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In a New York State of Wine

Mark Spivak

   California immediately comes to mind when the conversation turns to American wines. Quick: Which state ranks No. 2 in winemaking? If you answered Oregon or Washington, think again. New York is the second-largest wine producer in the nation. With nearly 325 wineries and four major American Viticultural Areas beckoning, New York’s popularity as a destination for oenophiles is growing.

Paumanok Vineyards in Aquebogue, New York
Paumanok Vineyards in Aquebogue, New York

   One reason the state’s reputation has lagged behind others is that vintners don’t always grow the grapes familiar to many wine lovers. Thanks to the cold climate in much of the state, the majority of the vines yield native varieties, such as Concord, and many others are hybrids, including Seyval Blanc or Vignoles. Another result of the climate is the lack of full-bodied red wines that many Americans gravitate toward. Still, with so many delicious options, it’s nice to break from routine for some lesser-known varietals. Try them—you’ll like them.
   The modern era of New York wine production began with Konstantin Frank, a Ukrainian viticulturist who immigrated to the United States in 1951. Frank believed varieties such as Riesling, Gewürztraminer and Chardonnay would thrive in the upstate area, and he gradually convinced his colleagues of this vision—first at Cornell’s Geneva Experiment Station and later at the winery that bears his name. Today, Frank’s home base of the Finger Lakes region has 109 bonded wineries and four wine trails: Canandaigua, Keuka Lake, Cayuga and Seneca Lake. Before setting off to explore the area, tourists can stop at the New York Wine and Culinary Center in Canandaigua, which has a bistro and tasting room and hosts wine classes.
 

Despite its cold climate, New York is the second-largest wine producer in America. The state yields varietals from vineyards such as Dr. Konstantin Frank, Paumanok and Brotherhood.
Despite its cold climate, New York is the second-largest wine producer in America. The state yields varietals from vineyards such as (in order of appearance) Paumanok, Dr. Konstantin Frank, and Brotherhood.

  The Hudson River Valley and Catskills is a well-known region with more than 40 properties, including Brotherhood, America’s oldest winery. Founded in 1839 in Washingtonville, Brotherhood contains the largest underground cellars in the country. It produces a range of sparklers and dessert bottlings along with still wines made from Riesling, Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Cabernet Sauvignon. The area is also home to Tuthilltown Spirits in Gardiner, one of the finest craft distillers in America.
   Paradoxically, the North Fork of Long Island is both New York’s best-known and most obscure region. Of the 60-plus wineries located there, many are justly famous, but few are available in national distribution; these smaller properties prefer to sell their wines to visitors or local restaurants. With a climate similar to Bordeaux, Long Island’s eastern tip provides a good growing environment for Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Sauvignon Blanc. Palmer Vineyards and Pindar Vineyards are the labels most likely to be found in wine shops around the country, although Bedell Cellars, Duck Walk Vineyards and Channing Daughters Winery (which is on the South Fork in Bridgehampton) are also in limited distribution. A personal favorite is Paumanok Vineyards, founded by corporate dropout Charles Massoud. The winery makes a crisp, delicious Chenin Blanc along with concentrated and age-worthy versions of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Cabernet Franc.
   There are now wineries in three of the five New York City boroughs. The Queens County Farm Museum covers a 47-acre tract that includes a vineyard. Manhattan’s City Winery offers customers the opportunity to make their own wine, although the grapes used aren’t native to the state. At nearby Atsby Vermouth, exotic botanicals are used to make some distinctive mixers. Not surprisingly, the new “It” borough, Brooklyn, is the center of the action. The Red Hook Winery works with 15 New York vineyards to produce dozens of different bottlings. At the Brooklyn Winery, emphasis is placed on growers within the state, as it is at the Brooklyn Oenology Winery (BOE). The latter sometimes uses California grapes, although it strives to feature all things local. Labels flaunt work by New York City artists, and the BOE Tasting Room serves New York State whiskeys, ciders and culinary goods along with the wines it produces.
   Unlike trees, grapevines may not grow in Brooklyn, but these urban facilities are working hard to shine the spotlight on New York’s fine wine stars.

America’s oldest winery, Brotherhood, is located in Washingtonville, New York and is home to the largest hand-excavated cellars in the country.

America’s oldest winery, Brotherhood, is located in Washingtonville, New York and is home to the largest hand-excavated cellars in the country.

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