By Chris Rowley
The vines are done for the season. As the tendrils go into winter mode, damping down their energies in preparation for the cold weather, they must be glad that 2009 is over for them. As we all know, 2009 was a disastrous year for many crops throughout the region. It was particularly tough for grape growers.
"We had one night of very cold weather in January," says Yancey Stanforth-Migliore of Whitecliff Vineyards. "Here it got down to 14 below zero, and that hurt us badly."
The weather was just getting going, though, because in May, there was that most dreaded phenomenon, a late frost. Then came the summer that wasn't, as rain and unseasonably cool weather swept the region. There were also some occasions of hail, which is definitely bad for grapes.
So, 2009 will not be a year to savor. Right now, however, wineries are starting to sell their 2008s — and 2008 was a very strong year. Pat Baldwin at Baldwin Vineyards notes that their 2008 Merlot and Claret are drinking beautifully right now.
"Our '08 Chardonnay and Mist de Greco are also really nice. The Mist de Greco is a blend of Chardonnay and Seyval blanc, nice and crisp, and good with cheese," he says.
At Brimstone Hill Vineyards, Dick Eldredge acknowledges that while 2009 was a year to forget, he still has vintages from previous years available.
"Our 2008s have been selling well since August despite the economy," he says. "Our Chardonnay and our Riesling have both been well received. On the red side, we're still selling our 2007 Vin Rouge, but our 2008 Noiret sold out. Well, we still have a little left that hasn't been bottled. And our Cabernet Franc has done well, too."
Brimstone's Vin Rouge is a blend of Baco Noir, Chancellor, Chambourcin, and Foch grapes, all hardy types that can withstand cold winters. The 2008 vintage will be bottled over the coming winter.
"During the winter months, our Cayuga and Riesling do well, and they have a little sweetness to them," Eldredge says.
Eldredge thinks these sweeter wines are popular for entertaining and go well with a seasonal repast. Stanforth-Migliore of Whitecliff would add that a Pinot Noir is also a good choice for a red wine to go with holiday meals.
"We're planning on doing something for Valentine's Day; and, since February is national Heart Health Month, we thought we'd promote our 2008 Estate Bottled Pinot Noir," she says.
The thing to remember about Pinot Noir is that it's loaded with resveratrol, the super anti-oxidant that also acts as a fungicide. New York red wines, due to the ideal climate, have been shown to have twice the levels of resveratrol compared to reds from the rest of the world. And Pinot Noir has far and away the highest amount of resveratrol of any red-wine grape. This is because Pinot Noir is a thin skinned grape, and so resveratrol, with its anti-fungal properties, is the Pinot Noir's evolutionary defensive weapon of choice.
Before Valentine's Day, of course, there will be the holiday season. In December, the Shawangunk Wine Trail's Holiday Event is 'Wreath Fineries at the Wineries.' This self-guided tour costs $35 for a single, $55 for a couple, and can be started at any of the wineries on the Shawangunk Trail. At your starting winery you collect an etched wine-tasting glass souvenir and a handmade grapevine wreath. As you move on to other wineries along the trail, you receive an ornament for the wreath and can taste the wines along with delicious holiday food offerings. While December 5 and 12 are already sold out, December 6, 13, 19, and 20 may still be available. Hours are between 10 a.m. and 6 p.m. Check for ticket availability at www.shawangunkwinetrail.com, or call (845) 256-8456. All three of the wineries closest to the Ridge — Brimstone, Baldwin and Whitecliff — will be participating.
Other 2008 Whitecliff reds worth noting are their Gamay Noir and Cabernet Franc, all of which are Estate Bottlings. This means that the grapes are grown in Whitecliff's own vineyard.
"We're also very proud of the 2008 Chardonnay," says Stanforth-Migliore. "And the Awosting White, which is a blend of Seyval Blanc and Vignoles, has been great, too."
At Baldwin Vineyards, there are no plans for any events after the holiday season.
"This will be the first year that we will close down for January, through March," says Pat Baldwin.
With all the gloom over the 2009 grape harvest, Baldwin is quick to point out something crucial for his winery.
"Strawberries and raspberries were unaffected, and it was a great year for apples," he says.
This is good news for lovers of Baldwin's fruit wines. Their strawberry, black raspberry, blueberry, and apple wine production was not affected by the poor weather this year.
Baldwin's strawberry wine has won many awards and accolades, including inclusion in the 100 Best Wines of the New World, on one occasion.
"At the recent wine and beer tasting at Hunter Mountain, we were chosen as Best Winery in the Hudson Valley," Pat Baldwin says with a degree of pride.
And while on the topic of accolades, perhaps we should note that, in November, Wine Notes by Gaither and Brecher of the Wall Street Journal gave Whitecliff a big boost:
"Elegant, focused, true to their varietal type and ripe, not an easy feat for so cold a region...they had a restraint to them, a vision, in which everything took a back seat to the fruit itself. And the fruit was delightfully pure and real...offering a kind of relaxed gracefulness and easy balance that would make them good on the dinner table," they wrote.
So, let's look forward to 2010, and, while raising a glass of 2008 to celebrate the holidays, let's toast our brave trio of local wineries — and indeed all the wineries of the Shawangunk Wine Trail — who continue to produce a memorable product.
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