Excerpt of Hudson Valley Wine: A History of Taste and Terroir


The Hudson Valley holds bragging rights as the birthplace of American wine.

    If you did not know, you are not alone.

   Agriculture is New York State’s economic engine, and grapes fuel that engine. The New York grape, grape juice and wine industry produces more than $4.8 billion in economic benefits annually.

   “The craft beverage industry is one of New York’s greatest success stories, and we are doing everything we can in state government to keep the tremendous growth seen by our wineries, breweries, cideries and distilleries going strong,” New York State governor Andrew Cuomo said. “From Long Island to the Finger Lakes, these local businesses support jobs and economic activity in both agriculture and tourism, and investing in them means investing in New York’s future.”

Over the last century, Hudson Valley wine has not been honored like left coast vintages or even celebrated like counterparts in other areas of the state. As we start to investigate why, it becomes clear that the unique terroir of the region may hold the keys to the region’s struggles and its eventual ascendancy.

   The Hudson Valley is a landscape from which artists and farmers in particular have drawn inspiration and sustenance for centuries. It represents everything we love about America: hardworking people, fertile land, a majestic river that roams from the countryside to the city yielding a breadbasket, innovation and fresh air that shapes the freedom we believe is our birthright. 

For four centuries, the Hudson Valley terroir has served up some of the country’s most coveted vegetables, fruit, grain, dairy, meat, poultry and spirits from seed and soil, and America has responded in kind, making it one of the most beloved destinations in the world, a treasure along the Taconic.

In the Hudson Valley, the oft-repeated phrase “know where your food comes from” is a way of life.  Often, we take a step further here; we know the farmers who grew it, the patch of land it springs from, the quality and strength of sun’s light and the way it changes from fall to winter and spring to summer. We shake the hands that feed us over farmers’ market stalls, and we raise a glass of (local) wine with them on one of the many local feasting days to celebrate harvests, accomplishments, strife and challenges as a community that stands together.

 The Hudson River Valley runs from the northern cities of Albany and Troy to the southern city of Yonkers along the eastern section of the state; it’s nestled in the Appalachian highlands in communities bordering the 315-mile watercourse known as the Hudson River.

   The river is named after Henry Hudson, who “discovered” it in 1609 when he sailed up the waterway. The river’s history extends further back, of course, to the River Indians, the Mohawk and Munsees, who populated the valley for generations before the arrival of the Europeans, who brought disease, fierce competition for land and war.

 After European settlers started arriving, as early as 1620s, the French Huguenots followed forty years later, fleeing religious persecution. Among many other endeavors, they started vineyards in the area, which means the Hudson Valley is, in fact, one of the oldest winemaking regions in the country.

The best way to glimpse (and taste) remnants of the European winemaking tradition remade for a new world—and terroir—in America is at the Brotherhood Winery.

   Brotherhood Winery, in bucolic Washingtonville, was established in 1839 and is the oldest continually operating winery in the country.

   Other wineries also harbor secret keys to the past. Benmarl Winery, a thirty-seven-acre estate in Marlboro, harbors the oldest vineyard in America. It also boasts New York Farm Winery license no. 1. 
   There was a two-century-plus gap between Henry Hudson’s arrival and the firm establishment of those all-important roots, a gap filled with sociopolitical conflict and confusion, false starts and failures on the grape-growing front.

 The European grapes—used to more temperate weather—withered in the decidedly less hospitable climate of the New World. When the Huguenots planted vines on the hills of the Hudson Highlands in Ulster County in 1677, they couldn’t conceive of the fact that such a small act would help foster a multibillion-dollar industry that has created hundreds of thousands of jobs, new avenues of scientific inquiry and untold pleasures over the centuries that followed.

   The winemaking industry in the Hudson Valley River Region has survived wars, pestilence and Prohibition to become one of the most innovative and versatile wine regions in the world. Here, it’s possible to drink one of more than a dozen Gold Medal wines—from brut sparkling to raspberry—at the magical Baldwin Vineyard on the Hardenburgh Estate (circa 1786) and gaze out at thirty-seven acres of prime alluvial farmland or kick back at Adair Vineyards in New Paltz, located in a two-hundred-plus-year-old historic dairy barn with views of the Shawangunk Mountains, and wander the grounds and vineyard with your dog while sipping their Mountain Red, a blend of farm-grown reds.

In the eighteenth century, about 90 percent of the population in this country were farmers, growing the food and producing drink for the American table. Fast forward to the twenty-first century, and only about 1 percent of the population self-identifies as a farmer today.

   In the three hundred years that ran between those bookends, the landscape that once provided the breadbasket that supported the American diet—and liquor cabinet—has been developed, razed, built up, torn down and disregarded as unproductive rural space that is a drag on the state. Innumerable technological, economic and sociological changes have precipitated this radical shift in the manner in which Hudson Valley residents find employment.

Agricultural products, whether they are edible or quaffable, are inextricably linked. The relative success of the people who make a living growing, making and selling agriculture has an almost immeasurable effect on the quality of life and economic status of the community in which they are located.

      New York gets it. More than any other state, many of which have cut back on tourism spending, New York understands that drawing people to the fields and vineyards of our great state to experience consumption at the source will not only boost the local economy but also give visitors a tangible taste of the rich history and culture the region offers.

 “Restaurants follow critics and consumer demands,” said Linda Pierro, co-founder of Hudson Valley Wine magazine. “We have found that once people start coming in asking for specific wines, they appear on the wine lists. Chefs and restaurateurs are still often more focused on sourcing local foods over local wines, but that’s starting to change as people come in and ask for producers by name.”

   It’s time to get comfortable and connected to our historic home of wine and justify grabbing a bottle of locally produced wine as our first choice. We love our neighbors and our community even more than our tried-and-true Cali pinot, and trying a new sip from the fields can become as eagerly anticipated an event as sampling unfamiliar regional cheeses, a new heirloom tomato or that funky-looking summer sausage calling your name from the farmers’ market stall over yonder. The more esoteric the varietal, the more offbeat the hybrid, the more game we are to give it a whirl, or a swirl, as it were.

   The American farming family is our link to an edible revolution. Support them every day in every way by eating and drinking local. Welcome to Hudson Valley Wine, back to the farm we go!

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