Friday, July 26, 2013

Hill Country Observer Raves About Hudson-Chatham Winery

hill country observer

Pushing the frontier of wine making
Local flavors are priority for vintners in Columbia County
Contributing writer

GHENT, N.Y.Carlo DeVito’s first experience making wine wasn’t exactly encouraging.
“My first batch was undrinkable,” he recalled.

But from that inauspicious beginning, DeVito and his wife, Dominique, kept tinkering and tweaking to become award-winning vintners. They founded Columbia County’s first winery, Hudson-Chatham Winery, which produces varieties ranging from a signature Baco noir to a classic Riesling.

For now, most of their wines are produced with grapes grown elsewhere in New York – from Long Island to the Finger Lakes. But the DeVitos established their own vineyard in 2007 and began producing estate wines last year.

The Hudson-Chatham Winery is on the frontier of a steadily growing wine industry in New York, which is expanding to areas like Columbia County that traditionally were not considered hospitable to grape production.

Jim Trezise, the president of the New York Wine and Grape Foundation, said the establishment of new wineries like the DeVitos’ is part of a trend.

“It’s really exciting, because it’s symbolic of what’s happening throughout the state,” he said. “Twenty years ago, there were probably only 15 counties in the state that were producing wine. Today, 50 out of 62 counties are producing.”

In the few years since the DeVitos founded Hudson-Chatham, a second winery got started in Columbia County: the Tousey Winery in Clermont. Both Tousey and Hudson-Chatham are part of the self-guided Hudson-Berkshire Beverage Trail, which also includes three wineries in Berkshire and Rensselaer counties as well as local breweries and a distillery.

The DeVitos, both veterans of the Manhattan publishing industry, landed in Ghent after they decided to move from New Jersey to rural New York to chase Carlo’s dream of running a winery.

The couple said that, despite a conspicuous absence of vineyards in Columbia County at the time, they were drawn to the region first and foremost by its many small farms that are producing high-quality products.

“The region is recognized for those products,” Carlo DeVito said. “We’re part of a community here. I can drive down the road to artisanal creameries, meat farms, CSAs.” The DeVitos have cultivated ties to these other local food producers – for example, by offering a variety of Hudson Valley cheeses in their tasting room.

Keeping a day job
On a recent day at work in the vineyard, Carlo was dressed in a spotless white sweater and white slacks. Only a layer of dirt caked onto the palms of his hands betrayed his newfound vocation.

He still works in the publishing industry by day, mostly overseeing food- and wine-related book projects. He’s the author of the recently released “East Coast Wineries: A Complete Guide from Maine to Virginia.”

“It’s kind of fun,” Carlo said. “I work with famous wine writers during the day then go home and make my own wine at night.”

Dominique DeVito, who pulled up to the vineyard in her minivan after visiting a farmers market in Schenectady, still picks up the occasional freelance publishing job, focusing on pet-related projects.

The DeVitos said their search for the perfect place to plant their vineyard led them up the Hudson Valley – far enough north to escape environments they considered “too suburban.”

The couple ended up in a 1780s farmhouse atop a windswept hill in Ghent. They planted their first grapes that spring in what used to be the birthing pasture of a 500-acre dairy formerly known as Brisklea Farm.

The combination of affordable land, a hospitable site for growing grapes, and Ghent’s proximity to Albany and the Berkshires all added up to make the now 15-acre farm an ideal location, they said.

Also good for business, Carlo DeVito said, is nearby Hudson, which, with its influx of gourmet restaurants and galleries in the past two decades, provides a good base of customers who are already part of what DeVito calls “the wine crowd.”

The DeVitos say their wine is catching on. Area restaurants that stock it range from Local 111 in Philmont to the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park. They also distribute their wine through 35 area stores and at five farmers markets, and “a fair amount goes out of the tasting room,” Carlo DeVito said.

DeVito said Hudson-Chatham Winery sold more than 26,000 bottles of wine last year. The operation makes a profit, but he said he’s put all of that back into the business. “I still have a day job, no doubt about it,” he said.

Despite the reinvestment in the business, he said he has no plans to expand the winery’s scale dramatically.

“I’d rather make better wine than more wine,” he explained.

Taste of a location
The DeVitos age their wine in a small, timber-framed barn left over from the former dairy operation. Carlo DeVito, with some effort, slid open the door, revealing a room packed with 72 barrels, each of which can hold 60 gallons of wine.

DeVito used a barrel thief, a long slender tube, to extract samples from the red-stained casks. Tasting these samples reveals how each variety is maturing.

“You want to check and see if good things are happening, or if good things aren’t happening,” DeVito said. “It’s exciting.”
He said the vineyard is still small but is maturing nicely. The DeVitos plan to plant 800 new vines this year.

Dominique DeVito said making wine is a site-specific process, shaped by the land and the growing season. In Columbia County, she said, the growing season is about five months long – far shorter than the eight-month growing season in California’s wine country.

“Master gardeners will tell you, it’s like swimming upstream to fight the growing season,” she said.

“That’s why most of our wines are medium bodied,” she added, in contrast to “big, bold California reds.”

Trezise, the state wine foundation president, said wineries like Hudson-Chatham are blossoming as people learn more about how to grow grapes in different climates.

“In this industry, there’s a kind of inertia,” Trezise said. “Fortunately, there are people like the DeVitos who say, ‘I’m going to give something a try anyway.’”

Trezise said the Finger Lakes and the lower Hudson Valley traditionally have been considered New York’s wine-producing regions. But over time, he said, researchers have shown that, if you find the right site and select the right grapes, you can make good wine in pretty much any region.

“People have done their homework and said, ‘OK, if we plant these grapes, they’ll grow,’” Trezise said. “Occasionally there will be a disaster, but there will usually be a good crop and people can make good wine and do a good business.”

Trezise said the number of wineries in New York has grown from 63 in 1990 to 303 today. As regions like the Hudson Valley gain recognition for the wines they produce, more wine makers will be attracted, he said.

“Every week I get one or more phone calls from different parts of the state -- people thinking about opening a winery, asking what they should do,” he said.

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Friday, July 05, 2013


Every year we change the label of our wine. This year we chose INDIAN’S VESPERS by Asher Brown Durand. This is the second work of Asher Durand we have featured on the Hudson River Valley Red series. The first painting was “Kindred Spirits”.

According to notes from The White House Historical Association: "Durand . . . had been notified by a letter of February 26, 1847, that the American Art-Union wished to commission him 'to paint for the institution . . . a landscape . . . . The subject and size to be left to your own choice.' . . . "Durand seized the opportunity . . . . "The Indian, his arms raised to the sun in praise, is bathed in a yellow- and pink-hued light. He is further emphasized by the brilliant path of the sun's reflections on one of those 'lakes embosomed in ancient forests' that Durand praised as original features of the American landscape . . . . ". . . The central stand mediates between the fallen trees, tangled growth, and misty hills on the left and, on the right, the blossoming plants and the young trees on the shore of the unspoiled lake. At its base, like a cenotaph, is a blasted tree trunk. . . . Durand has summoned virgin forests, vast waters, insubstantial mists, man in his natural state, and the sun's unifying eye to evoke the ancient roots and yearnings of mankind.”

File:The Indian's Vespers by Asher Brown Durand, 1847.jpg

Durand’s painting was timely. According to Gail E. Husch, in her polemic “Something Coming,” wrote, “By the mid-1840s , some Americans were concerned that greed cloaked in the rhetoric of Manifest Destiny was inducing the United States to renege on its promises to relocated tribes. Yet most of the visual representations of the doomed Indian that appeared in New York in 1847 did not burn with indignation over white injustice. Rather, they expressed gentle melancholy and resigned acceptance, evoking romantic associations of humanity’s inevitable fall and decay. The old, savage way of the Indian, however noble, was destined to be pushed into oblivion by the march of time and forces of progress. Durand’s Indian Vesper…express[es] this view.”

W. S. Di Piero wrote in the San Diego Reader in February 2008, “When you see The Indian Vespers, you don’t have to be a sentimentalist to feel a pang for the unstewarded wildness that would soon enough be “tamed,” as the red man would be tamed, by the encroachments of industry. (Who needs to unpack the irony that The Indian Vespers hangs in the White House?) Durand lived till 1887, though he ceased painting about ten years before his death, and he lived through Indian wars, increased industrialization, the Depression of 1837, the Nativist fanaticism Scorsese dramatized in Gangs of New York, the Civil War, New York’s draft riots and lynchings, the imperatives of Manifest Destiny, and the beginnings of the Gilded Age.”

Di Piero continued, “When he took up painting in the 1830s, he went the conventional route of portraiture and genre painting but also made the landscape pictures he’d become famous for. He came of age as an artist when critics and connoisseurs were calling for a nativist art that spoke to America’s freshness, aspirations, and piety. By temperament, Durand’s ambitions overlapped with the spirit of transcendentalism, the pantheistic courting of a mystical sublime. Transcendentalism — to barbarize its complexity with simplification — held that creation was united and watched over by what Emerson called the “oversoul,” and the “spirit-reality” that transcends our contingent existence also veins and floods all of nature, if only we have eyes to see. When Durand found his true métier painting the pastures, valleys, woods, and mountains of the Catskills, he was unabashed about making art a testimony of devotional attention. “The true province of Landscape Art,” he wrote, “is the representation of the work of God in the visible creation.”

Asher Brown Durand (August 21, 1796 – September 17, 1886) was an American painter of the Hudson River School. Durand was born in and eventually died in Maplewood, New Jersey (then called Jefferson Village), the eighth of eleven children; his father was a watchmaker and a silversmith.


Durand was apprenticed to an engraver from 1812 to 1817, later entering into a partnership the owner of the firm, who asked him to run the firm's New York branch. He engraved Declaration of Independence for John Trumbull in 1823, which established Durand's reputation as one of the country's finest engravers. Durand helped organize the New York Drawing Association in 1825, which would become the National Academy of Design; he would serve the organization as president from 1845 to 1861.

His interest shifted from engraving to oil painting around 1830 with the encouragement of his patron, Luman Reed. In 1837, he accompanied his friend Thomas Cole on a sketching expedition to Schroon Lake in the Adirondacks and soon after he began to concentrate on landscape painting. He spent summers sketching in the Catskills, Adirondacks, and the White Mountains of New Hampshire, making hundreds of drawings and oil sketches that were later incorporated into finished academy pieces which helped to define the Hudson River School.

Durand is particularly remembered for his detailed portrayals of trees, rocks, and foliage. He was an advocate for drawing directly from nature with as much realism as possible. Durand wrote, "Let [the artist] scrupulously accept whatever [nature] presents him until he shall, in a degree, have become intimate with her infinity...never let him profane her sacredness by a willful departure from truth."

Like other Hudson River School artists, Durand also believed that nature was an ineffable manifestation of God. He expressed this sentiment and his general views on art in his "Letters on Landscape Painting" in The Crayon, a mid-19th century New York art periodical. Wrote Durand, "[T]he true province of Landscape Art is the representation of the work of God in the visible creation..."

In 2007, the Brooklyn Museum exhibited nearly sixty of Durand's works in the first monographic exhibition devoted to the painter in more than thirty-five years. The show, entitled "Kindred Spirits: Asher B. Durand and the American Landscape," was on view from March 30 to July 29, 2007. Raves About Hudson-Chatham Baco Noir Reserve 2010


Baco Noir Might Be America's Most Patriotic Wine
Katie Kelly Bell   Travel
7/01/2013 @ 10:02AM |341 views

I first met Baco Noir in a bar. (I admit, this already sounds like a bad perfume advertisement). I was part of a large gathering of wine and food writers/bloggers and we were busy passing around bottles of various wines. The buzz over the wine reached me before the actual bottle did: “Oooh, Baco Noir, where did you find it?”  “Real American wine!”  “Baco Noir, let me see that bottle!” Naturally I wanted to try what all the cool kids seemed to like. Once the wine, made by Hudson-Chatham winery, reached my hands a quick scan yielded two surprises. One, the wine was made in the Hudson River Valley and two; it was made from a grapevine with a curious provenance.

Most wine,including wine made in California, is a product of Vitis vinifera—a European grape vine import that is the source of almost 99% of the world’s wine today.  Many moons ago, when the phylloxera louse wiped out the vineyards of Europe, botanists set to the task of creating a super vine that would resist the pest. Nothing much came of it and European winemakers instead chose to take American Vitis vinifera (which had proven resistant to phylloxera) and graft it to their remaining rootstock. Grape growing returned to normal, save for one outlier: Baco Noir, a hybrid created by Francois Baco, a native of Southwestern France. What’s interesting is that Baco’s hybrid contains a blend of Vitis vinifera and Vitis riparia, which is a purely North American, not European, species. So, our prized Baco Noir has an American parent so to speak…which just brings out the patriot in me.

I emailed the owner of Hudson-Chatham Baco Noir, and asked him what it was like to work with this hybrid and if he thought it was more American than Vinifera.
He writes, “Well, I’m not sure it’s THE MOST quintessentially American, but it definitely American. Vitis riparia is one of the parents of the grape, and it has the widest and largest geographical range of any of the North American Vitis species. It is present across nearly the entire eastern half of North America and the most western portions of the Great Plains, and has also been found in Montana, Nebraska, and North Dakota. Regardless, I’m in love with it; Baco can be so many things. You can make it big and brawny, and make a more Bordeaux style of wine with it if you blend it (it’s a great blender), or you can baby it and make it into something special on its own.”
Hudson-Chatham’s version is a silk glove with Burgundian sensibilities—like the hybrid it’s made from it blends the verve and bounce of America with the elegance and nuance of Europe. Carlo notes that, “Many versions I’ve had make big dark inky wines. We don’t do that. We make a much lighter, more Pinot Noir style. We don’t let it sit on the skins too long. We keep it light, and really chase the bright sour cherry and raspberry flavors. We baby it in used French oak and aim to make it in a Burgundian style. “ A style rich with raspberries, sour cherry, lavender and earth—and some cassis lingering on the edges, just a stunning wine.

It wouldn’t be very democratic of me to wax poetic about this wine and leave readers hanging.  Below you’ll see where it’s sold…and of course you can always buy online. And, given the wine’s Burgundian proclivities, Oregon producers are getting in the game as well.  I made one more discovery about the wine that night (as if I wasn’t feeling patriotic enough), it was corked with an American-made cork from the Nomacorc factory in North Carolina. (insert proud American sigh here).
The French-American hybrid grape Baco noir with clusters on the vine. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Oregon Baco Noir can be found through:
Girardet Winery
Chateau Lorane

Hudson-Chatham, 2010 Baco Noir can be found in NYC (see below) or Check their website.
The Wine Hut
Astor Wine& Spirits

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150ish THE LOCAL DISH Highlights Hudson-Chatham Winery and Hudson Berkshire Beverage Trail

150ishMalfatto Driveway

May 16, 20131 | Photo Deirdre Malfatto

Marisa: “What are you doing this weekend?” Carlo: “Oh, I’ve got to run to Long Island to pick up a truck load of grapes.” That’s not a typical work-day conversation, but—full disclosure—Carlo DeVito, co-owner of Hudson-Chatham Winery, used to be Marisa’s boss. She’s been the happy recipient of many a holiday bottle of his wine and has often entertained Francesca with stories of how Carlo, publishing exec by day, managed to hold a full-time job while starting an upstate winery—let alone one that is winning high praise and high scores after less than ten years. As is often the case, he has a smart woman by his side.

Here’s the dish. Carlo and Dominique DeVito met through their publishing careers: she is a dog expert and freelance writer, a former publisher of pet books; he is a VP who developed the Wine Spectator book program and currently directs the publishing of Kevin Zraly’s Windows on the World Wine Course. Wine lovers both, vacations were often spent visiting vineyards worldwide and, after years of tasting other people’s wines, the couple finally decided they’d rather be tasting their own.

New York’s wine history goes back way beyond the current fashion of eastern Long Island—the Dutch and the Huguenots were planting grapes in the Hudson Valley in the seventeenth century, and the area is also home to the country’s oldest continuously operating winery: Brotherhood. New York is third in grape production behind California and Washington—now, granted, around 80-percent of those grapes are Concords, but the rest are fine wine grapes like Riesling, Pinot noir, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Chardonnay, as well as many French hybrids. A big reason behind that fine 20-percent is the New York Farm Winery Act of 1976, which allows a winery to be established whether or not grapes are actually grown on the estate.
Let’s face it, New York isn’t an easy agricultural climate, no matter what part of the state you’re in. Winters are harsh; the growing season is short. But allowing bourgeoning wine makers to purchase grapes from a variety of growers, and then blend their own wines to sell while waiting for their own vines to bear fruit, makes starting a winery here a little more practical than your average pipe dream.

Carlo and Dominique were drawn to the Hudson Valley by its history and its scenic beauty—to be successful as a destination, a winery needs good looks as well as good wine. “It took us about nine months to find the property, and we absolutely love it,” Dominique remembers. “There were several wineries further downstate, but we liked this area. It’s beautiful and we’re in good proximity to Hudson and Albany.”

In 2005, the couple purchased the remaining intact 14 acres of a 500-acre, long-dormant dairy farm in Ghent. Lucky for them, it was the land parcel on which the 1780 farmhouse still stood. Four acres were planted with Seyval Blanc and Baco Noir vines, as well as a few other hybrids. They opened Hudson-Chatham—the first winery in Columbia County—in September 2007, selling wines they made and bottled from grapes purchased close to home and state-wide.

Today, the winery offers a dozen different small-batch wines, including their own estate-grown Seyval Blanc, two well-regarded Baco Noirs, and a Chelois. Another Hudson-Chatham wine that has attracted a lot of attention is their Empire super-blend, with equal parts Long Island Merlot, Cabernet Franc from the Finger Lakes, and Hudson Valley Baco Noir. As Dominique explains, “the wines that we target here, they’re not very familiar, but they’re great wines that have great appeal. That Chelois is practically a cult wine.”

One of the attractions of the area to the DeVitos was Columbia County’s great reputation for local food. Immersing themselves in the community, their Tasting Room shop is a showcase for local labels. They offer one of the largest selections of Hudson Valley cheeses, including selections from Twin Maple Farm, Old Chatham Sheepherding Company, and R & G Cheese, in addition to local honey, chutneys and other condiments, as well as four balsamic vinegars (regular, white, cassis, and raspberry) that they make from their own wines.

They are also among the founding members of the Hudson Berkshire Beverage Trail, which leads travelers to three wineries, a brewery, and a distillery, with a wealth of artisanal food stops along the way. “The Hudson Valley is really ripe for becoming a prime destination for wine lovers,” Dominique says. “The one thing that makes us different is that the wineries are more spread out and that’s a little more challenging. But there’s so much local food interest going on around us that people can make a really great weekend of it. The beverage trail is a nice loop, and guys love that it includes a brewery and a distillery. We call ourselves the libation destination!”

Comparing the Hudson Valley to New York’s other wine-making regions, Dominique reflects, “It’s nice that the Finger Lakes has Reisling and Long Island its Merlots, but there’s real authenticity to the wines that are being made here; people are true to the tradition. The Hudson Valley has some really interesting individual terroirs, and it’s great for people to come and visit because they’ll taste different things at each of the different wineries. It’s a vibrant community.”

Memorial Day weekend will see the first annual Hudson Berkshire Wine & Food Festival take place Saturday and Sunday at the Columbia Country Fairgrounds, and attendees can sample goods from the Beverage Trail and beyond in a single spot. Hudson-Chatham Winery also hosts a full calendar of events every weekend year round. This summer, look for their Gourmet Gardening series, which features a master gardener at each session discussing heirloom vegetables that will grow well in the area. Attendees receive a packet of seeds and a related recipe—all combined with a wine tasting. Their signature event is the Sangria Festival, which takes place in August, Dominique tells us. “We make five different sangrias with our wines, there are two flamenco guitar players, and this year we’ll have a dancer. Other vendors bring their products, and it’s just a great day of sangria.”

Looking back at how far they’ve come in just a few short years, Dominique tells us, “Like anything that involves hard work—and it’s been a lot of hard work—it also has great rewards. I think our wines have developed a really good reputation, and that’s been really satisfying for us. The vines have matured and the tasting room has become established. Things we were just thinking about six years ago are now coming true: we’ve expanded and we’ll be expanding further.”

Dominique remembers the couple’s sons Dylan and Dawson helping to plant the original vines, “and now they can run the bottling machines. If nothing else, we’re confident they now know enough about wine to impress their dates.”

The Hudson-Chatham Winery
1900 Route 66, Ghent, New York
Open year-round Friday, Saturday, and Sunday, from 12:00 to 5:00.

Visit for more information, including a list of local retailers and farmers markets where their wines are sold.

The Hudson Berkshire Wine & Food Festival 
May 25 and 26, at the Columbia County Fairgrounds, Route 66, Chatham, New York.

The Hudson Berkshire Beverage Trail encompasses Brookview Station Winery, Chatham Brewing, Furnace Brook Winery, Harvest Spirits, and Hudson-Chatham Winery.

For more information about the festival and the trail, visit

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