Some of the country’s oldest vineyards can be found in the Hudson Valley of New York state.
The French Huguenots planted the first vines in New Paltz (now part of Ulster County) in 1677, a hundred years before any vines were planted in what is now California.
When the Huguenots planted vines in the Valley, they discovered a unique combination of soil, climate and sun that together makes for ideal grape-growing conditions. They originally planted their vines on the hillsides of the Hudson Highlands and started a tradition of grapes and wine that continues to this day.
Most of the early wines were made by families for their own consumption. But in 1827, Quaker Robert Underhill, who had established a self-sustaining community at Croton Point, planted grapevines brought from Europe with the intention of making wines to sell. The Croton Point community grew their own watermelons, apples, pears, chestnuts and castor beans, and also made bricks.
Although Underhill’s attempt to cultivate these vines failed, that didn’t stop him. Over the next two decades he cross-bred native and European vines and the results paid off – grapes with wonderful flavors, growing on vines hardy enough to survive in the sometimes harsh climate.
The first commercial winery in the Hudson Valley, Jacques Brothers Winery, was established in 1837 for the production of altar wines. Renamed Brotherhood in 1885, the Washingtonville estate is the nation’s oldest continuously operated winery.
Less than an hour-and-a-half from New York City, a visit to the Hudson Valley wineries and wine trails offers hospitable tasting rooms where you often can meet the owners and taste award-winning wines made from classic European varieties, regional hybrids and assorted fruits such as apples and pears.
Beyond the wineries, the Hudson River Valley contains a wealth of natural beauty rich with hiking and biking trails, the most famous historic sites, and a culinary treasure of farms and restaurants.
Situated right along the Hudson Valley wine trail, Blueberry Inn on Kiernan Farm makes a convenient home base for a multi-day visit to the area. Nestled in the beautiful Shawangunk Valley, it’s a Dutch-style farmhouse that dates back to around 1790 and is packed with antiques.
Another option is the Inn at Twaalfskill, a 19th-century inn located in a wooded residential area. It has a large shaded yard, breezy porch and peaceful garden terrace, all perfect for relaxing when the weather is nice. During the wintertime, guests can utilize the spacious common areas inside.
Meticulous restoration has left the original details of the Victorian architecture intact, and the atmosphere is further authenticated by period furnishings and coordinated fabrics.
Those who appreciate handcrafted goods will love the area. Along 15 miles of scenic trails, visitors can check out 10 working potters’ studio showrooms. They spread out across the communities of West Park, Bloomington, High Falls, Stone Ridge, Accord and West Hurley.
In Sugar Loaf, more than 50 galleries, studios and shops are filled with a wide array of hand-made items that make great home accent pieces or gifts.
Of course, Brotherhood is a must-stop on your winery itinerary. Guided tours of the historic site are offered from April through December.
Other estates worth a visit:
* Millbrook Vineyard & Winery. One of the most honored wineries in all of New York, its bottlings compare favorably to those made in California.
* Oak Summit Vineyard. This estate makes only one type of wine: Pinot Noir. The proprietors take a Burgundian approach in all they do, and visits must be arranged in advance.
* Palaia Vineyards. A great place to pick up gifts and listen to music four days per week during the busy season – not to mention sample award-winning wine.
* Stoutridge Vineyard. While many of the Valley’s wineries are housed in historic structures, Stoutridge is more Californian with its state-of-the-art facilities. But history isn’t far away: Less than half-a-mile down the road, you’ll find land that has been continuously planted with fruit trees and grapevines for more than two centuries.
* Whitecliff Vineyard & Winery. If you love gorgeous scenery with your wine, Whitecliff is the place to go. The 70-acre property surrounds a tasting room that has a large deck offering spectacular views of the white cliffs of the Shawangunk Ridge.
When planning a visit, keep in mind that the Hudson River Valley is a magnet for leaf-peepers, and accommodations can be both expensive and challenging to arrange. If you don’t mind missing the autumn rainbow of colors, a great time to visit is right after Labor Day, when the wineries are starting to gear up for the harvest season and the roads and hotels are less crowded.
FOR FURTHER INFORMATION
Brotherhood Winery, Washingtonville, NY
Blueberry Inn on Kiernan Farm, Gardiner, NY
Inn at Twaalfskill, Highland, NY
Millbrook Vineyard & Winery, Millbrook, NY
Oak Summit Vineyard, Millbrook, NY
Palaia Vineyards, Highland Mills, NY
Stoutridge Vineyard, Marlboro, NY
Whitecliff Vineyard & Winery, Gardiner, NY