The Hudson Valley’s newest winemakers bring vitality — and vigor —
to the region.
They may have come to the Hudson Valley for its vibrant viticulture, but it’s the people—and the collaborative community—that’s making them stay.
In this issue’s Talking Terroir column, Hudson Valley Wine Magazine meets four young winemakers who’ve recently set down roots in the region and have been given the freedom to grow—and flourish. Their innate creativity is nourished by a surrounding sense of community, providing a fertile environment for this next generation of Hudson Valley winemakers to master their craft.
But with a world of places open to them to embark on a winemaking career, what draws them to the Hudson Valley in the first place?
“I was interested in New York viticulture and the ability to grow vinifera grape varietals in addition to the hybrid/American varietals that we grew back home in Tennessee,” said Laura Cypress, assistant winemaker at Benmarl Winery. “Between the fertile soils and dramatic landscape, it’s no surprise that the Hudson Valley has been a place of cultural and historical significance for generations.”
A Pennsylvania native, Brad Martz, winemaker at Whitecliff Vineyards & Winery, put down roots in the Hudson Valley thanks to his wife, whose family hails from New Paltz. After graduating from the University of California, Davis—ironically, with a degree in psychology rather than from their renowned viticultural program—Martz worked for fifteen years in the technology industry, managing sales and strategic alliances. But it took casual visits to the local wineries with his wife on weekends to pique his interest in wine.
An avid athlete with a passion for the outdoors and a yearning for chemistry, Martz volunteered to work the 2010 harvest at Whitecliff Vineyards, and he got hooked. With guidance from Whitecliff’s seasoned owner and winemaker Michael Migliore, Martz became intrigued with the science behind growing grapes and making wine, and he used his 90-minute daily train commute to Manhattan to devour books and take online courses on the subject. Martz is currently working on his winemaking certification from his alma mater, UC Davis.
Martz’s focus, ability, and creativity inspired Whitecliff owners to ask Martz to join the winery as assistant winemaker. He was quickly transitioned to Whitecliff’s full-time winemaker during the 2012–13 season.
Other new winemakers have not had to venture as far to create their careers in the region.
Born and bred in the Hudson Valley, Chris Sutton, assistant winemaker at Brotherhood Winery, has a whole new appreciation for the region since graduating in 2016 from Manhattan College in the Bronx with a bachelor’s degree in chemical engineering. Sutton had worked in Angry Orchard’s taproom serving cider and giving tours until he landed at Brotherhood, where he works alongside Dutchess County native Bob Barrow to create their line of wines and ciders.
The allure of the region drew Sutton back for other reasons. “I thought that growing up in the area had allowed me to see everything it has to offer. I was wrong,” he said. “The longer I live here, the more I discover.” With a new-found passion for the region and some experience under his belt, the craft wine industry is a perfect fit. “I wanted to contribute to the great cultural bounty that is the Hudson Valley,” Sutton said.
At Robibero Family Vineyards, assistant winemaker Jonathan Lander (above) works under the tutelage of Kristop Brown, one of the region’s most well-known winemakers, who himself burst onto the Hudson Valley winemaking scene back in 2004 as a young winemaker at Benmarl Winery. Managing the challenges of the region’s terroir under Brown makes it easier to weather the ups and downs, but the challenges also motivate Lander to try harder every year. “The variance of each vintage differs so much, that every year has something new to offer,” Lander said.
The Lure of the Hudson Valley
With a choice of locations to grow their careers, what is it that keeps these new winemakers in the region?
“That’s easy,” said Chris Sutton, “It’s the craft industry itself.” Cypress agrees. “The craft beverage industry in the Hudson Valley is such a tight-knit community; everyone is happy to help each other out,” she said. “We’re on track to grow in a thoughtful way, based in community building. I’m excited to watch all our fellow beverage makers succeed.”
For Lander, it’s being part of the larger winemaking community. “I’m excited about the intense earthy and spicy flavor profiles we’ve been getting [recently] with certain varietals. And the explosion of Cabernet Franc in the Hudson Valley. It seems everyone is growing it.”
Martz gets inspiration from the incredible food scene in the Hudson Valley—much of which comes from the Culinary Institute of America—as well as from the significant cultural diversity in the area. “Much of this diversity can be contributed to our close proximity to NYC; so many people from the city started coming here on the weekends and then just fell in love with the place. Basically, what happened to me!”
A general culture of openness among young craft producers in the region leads to ingenious collaboration. But nowhere is it more evident—and flavorful—than in the beverages being produced by these new winemakers.
“We work with the beer and spirits guys all the time,” Martz said. “Someone is always looking for grape pumice or used barrels. We came up with new products with Tuthilltown Spirits, and we’ve recently started working with Stoutridge Vineyard & Distillery, who provides us with grape neutral spirits, made from our estate fruit, to be used in our fortified wines (ports).
Appreciating the Craft
“People are becoming more and more interested in things that are crafted in smaller batches and made locally,” Sutton said. “This creates great opportunity for all of the craft that happens here in the Hudson Valley, and there is a lot of it.”
Bringing the spotlight to a relatively small winemaking region like the Hudson Valley allows these young winemakers to flourish and advance the quality of their craft even more. “With this shift in focus, you’ll begin to see places like the Hudson Valley begin to expand,” Sutton said. “My hope is that the rest of the country (and beyond) begins to realize all that this region has to offer. I’m hoping one day that they begin to ask for ‘Hudson Valley Craft’ as a regular thing, no matter where they are.”
Martz knows that being in the spotlight will improve everyone’s A-game. “You’re going to see better and better wines being made here, and more people working with more farm products like apples to make fine brandies and our version of Calvados.”
No one can deny the effect that the majestic beauty of the region has on anyone living or working in the Hudson Valley. But it’s the fresh take on it that makes this an exciting time to be trying local wine.
“In the wine industry, every season has its job,” Cypress said. “Autumn is for harvesting, winter is for cellaring, spring is for bottling, and summer is for growing. We live and work in tandem with the seasons, and the landscape of the Hudson Valley makes the perfect backdrop. There’s nothing like leaving work early to go for a swim in Lake Minnewaska, or to go for a snowy vineyard walk to find the perfect site for a snowman. If the beautiful scenery doesn’t draw you here, the friendly people will.”
The joy of working and living in the Hudson Valley “is walking into a bar and seeing that the majority of things on tap or in bottles is made all around you.”
—Chris Sutton, Brotherhood Winery
For Sutton, it’s all about what surrounds him on a daily basis. “It’s the farm stands on the back roads of the valley, with some of the best-looking and best-tasting produce you could find. It’s the mom-and-pop restaurants that source everything from the farms down the road. It’s walking into a bar and seeing that the majority of things on tap or in bottles is made all around you,” he said. “Or even going into a fancy seafood restaurant on the Hudson River and seeing wines from wineries that you drive past every day listed on the menu right next to the big California wines.”
It’s these bright joys and not-so-small victories that inspire young winemakers to think big about the region and about their craft.
“It’s infectious!” Cypress said.