Hudson River Schooled – TasteCamp 2014
October 28, 2014
Foliage was just passing peak here at home when I traveled a couple of hours south for TasteCamp 2014, and though I may have been a little bit reticent to leave and miss out on the last of our leaves, the reward for the short drive was an amazing and beautiful passage through a neighboring wine country. It was a vintage autumn show of color this year and if you felt the need to extend your ogling adventure, the Hudson Valley was a ripe portrait of accommodating hues and views. It was also a welcoming place that generously received our motley band of beverage and eats geeks, showing us the inside of a scene, the secret of which, is quickly getting out.
The reference material says that the paintings of the Hudson River School are founded on the themes of exploration, discovery and settlement. They portray the relationship of human habitation in the natural world in in a way that strikes a romantic balance between the rugged and the sublime. Overlooked or looked down upon during its early period, the quality of the works have ultimately withstood the scrutiny of connoisseurs over time.
I think that the libations of the Hudson Valley have experienced a similar arc and where at one time they may have been viewed askance or seen as rough around the edges, they are now getting the appreciation their craftsmanship truly deserves. Over the course of less than seventy-two hours, we certainly explored much more ground than we expected, met with many happy discoveries, settled on the fact that this place was for real, and we tasted more than a few things that touched upon the sublime.
Our first stop was a Millbrook Winery, located nearly equidistant between New York City and Albany. Consistently named the Best Winery in the Hudson Valley…as Carlo DeVito said, “they do it right.” Well appointed facilities that retain rustic charm, attention to detail in the vineyards, and high-class wine making set the stage for very positive tasting room and event space experiences. Their Tocai Friulano is one of a kind and a real pleasure to drink. I should have bought more…
Millbrook treated us to a tour, a tasting of their wines and the Seyval Blancs of Clinton Vineyards, as well as a lovely buffet lunch in their fantastic old barn space..
We followed up our first stop with a visit to Robibero in New Paltz who are the new kids on the block. Tiffy Robibero and her husband Ryan Selby stepped up to the plate when the winery renting the property owned by Harry Robibero vacated to a new location. The family dream of running a winery themselves took shape and they recruited well known Hudson Valley wine maker Kristop Brown to join the team, and things have been expanding since.
Cabernet Franc is rocking the Hudson Valley. It may not yet be the “official” red grape of the region, but it seems pretty clear that this particular vitis vinifera likes it there. It buds a bit later than Cabernet Sauvignon, which can be a safety play against spring frost, and it manages to hang well into the autumn giving producers every last heating degree day they can manage to gain before the leaves fall. We tasted quite a range of expressions across the various wineries and one could do an entire Hudson Valley tour just to log the comparatives.
Brotherhood Winery had just celebrated their 175th Anniversary the night before we arrived. They are the longest continuously operating winery in the country and one of New York State’s largest producers.
Wrap-up at Whitecliff
We finished our first day with a stunning view and a hearty, congenial home made chili dinner at Whitecliff Winery, while tasting their Gamay and their equally lovely although more muscular Cabernet Franc.
Our itinerary offered us a fairly respectable bedtime with enough shut-eye to leave a span for a solid breakfast at the Saugerties Diner. This would be a necessity because we had a big day ahead of us and the first stop would be a doozie.
Hillrock Distillery is a self-contained farm-to-glass establishment that is purpose built with the singular notion that whiskey can convey a sense-of-place. Our whole party may have experienced a mass hallucination ( it’s possible…the rye, bourbon and whiskey were that good ), but I’d say we all tasted something extremely unique that day…”the writing of clove and cinnamon” in pure distillate, as expressed by the hills surrounding the malt house.
I’m going to leave the details of the Hillrock visit to the real aficionados, so I suggest that you read and see the images in Evan Dawson’s New York Cork Report Article – “Terroir in Whiskey?” , Todd Godbout’s “Discovering Hudson valley Spirits Part 1” , and Richard Auffrey’s “TasteCamp At Hudson Valley: Hillrock Estate Distillery “.
As promised there was quite an array of fine distillates for the sampling, but knowing it would be a long day, I visited just a few producers, one of which was the super bright couple at Harvest Spirits who I’d met earlier this year while visiting Carlo. Their handiwork inhabits a nondescript warehouse building within a rambling orchard farm complex in Valatie, NY. A humble steel exterior camouflages the oak capsuled treasures within. Derek Grout & Ashley Hartka make and offer Apple Jack, aged grappas, fruit infused brandies and a gorgeous pear eau-du-vie.
Top notch stuff and very reasonably priced with the Cornelius Apple Jack retailing at about $35-40 for a 750ml and the other more esoteric sips like the pear brandy costing less for the 375ml. Be forewarned, the batches are small, so check it while you can and follow up fast if you find something you like. This is impressive artisan distilling in action, and I recommend getting some if you are in the area.
Here’s a quick bit of video taken back in the spring. I need more of the pear brandy and must go back.
Lunch Break and Hudson Valley Producers tasting at Hudson-Chatham Winery.
I have a liking for Cassis and enjoyed tasting through this spread immensely. My business partner spent an extended period in Burgundy and brought back a number of liqueurs and cremes de cassis that when mixed with marc or grappa were exquisite. Glorie’s Black Currant wine had the classic green herbaceous notes that I know from my own bushes at home. The Hudson-Chatham Paperbirch Cassis was nicely balanced and tilted towards its purple tannins. American Fruits Black Currant Cordial was juicy and tart and I imagined it would do something quite interesting in a Currant Cosmopolitan.
The Tousey Creme de Cassis knocked my freaking chausettes off. It surpassed any of the imports I’ve enjoyed. The secret? Four different varieties of black currants and honey from Ray Tousey’s own bees. Yet one more example of how my horizons were expanded quite broadly, in the Hudson Valley.
While some of our TasteCamp crew availed themselves of the rented bus to visit and ransack a local establishment for their stock of locally produced beverages, the rest of us loitered around the Hudson-Chatham Winery and enjoyed a sampling of the establishment’s soon-to-be-released selections of their famous Baco Noir. Carlo DeVito and his winemaker Stephen Casscles have something going on with these wines. Red wines that are light in weight, intense in flavor, and eminently friendly with cuisine of all kinds. Yes the amazing “Old Vines” version come from the Finger Lakes, but the local expressions are maybe a bit less concentrated but equally intriguing. It’s an affirmationof the opportunity of the Hudson valley that they can grow both cool climate vinifera and cold hardy hybrids. They may be producing the best of both worlds.
TasteCamp is a whirlwind, for sure. It’s not meant to be comprehensive but it is most certainly informative and eye opening. Why more groups don’t meet like this, I’m not sure. I do agree with Richard Auffrey, The Passionate Foodie’s “Rant” because I think the format is a great one. It does take a significant amount of volunteer organizational effort to accomplish some semblance of success, and we attendees understand and appreciate that very much. I’d say that this year, the win for all was resounding, and that many of us will be back in the Hudson Valley, sooner than later, to take another pass at this historical region which is knocking on modernity’s door.
– Many Thanks to the Hudson River beverage community for kind hospitality and for sharing your work with us. Great appreciation for Lenn Thompson’s continuing dedication to the TasteCamp model. Deep gratitude for the all the legwork Carlo DeVito put in to organize the event, and for making us all feel as if we were family. Cheers.