The history and culture of the Hudson Valley is one of the most storied in our nation’s 240 year history of independence.
Through the late 19th century, it was a center of agriculture and industry, as well as a magnet for artists and naturists. Then the industrial age and mass communications relegated it to increasing obscurity and derision. The focal point for agriculture shifted West and South while airlines, railroads and most recently, hi-tech, tore down geographic boundaries and dispersed businesses and populations far and wide. Likewise, new forms of art became decidedly more abstract (and popular) than the landscape paintings created by the Hudson Valley School (that were as much travelogues as they were artistic works).
Our Hudson Valley region suffered immensely through these multiple evolutions of American culture and industry. However, in the last twenty-five years, a slow but steady resurgence has revitalized the reputation, and the economy, of the Hudson Valley.
The wine industry in this bounteous region, which stretches from Westchester to Rensselaer counties, shares the long history of other agricultural products.
The French Huguenots planted the first grapevines in New Paltz in 1677, primarily for their own consumption. These small, home wineries were the trend for nearly two hundred years. It wasn’t until the mid-19th century that commercial wineries were established. One of these, established in Croton-on-Hudson, was a primary source of altar and medicinal wines, in addition to local produce, for New York City merchants. Long gone, the underground caves used to cellar their wines have survived, in what is now a Westchester County park.
Today, dozens of wineries are in full operation in the region. Less than 90 minutes away, Benmarl Winery, Millbrook Wines, Cascade Mountain, Robibero, Glorie Farm, Warwick Valley Winery and Clinton Vineyards have garnered a strong local following. Several wineries have banded together to enhance tourism; the Shawangunk Wine Trail is an organized way to take in the bounty of the lower Hudson Valley. During the summer and fall months, Hudson Valley wineries are popular weekend destinations for tastings, picnics and concerts – and of course many panoramic views of the Hudson River. I encourage you to consider a staycation for a wonderful outing that will enhance your appreciation of the heritage and satiate your palate for fine wine and food.
The unique climate, soil and geography of the region make it difficult to support the more familiar grape varieties, such as Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon. While there are excellent representations of these grapes, the local hybrids are the stars. Varieties such as Seyval Blanc, Baco Noir, Traminette, Marquette and Chambourcin produce unique aroma and taste profiles that are popular in tasting rooms across the region.
Just as the Hudson River supports the revival of the wine industry, it is even more evident in the farm produce of the region. The climate along the hills and vales of the region is more temperate than that of inland areas. Maritime breezes and sunlit hillsides provide ideal conditions for wineries, but also for fruit and vegetable farmers.
On any given in-season Saturday, there are over 70 Farmers Markets throughout the Valley, including 20 in Westchester. These local purveyors have revived the agriculture industry of the 19th century, once again becoming a food supply for the New York metropolitan area. Consumers seeking naturally produced fresh farm products, raised responsibly, with care, are sustaining the new organic locavore movement, from Westchester to New York City and beyond.
We are blessed in Westchester to be logistically located to enjoy the bounty of the Hudson Valley. A trip to local wineries is an intoxicating adventure to appreciate the wonders of nature at her best.
Nick Antonaccio is a 40-year Pleasantville resident. For over 20 years he has conducted numerous wine tastings and lectures. He also offers personalized wine tastings and wine travel services. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @sharingwine
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