Last week I took a long-overdue pilgrimage to upstate New York to visit my parents. On Sunday, tired of the big-city bustle of beautiful Poughkeepsie (birthplace of Scrabble!), we took a ride across the river to the Shawnangunk Wine Trail.
Like Virginia, New York has a sizable wine industry — third in the country by volume, as a matter of fact. While the vast majority of the state's vineyards are concentrated in the Finger Lakes and Long Island regions, there are a good two-dozen wineries operating in the Mid-Hudson Valley. Most of the vineyards on the Shawnangunk are classified as farm wineries, and few produce more than a couple thousand cases per year. While familiar varietals like Merlot, Malbec and Chardonnay are gaining ground, a lot still focus on native American and hybrid varietals, which are better suited to the area's cold climate.
We visited several small vineyards over the course of the afternoon, many reminiscent of VA's Burnley Vineyards (one of my favorites, as I described here): quaint and rustic, offering up an assortment of sweet fruit wines and a few dry reds and whites. Our last stop of the day, Stoutridge Vineyards, was a different matter altogether.
The town of Marlboro, NY is one of those odd "developing" rural areas, where huge McMansions dominate the disused farmland, interspersed here and there with dilapidated double-wides and apple orchards. Stoutridge's facility matches even the biggest estate in the area. A 100 yard drive leads to a grand, Germanic looking structure of white plaster and gray stone, which houses the greenest winery on the east coast, if not the country.
Owners Stephen Osborn and Kimberly Wagner broke ground on Stoutridge in 2001, aiming to create the most natural wines possible, with almost no environmental impact. 3000 square feet of photovoltaic cells provide for all of the facility's electricity needs, while feeding a good amount of juice back into the grid. The winery is completely gravity fed, a relatively new method of winery design whereby no pumping is employed — grapes are crushed and fermented on the top-most level, fed through a pipe to aging tanks on the next level, and then sent down to the bottling line in the basement. The theory is that juice and wine may be damaged by the pumps' suction; while this is debatable, there is no denying that a gravity system saves a bunch of electricity. In order to save on barrel consumption, Stoutridge employs the giant Hungarian oak casks pictured to the right. These neutral containers will mellow the wine gracefully, and have a much longer useful life than your average wine barrel. Where most wineries will heat and cold stabilize — two energy-heavy and additive-based processes, used to give the wine clarity — Stoutridge leaves the wine completely untreated before bottling, employing neither fining nor filtration.
These processes, along with a commitment to local growers, sum up the Slow Wine movement. We were given a full tour, speech, and wine tasting from the owners, who are very enthusiastic about the project. But how is the wine, you may ask. Well, I think my mom summed it up best, when upon tasting the Quimby's Rose 2007, she exclaimed, "This tastes like the stuff the Italians would make in their basements when I was a kid!" Yes, the owners are going for local authenticity, and they got it — wines are grapey, musky, and funky, untreated and unadulterated, just like momma used to make.
Because of the fragility of this sort of wine, Stoutridge is not distributed, and is not likely to be any time soon. The winery will soon bring an all-natural distillery online — since liquor is inherently more durable than wine, I hope they decide to market their spirits to a wider audience. Though I can't exactly say I am a huge fan of these wines, I really dig what the owners are trying to do there, wish them the best in their endeavor, and hope that their success influences other producers around the country. If you find yourself in the New York area and consider yourself a fan of ecotourism, please give Stoutridge a visit.
Exterior winery picture courtesy of Stoutridge Vineyards' website.
Bottle picture courtesy of my mom.