Sometimes you plan trips not just for yourself and your partner, but also for your friends and family. And there’s more responsibility in such planning. That's when some of your best discoveries of the local area’s jewels can really happen.
It takes personal interest, desire and curiosity to learn as much as you can both about the city you live in and its surroundings, but sometimes it takes someone else to inspire you to take the trips you've been postponing. This is how we've discovered the New York wineries - thanks to the visit of our family from out of country, when we wanted to take them to a place, where they haven't been yet to. As it turned out, it was a first trip for all of us.
If it weren't for my future parents-in-law's visit to New York this last summer, it might have taken me a bit longer to learn about the Hudson Valley Wine county, which served as an inspiration to continue the local wine discovery and led us to discover the wines of North and South Fork two weeks ago, which I’ll talk about in my next article.
I've visited them a few times and once my friends even gave me a birthday present in a form of a private wine tasting in Napa, which included: visiting the wine cellars one-on-one with a tour guide, having extensive wine tastings with very detailed explanation of the wines, history, and its making. Those have been very nice trips and I learned a lot about the California wine-making. I became a big fan of the California wines, the taste of which I find bold, deep, and oak-y and at the same time – fruity and relatively light, which go very with both meat and fish.
California reds, in my humble opinion, are the best red wines in America. As far as the white wines are concerned - I'd say one should definitely try the white wines from Virginia and Maryland. They have hints of various berries and are very refreshing, light, crisp, and on a sweeter side.
I tasted wines in Oregon, California, Texas (rose wine from Messina Hof winery in College Station was one of my favorite Texas wines), Virginia, Maryland, Rhode Island, New York and, of course, in Europe – many, many wines in Germany (Rieslings are almost always my choice of wine when in Germany), Italy, France and Eastern Europe.
Chianti from Tuscany are good – there are nine Chianti regions in Tuscany, but their Northern wines are not bad either. Both table white and red wines in Croatia and Montenegro are very good as well – they feel very ‘homemade’. I also like Argentinean Malbec from Mendoza wineries, Moldavian and Georgian wines (when they're used to be sold of high quality in Russia), Australian and Chilean, and wines from the Bordeaux part of France. I have never been a big fan of beer, but I’ve always appreciated good wine - along with its history and the making.
I knew about Hudson Valley Wine county for some time but I haven't had a chance to visit it; partially because of my ignorance and arrogance as I’ve been very sure that no other parts of the country can really make the wine that could compare to the Californian wines. I’ve been wrong.
First of all, no matter how much you like or do not like wine, a trip to a wine county is perfect for any kind of a trip.
It’s perfect for a romantic getaway, as much as it’s perfect for a day trip with family and friends, because just a short hour and a half drive north of New York City, the Hudson River Valley holds some of the nation’s most beautiful countryside. And while it used to be known as the destination for farmer’s produce, local gourmet food, the allure of small towns and naturally preserved parks, ponds and other attractions of the nature, now it’s also the wine culture that is worthy of exploring.
The drive is very enjoyable: passing by dairy and fruits/vegetables farms, small lakes and ponds, horse and cow fields, petite harbors with boats and yachts – it’s pretty picturesque. This makes this trip as appealing in the spring and summer as in the fall – Hudson Valley’s Taconic and Catskill massive acres of nature with cliffs, forests, and rivers make these scenic views majestic. Add to it the East Coast's historic mansions of the America’s wealthiest families who built them during the 19th century - the likes of Rockefellers, the Vanderbilts, and the Roosevelts – and you got yourself not only a gourmet tour, but also an educational motif to take this day and/or weekend trip.
Besides the wineries, you can also breeze through the small towns in the Hudson Valley that offer charming streets, shops of various kinds – from antiques to local arts, as well as small cafes and restaurants that might surprise you with a quality of the food and service, worth your New York lifestyle.
You might be surprised to find out that even though Hudson Valley wine-making dates to the 17th century, you haven’t heard about it until just recently. This is due to the fact that the quality of their wines was not good until the 1980s.
There were only about 10 wine producers in the 80s and not only they couldn’t compete with the existing established American wineries and imported wines, but their predecessors haven’t made the right decisions in the first place. Just like the wine-makers of the North and South Fork, who are celebrating forty years of the wine-making this year 'low key'. It were rather the farms – cheese, apples, meat, mushroom farms - and nature that were the main reason people visited Hudson Valley before.
The Hudson River stretches more than 150 miles, from Troy, N.Y., to the New York Harbor. Most of the wineries in the Hudson River Region are in the middle part of the river valley, concentrated in Dutchess, Ulster and Orange counties. That’s a large territory. There are even three winery trails: Shawangunk, Dutchess and Hudson- Berkshire.
Some of the country’s oldest vineyards can be found in the Hudson Valley.
The French Hugenots planted the first vines in New Paltz (now part of Ulster County) in 1677, 100 years before any vines were planted in what is now California. They started a tradition of grapes and wine that continues to this day. This is one of the reasons I find the local red wines from both Hudson Valley and North Fork similar to some French wines.
The climate of the Valley was, at first, not as nice to the grapes, but then the wine-makers have learned the benefits of the local climate – the temperature, plenty of water, both cold and hot days, and the ocean breeze – and adapted it to the wines. The locals cultivated the European wine-making culture.
There were both commercial wineries and very small mom-and-pop’s wineries. The first commercial wineries were Jacques Brothers Winery(established in 1837), Brotherhood and Croton Point. They produced altar wines, which they market in the city as medicinal tonics. The Hudson Valley wineries also made wines for the monasteries, such as Regent Champagne Cellars, which just stopped operating.
Today the Hudson River Region, given this name in 1982 by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, has more than 20 operating wineries.
When planning a trip to taste Hudson Valley wines, there’s no real universal advice. One should pick those wineries that one finds both appropriate for the occasion and interesting historically-wise, wine selection wise, and so on.
Helpful Tips on How To Plan A Wine-Tasting Trip
1. Decide what the purpose of your trip is:
If it’s a romantic getaway and/or a day trip - pick the ones that have a romantic setting; maybe even at the expense of the wine quality. If it's a family trip, what wineries offer a nice relaxing atmosphere and a place, where all the family members can gather to enjoy the wines together?
2. Do you like reds, whites, or rose?
This would make a big difference because, per my personal experience and experience of the ones close to me, the East Coast wineries make better whites than reds; reds are not their strongest side - speaking of reds weighting against the whites. But that doesn't mean there are no good reds.
So, pick those wineries, which produce the kind of wines you like.
3. How important the history of a winery to you is? In other words - would you like to visit the oldest winery of them all, or it doesn't matter?
Note: wineries are perfect for picnics, not only because it’s also bonding (family, friends) and romantic (couples), but it's also a "must" to do if you're intending to taste many wines.
When I was planning a trip for our family, I prepared a basket for a picnic, and it was only a matter of choosing a winery that offered both - a scenery we all liked and, preferably, wine that we liked because part of the winery visit purpose is to pick something to either take home or have it there - at the winery.
And this is exactly what we did - we got ourselves a bottle of the Glorie's Riesling from Glorie Vineyards and shared it over a picnic we organized on a grass in front of the Glorie's grape trees, overlooking Hudson Valley mountains. What a perfect family trip!
The wineries we’ve visited on our family trip, which are worth to mention
Some of the movies about wines and wine-making to get inspired from
- A good year
- You will be my son
- Bottle Shock
- A Walk in the Clouds
Other things to see and visit on the trip to Hudson Valley
- State Historic Park
- Culinary Institute of America
- The U.S. Military Academy
- Historic Mansions: Olana State Historic Site, Clermont State Historic Site, Montgomery Place, Thomas Cole House, Kykuit, Sunnyside, Home of Francklin D. Roosevelt National Historic Site, Vanderbuilt Mansion.
Other Hudson Valley sites worth to acquaint with
- Hudson Valley Tourism
- Historic Hudson Valley
- Rensselaer County Tourism
- Columbia County Tourism
- Greene County Tourism
- Ulster County Tourism
- Dutchess County Tourism
You can plan your trip to the Hudson Valley wineries here.
American wineries on the East Coast might still have a long way to go when it comes to its counterparts in Europe, Latin/South America and, even, Australia, but the fact that they braved to start the wine-making industry in the climate that is not like anywhere, where their competitors excelled, and the fact that they do it with love and for the local crowd – is worth a praise and appreciation and, most importantly – our support.
As a matter of fact, I've been quite interested in American wine-making, because, for once, I do love wine and appreciate good wine. Secondly, I'm a sucker for any good story and/or piece of history, like the fact that many Californian wines' origins go to Georgian and French wines.
Of course, most of them miss that long history and ancestry of wine-makers, miles and miles of grape bushes as well as the old castles to go with it like in, say, France, but they do have their own ways of telling a story and presenting their wines.
The wineries in America have also become one of the top locations for the weddings. The wineries get booked at least a year in advance. It has, actually, become a sort of 'industry' - not only the winery owners offer a marrying couple their winery for the ceremony and celebration, but they also help with local vendors, catering, and other accommodations.
However, is it a good thing for the wineries to become too "commercial", you think? I have a mixed feeling about it.
If you are sadden that the summer is over and you think a trip to the wineries in the fall is not as nice, you’ll be surprised to find out that fall season is one of the most beautiful seasons to experience Hudson Valley - and New York state in general, not to mention that there are many events to choose from.
As Ernest Hemingway once said: “Wine is one of the most civilized things in the world and one of the most natural things of the world that has been brought to the greatest perfection, and it offers a greater range for enjoyment and appreciation than, possibly, any other purely sensory thing.”