Visit 3 Great Wineries in the Lee of the Shawangunk Ridge
By Chris Rowley
There are many pleasures in a summer visit to the Gunks — hiking, horseback riding, swimming, kayaking, observing nature — as well as driving along obscure back country roads searching for views and visions of the unexpected, and a nice spot to have a picnic.
For the last of these, add in visits to our area's signature wineries. There are three that are lined up along the eastern side of the Shawangunk Ridge. And while each of them carries a full range of reds and whites, each also has specialties that make a tour of all three the perfect run up for a truly memorable summer picnic.
Start out in Pine Bush, a hamlet at the northern edge of Orange County, where routes 302 and 52 intersect. Head west on 52, and, after a mile or so, turn north on Route 7, or New Prospect Road. A short distance up this road will bring you to Brimstone Hill Road on your left. Turn there and soon afterwards you'll see vines on your left and a charming house-cum-winery tucked away on the left side of the lot.
This is Brimstone Hill Vineyards, (61 Brimstone Hill Road, Pine Bush, New York 12566, 845-744-2231). Take the stairs up to the tasting room and you're likely to find the proprietor, Richard Eldridge, behind the bar pouring and discussing wine. He's always happy to talk about wine and his vineyards.
Eldridge is celebrating his thirtieth year of winemaking at Brimstone Hill. They began with just a Vin Rouge and a Vin Blanc back in 1979. Today they make eight different wines, which include their signature Methode Champenoise sparkling wine, Domaine Bourmont.
Back then, ten years ago when the planting first began, there were just two acres of vines in production. Now the vineyard has reached more than thirteen acres and a large pole barn has been built for storage and increased production.
Dick Eldridge says that his mission has not changed, however. "We seek to make quality wines here, but with a French character, and at a reasonable price. We keep in mind the wines of the northern stretches of the French vineyards, the Loire Valley, Burgundy and Champagne. Our operation here remains small and experimental in character."
Visitors to the Brimstone's tasting room have a lot of things to try; I would suggest a sample of the Chardonnay. This is made in a style closer to the Burgundian model than the California style. Nice and dry, good finish, a degree of the butteriness that has made Chardonnay so popular, and a lively acidity perfect for a course of soft cheeses, pate and bread, or a quiche.
On the red side, try the Cabernet Franc. This is the red grape of the Loire Valley and Brimstone does a nice job with it. Theirs has a berry-forward approach and a crisp finish.
Before leaving the reds, try the Noiret, a hybrid that Eldridge believes has a big future in our region. Brimstone Hill's Noiret is a full bodied red with some pleasant berry characteristics and an unusual nose (scent). This is a bottle to spring on wine-loving friends at Thanksgiving or any dinner party over the winter.
For easy quaffing, turn back to the whites and the Cayuga White, an off-dry wine, nice and fruity and sure to please.
Finally, there's the sparkler, the Domaine Bourmont. Try it by all means, and then grab a couple of bottles, at least, for the picnic. Brimstone's sparkling wine is a blend of Chardonnay and Seyval Blanc and very nice too, just what you need to start our picnic in style.
Then it's back on the road, heading north again on Route 7. Turn right on McKinstry Road and there ahead lies the 25 acres of Whitecliff Vineyards. Whitecliff began as Michael Migliore's dream as he did post-graduate work in Organic Chemistry at SUNY New Paltz. When he went to work for IBM in 1978, he bought the property. He married his wife Yancey not long after, and together they have planted vines and built the winery, which is now the largest of the three on the western end of the Shawangunk Wine Trail.
"I knew that this region had a grape growing history for the New York market," says Migliore. "And I had always loved wine and winemaking. Both my Italian and my German grandfathers made wine at home. It was part of our family life. Being an organic chemist helped a bit, too!"
After years of trial and error in the vineyard to see which varieties would do well and which would not — something that continues to this day — the mix in the Whitecliff Vineyard began to stabilize. Today there are 25 acres of vines showcasing a wide selection.
In the Whitecliff tasting room, try the Awosting White, a clean tasting, fruity quaff made from a blend of Seyval Blanc and Vignoles. For barbecues and picnics this is a great choice, sure to please most palates — and it won a Gold Medal at the Hudson Valley Wine Competition.
Another interesting white to try is Whitecliff's Traminette. Another hybrid from Cornell, this one has the nose of Gewurztraminer, the Alsace and German varietal, but is of a greater winter hardiness, always a concern in the Hudson Valley. There's a lychee quality to the nose, and a spiciness to the finish, that makes this one stand out. It will stand up to spicy food, too.
Turning to the reds, there are a lot of great choices at Whitecliff. Try the Gamay Noir for a lighter red, with interesting red fruits and a big hint of strawberry on the palate. Contrast it with the Pinot Noir, the classic varietal of red burgundy, which here comes in a light, but intense, style that is good with meat dishes.
At the top of the line sits Whitecliff's 2007 release of the Sky Island Red. This is their Bordeaux blend, the classic marriage of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Malbec, Cabernet Franc and Petit Verdot. This is a wine to try now, and then to lay down for a few years bottle ageing that is sure to reward the patient wine lover. Like the Medoc Crus after which it is modeled, this is a big red and matches well with steaks, with roast meats, stews, braises, or with poultry.
With some reds, some whites and our Brimstone bubbles in the cooler, we roll back south down Route 7, now with the ridge on our right, looming above us, with the exact "white cliff" that is depicted on Whitecliff's label clearly visible.
As we approach Route 52, take a left onto Bruyn Turnpike, and then a right onto Hardenburgh Road. A couple of miles down that road, on the outskirts of Pine Bush itself, the Baldwin Vineyards winery sits by its pair of duck ponds like a vision out of an impressionist painting.
Baldwin has a nice selection of whites and reds, from a Chardonnay to a Merlot. Indeed, they have fifteen wines altogether. But Baldwin's bigger claim to fame lies with its wonderful sweet, fruit wines.
First, check out their range of whites and reds and add some things for later reference back home. The Chardonnay here is very nice, and the Merlot is outstanding.
Then take a tour of the fruit wines. Here, the Baldwin Strawberry Wine has to take center stage. It has been called "An outstanding achievement" by no less than the Wine Spectator. This one is made from nothing but fresh strawberries, and won the accolade of "One of the best 100 Wines of the New World," as well as garnering 5 gold medals.
Contrast this with the smooth Black Raspberry wine, and then the Blueberry. Baldwin Raspberry and Strawberry wines are excellent dessert wines, and for a picnic in the country they provide the perfect way to end the meal. And these wines are so powerfully flavorful that they can go with a smooth cheesecake or a really dense chocaholic mousse-cake and easily hold their own.
By now, with some bottles in the back to take home for later study, and with bubbles, whites and reds in the cooler, we're all set for a picnic to remember, somewhere with a view of the Shawangunk Ridge standing tall in the west.
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