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Exploring the Region’s Wine Trails Carlo DeVito

ON NUMEROUS OCCASIONS I have overheard heated discussions in which winemakers and farmers have argued as to where the Hudson Valley begins and ends. Several have posited that it ended at New Paltz or Kingston. Others still said it ended at Millbrook or Rhinebeck, at best.

Of course these are all wrong, but it does speak of a mentality that exists for people in and out of the Valley, that the southern part of the Valley is the Hudson Valley – it is not. And this leads to consumer confusion.

The Hudson Valley is quite large, and incredibly diversified. In that diversity, as Jim Trezise (President of the New York Wine and Grape Foundation) likes to say – lies our strength. The Hudson River Region AVA (viticultural area) was established in 1982, and served the purposes of outlining the region as it stood then. Its creation was somewhat arbitrary in that it took into account the wineries that were in existence then, and was cut in such a habnab way so as to look like a gerrymandered voting district. It is outdated now, and in need of readjustment. Its existence, while useful at first, is now cause for confusion among consumers.

The real definition of the Hudson Valley is to be found on the Hudson River Valley National Heritage Area map, as designated by the Federal Government. And most historians agree. The Hudson Valley stretches from New York harbor, where the river flows into the sea, all the way up beyond Albany, where a confluence of rivers and streams empty into what we know of as the Hudson River.

As far as a wine region goes, the Hudson Valley is mainly broken up into three areas – the Lower Hudson Valley, the Mid-Hudson Valley, and the newly developing Upper Hudson Valley which surrounds the Capital region. The focus here, then, are the wine trails between Albany and New York.

One thing the Valley shares in common is no matter which side of the river you are on, there is immense variety. Each side has world-class wines, spirits, beer, and ciders. The breadth of product is astounding.

And of course, each bank has its share of options for entertainment activities before and after wine tasting, including spectacular scenery, outdoor adventures, rich history at cultural attractions and museums, unlimited gourmet cuisine featuring ingredients sourced from local farms, enticing shops of all kinds, plus fairs, music and food festivals, and farmers’ markets galore. As you follow each trail you’ll find that the Hudson Valley has it all!

On the West Bank

The Lower Hudson Valley is dominated by the Shawangunk Wine Trail, on the west side of the river, which is named for the mountain range in the area. There are many wineries in this area of the Valley, which tend to be some of the oldest in the Hudson Valley, and some of those best known in the wine world. The vistas in the Lower Hudson Valley are beautiful and the landscape is dotted with striking homes, large apple orchards, and small farm stands.

The eighty-mile-long, 14-member Shawangunk Wine Trail winds through Orange and Ulster counties. Each of the diverse wineries on the Trail strives to produce unique, world-class wines. Whitecliff Vineyards is one of the leaders in the quality wine movement in the Valley, along with smaller wineries, such as Palaia Vineyards, Robibero Vineyards, Glorie Farm Winery, and Clearview Vineyards, among others.

The Trail is also home to two historic wineries. Brotherhood, America’s Oldest Winery in Washingtonville, NY, is the oldest continuously operating winery in the United States currently celebrating is 175th anniversary this year. Benmarl Winery is home to the famous Caywood Vineyards which are the oldest continuously producing vineyards, established before the Civil War.

The wineries along the Trail are as diverse as the wines themselves: Brand new facilities and refurbished barns upwards of 100 years old; those with production of more than 100,000 cases of wine and production of less than 2,000 cases; peace and quiet at some; live music and special events at others; and some with stellar vistas. There are elegant wines, popular ciders, and hand-crafted distilled products.

On The East Bank

The East Bank is dominated by two wine trails – the smaller Dutchess Wine Trail, and the newer, larger Hudson Berkshire Beverage Trail. These Trails are on the east side of the river, and extend from the Millbrook area in Dutchess County to as far north as Columbia and Rensselaer counties. This is also an incredibly diverse region, with numerous CSAs, organic meat farms, artisanal creameries, and home of the Culinary Institute of America, making it a desirable culinary destination.

The Dutchess Wine Trail is located amid the rural splendor of eastern Dutchess County connecting Clinton Vineyards and Millbrook Vineyards & Winery. The two wineries are within fifteen minutes driving time of one another. Millbrook has been leading the quality wine movement in the Valley since its inception in 1985. And Clinton Vineyards is famous for is sparkling and dessert wines which have been served in the White House. The Dutchess Wine Trail leads you past the vineyards, orchards, and farms that provide the bounty of this beautiful section of the Valley. The area’s thoroughbred horse farms, dairies, woodlands, lakes and streams are entrancing. Many fine restaurants, country inns, bed & breakfasts, and antique shops can be found throughout the countryside. Other local treasures include Innisfree Garden, the fabled mansions of the Hudson River, and numerous colleges such as Bard and Marist, among others.

The Hudson-Berkshire Beverage Trail is the premiere beverage trail in the Hudson Valley and New York State. Tucked in-between the Valley and the Berkshire Mountains, the trail extends from southeast of Albany, south to Hudson, NY. The Trail winds from Columbia County into Rensellaer County and to Berkshire County in Massachusetts, not far from Great Barrington. The Trail is home to two distilleries and three wineries. Hudson-Chatham Winery is an award-winning quality wine producer, and Brookview Station Winery is well known for its line of fruit wines and ciders. There’s also farm-fresh produce, artisanal cheeses, baked goods, 100% natural maple syrup, fresh apple ciders, and other gourmet, local food products. And of course, there are antiques, galleries, and restaurants galore, as well as Olana, the historic home of Hudson River School artist Frederick Church.

The Hudson Valley is going through a massive renaissance, both agriculturally and culinarily, and the burgeoning number of craft beverage producers are all a part of that explosion. And that explosion is expanding the understanding of where the Valley really is.

Farm beverage-based tourism in the Hudson Valley grows week by week, and month by month. Record numbers of visitors are filling the tasting rooms. Sales have never been higher. There have never been more visitors. All of these Trails exemplify why the Hudson Valley is one of the most exciting, diversified wine, cider, and distilling regions in the country. And what better way to experience these wonderful products than by traveling the Hudson Valley’s winding country roads, and visiting the farms and tasting rooms for yourself?


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