works, New York’s first farm cidery, has released Nine Pin Ginger. Ginger will be the second style of cider sold at retail by the bottle.

“Each style of cider that Nine Pin produces maintains the spirit of local apples while tying in what we believe are compelling varieties of flavor. Our Ginger cider represents an amazing balance between the apples and ginger that we’re proud to serve to the public,” said Alejandro del Peral, cider maker.
Nine Pin Ginger, according to del Peral, is a farmhouse blend of Capital Region and Hudson Valley apples that is fermented with white wine yeast and infused with ginger and orange peel. It is characteristically balanced, yet spicy. Ginger has an alcohol content level of 6.7 percent and each bottle contains 22 fl. oz. of cider.
Nine Pin Ginger is now available by the glass, growler and bottle at Nine Pin’s tasting room at 929 Broadway in Downtown Albany and will be available in retail locations starting the week of June 30.
For more information about Nine Pin Cider Works and where Nine Pin Cider can be found, visit

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Cameron Stark - Master Winemaker at Unionville Vineyards Continues to Excel (NJ)

So I was driving through New Jersey the other day and decided to make a quick pit stop into Unionville Vineyards. I was only planning on buying a quick bottle of the Unionville Pheasant Hill Pinot Noir and heading out. But while I was there, I saw they had some new wines, and I found out Zeke Johnsen, the assistant winemaker was there. So, after my tasting, I popped my head into the tank room to say hello and he told me Cameron was in. So I popped in to see him too. What luck?! These guys are the best one-two punch in all of east coast winemaking.
In case you don't already know, Cameron Stark, formally trained at UC Davis and spent his early career under the tutelage of Napa Valley wine experts perfecting his skills and mastering his unique, creative style of winemaking. Cameron’s wines have earned him respect and recognition in the wine establishment including Wine Enthusiast ratings of 90+ points. He is committed to crafting some of the finest wines on the east coast. He is absolutely on par with the guys from Long Island, the Finger Lakes, and Virginia. Cameron is a classicist at heart. But there is that other side of Cameron. To paraphrase Robert F. Kennedy, Some people see things as they are and ask why? Cameron sees things as they are and asks Why not? And that's one of the things I love about Cameron and Unionville, is that the are always trying to push the boundaries. My recent tasting, dropping by completely on a whim, had just confirmed that. 
The first thing on the tasting menu that caught my notice was an Unionville Albarino 2012. A New Jersey Albarino? Traditionally you find Albarinos from Spain and Portugal. And only very few wineries make it on the east coast. While you might scoff at a Jersey Albarino, you must remember it is Cameron's Albarino. I eagerly gave it a shot. Cameron (and Zeke) fermented the wine in stainless steel to show off it’s incredibly bright acidity. A beautiful nose of tropical fruit gave ways to spicy pear and white peach, but it also had the trademark bright acidity and citrusy notes Albarino is known for.  Fantastic!

Next was Amwell Ridge Vineyard Viognier 2012. This wine is grown on one of their Ringoes, New Jersey vineyards. It is actually a blend of 90% Viognier, 5% Marsanne, and 5% Rousanne. It was aged for five months sur lee in neutral French Oak. As promised, white flowers, white peach, apricot and vanilla all come through. A beautiful, fragrant wine with lovely mouth feel. Lovely!

Unionville Amwell Ridge Vineyard Counoise 2012 was next. Counoise is a dark-skinned wine grape grown primarily in the Rhône valley region of France. Counoise adds a peppery note and good acidity to a blended red wine, but does not have much depth of colour or tannin. There were 1,580 acres of Counoise in France in 2000. Counoise is one of the grapes allowed into the blend of Châteauneuf-du-Pape wine. Some producers who favor the variety use about 5% of it in their blend. Limited plantings also exist in California, and much goes into blending. But a few producers, such as Tablas Creek Vineyard in Paso Robles and Wente Vineyards in Livermore, do bottle varietal Counoise. Unionville Vineyards in Ringoes, New Jersey is the only producer on the East Coast of the United States bottling Counoise as a varietal wine.

The Counoise was magical. Bright cherry, dried cherries and other dark berries, and some plum come through as well a loads of white pepper and rose petals as promised. The wine is a light-to-medium bodied red, with incredible mouthfeel and great depth of character. for those who love Pinot Noir and Rhone-ish wines, this thing of beauty is for you!!!!! Gorgeous, complex, well balanced. Excellent.

I was luck enough to do a few barrel tastings. The first was the Unionville Amwell Ridge Counoise 2013. Amazing. Bright fruit. Almost Pinot Noir-ish, the wine had great fruit, good acidity, and tremendous complexity and balance. Elegant!

The next thing we tasted was the Unionville Pheasant Hill Syrah 2012. Cameron makes his Syrah in the French fashion, adding a little bit of Viognier into the final blend. In Cotie-Rotie, the syrah and viognier grow right next to one another...and are often blended). The viognier adds a lovely touch to the nose, and adds some acidity and flavor to the wine. In this case 8% . This was a lovely wine with dark cherries, prunes, and plum very much as the forefront. A beautiful, Rhone-ish styled red. Lovely and elegant.

Unionville Pheasant Hill Syrah 2013 was a revelation!!! Beautiful cherry and blackbeery up front on the nose and on the palate. A hint of briar fruits backs up the wine, but the bright cherry dominates. This is a gorgeous wine. Firm, bright, fruity but well balanced. Impressive. A gorgeous wine.

A New Jersey Albarino? A New Jersey Counoise? Who wuld think up such things?

But Cameron Stark is thinking such things...and doing it...and impressing everyone.

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Lake George Distilling - Washington County's New Shining Star (NY)

I first discovered Lake George distilling at the Upper Hudson Valley's Taste of Upstate event in Saratoga, New York. One of my favorite things about Lake George distilling is that when you go to their website, in the news and events section you'll see numerous links to newspaper posts. It's very impressive...but the message is clear. Lake George Distilling is the first "legal" distilling operation that anyone can seem to remember. It always makes me laugh out loud.
There are few places, in summer time, that are as pretty as Washington County. Giant rolling hills filled with one classic farm after another. Diary and apple rule the roost, and corn is the third in their little agricultural triumvirate. You're really not sure if you are in upper New York state or Wisconsin. It the kind of place that they make movie about. Pickup trucks and country music.
Enter Lake George Distilling Company, which was formed in 2012. Owners John and Robin McDougall take the time to select the best local ingredients from the region and use them to hand craft their spirits in small batches. According to the local newspaper, the PostStar, "Lake George Distilling Co. is getting all of its corn, rye and barley from within New York. The corn — and soon, rye — is coming from Ellsworth Family Farm in Easton, while the malted barley is coming from a new malt house in Newark Valley (Tioga County)."
"We have a deal to get our corn from local farms," said John told the Albany Times-Union."We will be able to tell our customers what farms our grains come from."
According to the McDougalls, the Lake George Distilling Co. is also a “zero waste” facility. Spent grain goes to a local farm for feed, and water used in the process is recycled and used to water the grounds during summer. Their line runs the gambit from moonshine, smoked moonshine, apple pie moonshine and then to bourbon whiskey. They hope to produce more products as they go.
John McDougal, a 49-year-old field technician who has worked for Verizon for the last 26 years and is nearing retirement age. In his spare time he has dabbled in beer and wine making before making the leap to distilling. In the last ten years he has read books, taken courses, tasted as much as he could, and attended seminars that have given him the knowledge that is required to distill quality hand crafted spirits. 
“It cost twice as much as we thought and took three times as long,” John told the PostStar about the start-up venture.  
Son Tom McDougall does the company's social media to promote the business, who is currently a junior journalism/psychology major at the University of Connecticut.
Robin holds an MBA from Ellis College and has always wanted to open her own business. When John came to her with the suggestion that they open a micro-distillery she jumped at the idea. She is now handling the business end of things so John can concentrate on what he does best ... making great artisan spirits.
I got to taste those spirits in Saratoga for the first time.
The first one I tasted was the 32 Mile Moonshine, which draws it's name from the length of Lake George. From Lake George Village to Ticonderoga the lake measures 32 miles long. Lake George Distilling's Moonshine is produced from locally grown corn. You have to love that.  A hand crafted product of Washington County, New York State. 32 Mile Moonshine is a true corn whiskey with a subtle sweetness of corn. This is a smooth, easy to drink corn whiskey. Great for blending cocktails. It has honest to goodness flavor but subtle, and not quite the burn you'd expect. Very nice.​
According to the New York Times, "Many are the explanations and good the stories told regarding the origin of the famous Indian kettles or potholes that abound along the shores of Lake George, N.Y. However, there can be no doubt that nature is directly responsible for their creation. Scientists say that they were formed by the constant twirling around of small stones that were held captive in the eddies of the water that once covered these shores during the glacial period." Settlers gave them the name Indian Kettles.
Indian Kettle Smoked Corn Whiskey was named after the deep potholes that are so popularly found along the shores and islands of Lake George. The McDougalls have just such “Indian Kettle” located on the island in front of their family camp. Every summer cleaning out the Indian Kettles was a family tradition, which continues with their children. This Indian Kettle Smoked Corn whiskey reflects that concept. A nice smokiness wafts from the glass to greet the drinker. And the smoke carries across the palate as well. This is a great elixir for more savory based drinks, or for sipping as well. Very impressive​.
The brown bullhead is a fish of the Ictaluridae family that is widely distributed in North America. It is a species of bullhead catfish and is similar to the black bullhead and yellow bullhead. It was originally described as Pimelodus nebulosus by Charles Alexandre Lesueur in 1819. The brown bullhead is also widely known as the "mud pout," "horned pout," "hornpout," or simply "mud cat," along with the other bullhead species. The brown bullhead is important as a clan symbol of the Ojibwe group of Native Americans. In their tradition, the bullhead or "wawaazisii" is one of six beings that came out of the sea to form the original clans. The brown bullhead thrives in a variety of habitats, including lakes and ponds with low oxygen and/or muddy conditions. In many areas of the United States, Brown Bullheads are opportunistic bottom feeders. They are also known to eat corn, which can be used as bait. This catfish is easily caught with natural bait such as worms and chicken livers. They put up a scrappy fight. They are ubiquitous at Lake George. This is where this bourbon gets it's name from.
It is no small feat to make bourbon. And it is damned impressive that bourbon was among the first releases of Lake George Distilling. There are strict laws as to aging, and distillers have to carry the liquor on their rolls for a minimum number f years before they are allowed to call it bourbon. That's an expensive cost of entry. Bullhead Bourbon is a small batch bourbon that has lovely aromas of maple, vanilla, and butterscotch, and also a nice spice to it. It's unique flavor comes from a unique combination of corn and rye grain.   The rye supplies the spice to compliment the sweetness of the corn. A unique bourbon. Absolutely lovely! One of my favorites in their line. I was so jonesing for an Old Fashioned after I sipped this. Where's my muddler?!
Without question, the Apple Pie Moonshine is one of the most popular products Lake George distilling offers. They've sold out of it more than once. Robin even told the PostStar after their grand opening in 2013, "I know that if I had apple pie right now, we would have sold out because every single person who’s walked in the door was looking for it,”

Lake George Apple Pies is a whiskey made with cider and spices. Lake George partnered with local Washington County apple growers to make this elixir. Call me a sucker, but this was among my favorites as well. This is easy drinking. It's somewhat sweet, but not too sweet. And the apples give it enough of a flavor that it's unmistakably apples, but not so sweet as to be over-powering. In fact, you crave more! It's easy to se why this is such a crow pleaser. Whether it's 4th of July or Thanksgiving, this is as Americana as it gets.

Lake George distilling is a small but impressive operation. There's no question that Washington County has a shining star in it's midst!

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Beneduce Vineyards - The New Kid on the Block (NJ)

I was running early to get to a business dinner last week, in Pennsylvania, when I decided to make a left hand turn and stop in at Beneduce Vineyards. A fellow dinner guest, John Whalen, of Cider Mill Press, asked what I was doing, because he too was running early. I told him he could join me. And he did. We met in the parking lot. He asked me if I had ever been there before, and  told him I had not. I told him that it was a newer winery, and that this was my first time visiting this one. But I also told him they'd been getting a lot of nice write-ups, and press, and I wanted to see for myself what all the fuss was about.
The Beneduces opened the doors of the winery on Jeremiah Lane in Pittstown, New Jersey to the public in July of 2012. This is a family affair. Their son makes the wine. Their daughter runs the events and marketing. And Dad and mother are the overseers. Michael Beneduce Sr. was a successful nursery and gardening retailer. And his love of home winemaking begat a new business. It's obvious that careful planning went into the venture. And they've obviously put a lot of time and money to try and do it right.  

We tried a half-dozen wines. Several were made from New York state fruit because the vineyard had not produced the necessary fruit up 'til now. In some cases, these wines contained a small amount of estate fruit. Others were a blend of New Jersey grapes and estate grapes. A one was an all estate affair. However, that said, I thought it was still a very good experience. Over all, I can tell you before I recount the wines individually, is that on a whole, our tasting experience was fantastic. For such a young winery, the wines were very well done, with nice balance and complexity, and across the board along a range of styles. Very, very nicely done.

The first wine we tasted was the Three Windows White Riesling 2012. The east wall of their winery is framed by three vintage windows that originally graced a schoolhouse in the 1870s.  Today, these restored beauties drench the tasting room in sunlight. This wine was cold fermented and aged to maximize the crisp flavors of the fruit. It worked. The wine was lovely, with big, big, green apple flavors and a nice citrusy ending. A lovely Riesling!

The next wine we tasted was the Beneduce Barrel Fermented Chardonnay 2102, which was aged sur lee. As promised, notes of tropical fruits, pineapple, and citrus fruits all came through. A nice whiff of vanilla. Lots of green apple, juicy pear came across the palate. A light creaminess, with a zesty ending. Very lovely wine! 

John and I shared a charcuterie plate. The cheeses were excellent. A lovely accompaniment to the tasting.
When they first broke ground to plant their Chambourcin, Corot Noir and Noiret vines, they unearthed a graveyard of old shotgun shells. They took this as a sign – or maybe a threat – and blended those grapes into a single wine - Shotgun Red 2012. This is a blend of here grapes, some of which are estate. This was a very nice, solid table red. Medium bodied, with nice fruit up front, and good acidity which helped the fruit to linger for a nice long time. A great wine to have with pasta and pizza.

This next wine was very exciting, though, funnily enough, it was not my favorite of the tasting. That said, there is no question that it is a very good wine and it shows tremendous promise. The Blueprint Blaufrankish 2012. Now, I have not been a fan of Blaufrankish. My favorite of the specimen is Red Tail Ridge's version of this varietal wine. But I have to say Mike Beneduce Jr. is keeping pace with the trendsetter here. I liked this wine.
 Beneduce's notes read: "Every ambitious endeavor begins with a detailed plan – a blueprint – in our case. Seeking to create a wine definitive of our Estate vineyard, our answer was unveiled in the form of a unique varietal, Blaufränkisch. The vines have anchored themselves deeply into our mineral-rich hillside...."
The wine was a medium bodied dry red, with lovely, bright fruit up front. Plum and raspberry come across, blueberries and cracked pepper too, as promised. A lovely drinking wine with nice acidity and low tannins. A lovely, Rhone-ish styled red with plenty of flavor. A lovely lunch or dinner wine!
Now, why do I believe that this wine has promise? Because it's so young and his is the first evidence of what this estate fruit can produce as far as wine is concerned. There is no question that Beneduce wants to join the ranks of Unionville, Turdo, Alba, and Heritage in wanting to be one of he foremost quality wine producers in the state. And their first real statement is with a red?! Oh, yeah! Game on.

The 60/40 Cabernet Sauvignon-Malbec 2012 was my favorite of the tasting. Made with fruit from Long Island, the wine was big and robust, with dark cherry, blueberry, and black currant. Great acidity, nice tannins. Well balanced. A beautiful wine with great structure and super taste. Amazing. I brought home a bottle of this. Again, Michael's winemaking skills are on display here, showing a lot of promise for the estate in years to come.
Mike Jr.
Michael Beneduce Sr. started his career as a young grower while working at his Grandfather’s farm stand in Madison, NJ.  When he was 19, he started Great Swamp Greenhouses, which has since grown to become one of the largest retail garden centers in New Jersey. Mike and his wife, Casey, oversee the production of both Beneduce Vineyards and Great Swamp Greenhouses
Justen Beneduce Hiles (pictured above, bottom right hand corner - with other recent celebrated Rutgers wine grads), who studied agricultural sciences, opened the 51-acre Beneduce Vineyards in Pittstown last summer with her brother, Mike Beneduce. Now, they make eight wine varieties, including a dry chardonnay and a pinot noir. Mike is the grape-wrangler, and Justen is the event director and handles management and sales. “I took one wine course at Rutgers, and Gary Pavlis [a Rutgers agricultural agent] gave me a little exposure and got me going with the Garden State Wine Growers Association,” says Beneduce Hiles. Justen is the marketing and event coordinator.

Here's Mike Beneduce Jr. getting the chardonnay ready to bottle, he's the Vineyard Manager and Winemaker. In 2010, Mike graduated Magna Cum Laude from Cornell University with a dual degree in Plant Sciences and Viticulture/Enology. The recently introduced major focused on the hands on teaching of techniques specific to cool climate grape growing and winemaking. Mike also gained experience working at Sawmill Creek Vineyards in the Finger Lakes region of NY, where he learned the arts of pruning and canopy management from a fourth generation grower. Travel experiences to wine regions in California, Oregon, New York, Ontario, Italy and Austria have helped broaden his knowledge of the world of wine.  He is currently studying for his Level II Certified Sommelier exam under the Court of Master Sommeliers, and he is an active member of the international gastronomic society the Chaine des Rotisseurs.

Reviews have been great all the way around:
“Mike Beneduce of Beneduce Vineyards also in Pittstown/NJ has just put his first wines on the market ... it will be the 2013 whites, which we tasted from tank and barrel, that are going to make his reputation. Of these the most important for me is the dry 2013 Estate Riesling, the first wine of this kind from Jersey which completely convinced me. It is quite powerful and complex with a certain amount of spice, and that’s perhaps why Mike compares it with Alsace. Frankly, though I think it’s closer to the Riesling GGs from Germany. The medium-dry 2012 Three Windows Riesling made part from estate fruit and part from Finger Lakes fruit is a juicy and polished wine with pear and citrus aromas for just $16. Jersey has a Riesling star in the making and the only question is if anyone in NYWC or America’s mainstream wine media really cares about that.” -Stuart Pigott, international wine critic, Riesling Global
“One of New Jersey’s newer wineries, Beneduce Vineyards, has ten acres of vines and produces some of the best Cabernet Francs, Pinot Noirs and Rieslings this side of the Atlantic. Their 2012 Pinot Noir, aptly named Centerfold, and whose bottled is emblazoned with a set of dark red lips is medium bodied with hints of raspberry, lush tones, and to pull out a snobby wine term ‘velvety smooth’ with a nice finish. Any fan of Pinot Noir will love this wine and the effort put into the production. Do I like this wine? I drive forty five minutes to get to the winery if that gives you any indication.” -Scott Baldwin, wine writer, The Wineosaur
“I recently had the opportunity to spend some time with Mike Beneduce Jr., the winemaker and viticulturist. His philosophy of matching the varietals to the vineyard site was refreshing (and commercially risky) as the goal was clearly what the terroir will best express, not necessarily what grape varietals are most popular… Highlights of the portfolio included the Chardonnay, which is made in the classic Burgundian style—barrel fermented, aged on the lees in 60 percent new oak. It has lovey acidity and elegance and is beautifully balanced, with the oak offering a complement to the bright tropical and citrus fruit. The White Pinot Noir, called Tuxedo, is beautifully balanced and complex while exhibiting crisp acidity. This is a versatile wine you can enjoy with fish or lighter meats. The reds had nice depth of flavor and balance with great intensity. The Blueprint, which is estate-grown Blaufrankisch, was unique. A cool-climate red with great mineral and spice notes and generous earthy blueberry flavors, this wine really had the most terroir or site expression.” -George Staikos, wine writer and educator, NJ Monthly Magazine
“The five wines available to us were each impressive in their own right. The 2012 Chardonnay fermented on the lees in 60% new oak carried lively citrus notes too often stifled by winemakers looking to achieve the buttery oak flavor that has become the standard expectation of the varietal. Rather than live up to expectations, the winemakers at Beneduce found a unique balance of oak and fruit that produces a refreshingly lightweight, well structured Chardonnay.  …Thankfully, the folks at Beneduce are breaking new ground in the Jersey wine world by introducing one of the most refreshingly brilliant Rieslings in the state. Three Windows White is everything a Riesling should be – crisp, bright, with just a touch of sweetness. It is so aromatic that you feel you’re drinking it in with one whiff…Hidden among the houses and farms of north Jersey, Beneduce Vineyards is the next big thing in Jersey wine.” -Susan Goldberg, travel writer, PJ Lifestyle

I finally understand what all the fuss is about. I finally get it. Beneduce wants to be a better winery. They are already a good winery. They want to be a better winery. They want to be the best. It's nice getting in on the ground floor of something like this. And a great addition to New Jersey winemaking as well!

Monday, June 23, 2014

The Farmhouse Brewery and Farmhouse Malt - Evidence of the Changing American Beer Scene (NY)

The Farmhouse Brewery  and Farmhouse Malt is serious business. How serious? They malt their own grains on-site in their commercial malthouse.  Every batch of beer is brewed with the freshest malt available, customized to that style of beer.  In 2012 they established FarmHouse Malt in Newark Valley, New York - the first commercially licensed malthouse in New York State since prohibition.  The malthouse will not only supply all of The FarmHouse Brewery’s malt, but also an increasing amount of malt to farm breweries and farm distilleries across the state. 

Having received their “farm brewery” licensing in late 2013, they are now tasting their beers for the first time. I was lucky enough to get a taste of their stuff at the 2014 Owego Strawberry Festival in Owego, NY. In addition to their Newark Valley farm brewery, they plan to open a Tasting Room location in Owego, New York very soon.


The cool thing about The Farmhouse Brewery is their sister business Farmhouse Malt -a malting house that offers malting classes, approximately $200 apiece. Classes include:
MALTING 101 - Malt defined, How to get started, Writing a business plan, Engaging with local farmers & Start-up costs. 
MALTING 201 - Discussion of pneumatic malting techniques, DIY malting tanks, Brewing lesson, Malt tastings, From malthouse to brewery, How to clean & prepare grain. 
MALTING 301 - Malting styles defined, Knowing your brewer & distiller, In-house testing, Out-of-house testing, Your niche’, Connecting with other maltsters, Malt & terroir. 


As for their beers? I only tasted two. The first was the Rhub Hollow a golden yellow-ish ale, with a decided scent of Rhubarb. They say it's strawberry rhubarb...but I didn't get the strawberry at all. However, it was a nice cloudy pale ale. Very nice. Very easy drinking beer. Refreshing.
The second was an experience. It was the beer everyone asked: “Did you try that?” The other beer was Ayam Cemani, a Black Saison! Big and roasty, the dark, roasted grains were big and delicious, even as the sourness of the saison began to kick in with its dark fruitiness and its spiciness. Wonder if they used traditional Saison spices such as Spices such as orange zest, coriander, or ginger. I don't know.I forgot to ask at the time. A strange beer, in that, there are not too many dark saisons out there in the world. Most are a cloudy yellow, and there are a number that are reddish, however, this was dark porter/stout colored. But it was pretty amazing.
A fascinating new place on the American (and east coast) beer map scene!

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Brown's Oatmeal Stout (NY)

Back in 1993, Garry and Kelly Brown had a vision to turn a 150 year-old warehouse on a then-blighted River Street in Troy into a fully operational craft brewery. Brown’s Brewing Company became an instant success. Their River Street Taproom in Troy, New York is a mainstay of the city of Troy. They’ve earned a number of awards over the years, including TAP New York’s 2008 Matthew Vassar Cup for the Best Brewery in Hudson Valley, as well as a Gold medal for their Pale Ale by the Culinary Institute of America. They also won prestigious World Beer Cup Gold and Silver Awards for their Oatmeal Stout and Whiskey Porter, respectively, and Metroland readers have voted them Best Brewpub in 2008 and 2009.
According to the Association of Brewers, the world’s finest Oatmeal Stout is brewed in Troy, NY by Brown’s Brewing Company. Brown’s Oatmeal Stout took home a Gold Medal at the World Beer Cup held in San Diego, April 2004.
There is no doubt this is an impressive beer. The beer was created with Two Row Pale, Black, Chocolate, Flaked Rolled Oats, Caramel, and Willamette hops. The ABV is 5.25%
The beer pours a deep, rich black, with a mocha colored thick head that seems to last a very long time. An impressive hang time, with nice lacing too boot. Lot’s of chocolate on the roast. The roast comes in second.  Full, smooth, creamy body. Oats and malt come through big. Nice roastiness. Good carbonation. Not a heavy beer, which makes it s you can have several without feeling overdone. A good drinking oatmeal stout.

Flag Hill Apple Cranberry (NH)

I like a good fruit wine from time to time. I was on a tear, doing some serious tasting at the Eastern Wineries Exposition 2014, when I spotted this Flag Hill Apple Cranberry fruit wine from New Hampshire.

Flag Hill Winery was established in 1995 with a first production run of 500 cases consisting of four types of wine. And the winery opened the next year in 1996. Their vineyard currently produces 6 varieties including North American grapes, such as Niagara, French Hybrid grapes such as Marechal Foch, De Chaunac and Vignoles, American Hybrid grapes such as Cayuga and their newest, the Minnesota Hybrid, La Crescent. The owner, winemaker, and vineyard manager work closely together as a team to ensure performance and future plans for the vineyard and winery are well aligned to put quality wines on our shelves.

Their philosophy at Flag Hill is to produce red and white wines that showcase some of the varieties of grapes that can be grown in NH. We invite you to try new and different grapes that you may have never heard of before, wines like De Chaunac, Marechal Foch, Cayuga White or Vignoles. Their goal? A tasty bottle of New Hampshire wine reflecting the true character of the Granite State.

Flag Hill Apple Cranberry wine is made from a blend of sweet New Hampshire apples and tart Massachusetts cranberries. Crisp, zesty and refreshing, this wine was a lovely, lovely wine perfect for a warm summer afternoon barbecue or backyard party. Fun and great for sangria!