Thursday, October 2, 2008

WINE WITH DINNER – Hudson Valley Wine & Food Festival

Earlier this month, I drove up to Rhinebeck, NY to attend the eighth annual Hudson Valley Wine & Food Festival, not only because I love New York wines, but also because I am Suburban’s New York wine buyer. Over the years, the Festival’s attendance has grown to such an extent that it had to be moved last year to the Dutchess County Fairgrounds! Close to 20,000 people were expected to attend this year’s September 5-7 weekend wine and food event. More than 50 wineries participated - representing New York wine regions from the Finger Lakes to Long Island - and food was prepared and served by over 20 local restaurants.

The Hudson Valley is the oldest winemaking region in the country - it was first planted by French Huguenots in the 1600’s and is still the home of New York’s oldest continuously producing vineyards. There are now at least 33 wineries in the Hudson Valley. In Suburban’s New York wine section, I have chosen Millbrook Vineyards & Winery to represent the 10 wineries on the East side of the river and, indeed, their wines showed well at the Festival – especially their 2007 Estate Tocai Friulano, which was a best seller at our June 21st New York Wine Expo. Tocai Friulano is the most widely planted white wine grape in the Friuli region of northeastern Italy. It produces a dry, but fruity, wine that has no connection whatsoever with Tokay d’ Alsace or the great Tokaji dessert wines of Hungary. It is the signature white wine for Millbrook, and very few other domestic vintners even grow this grape!

Of the 23 wineries on the West Side, I have always had a particular fondness for Benmarl Vineyard in Marlboro and I knew its original owner and winemaker, Mark Miller, who died this month on September 9th at the age of 89.

A recent New York Times article about him said, “He was widely regarded as the father of the winemaking renaissance in the Hudson Valley … although he was not the first modern winemaker in the region, he was for decades the best known, becoming a highly visible public advocate for small artisanal wineries, known as farm wineries. Praised by critics, Benmarl wines were featured at prominent restaurants, including the Four Seasons and the Quilted Giraffe in New York City.”
In honor of all that he did to promote New York wines, Mark was awarded New York State Farm Winery License No. 1. In 2006, he sold his vineyard, which he bought in 1957 (originally planted in the early 1800’s) to Victor and Barbara Spacarelli. They renamed it Benmarl Winery at Slate Hill Vineyards and continued the winery’s tradition by hiring as their winemaker Kristop Brown. Kristop apprenticed under Eric Miller, who was the former winemaker at Benmarl and, yes, was Mark’s son. Kristop also worked at Millbrook for a year (small world!). Eric is currently owner and winemaker at the Chaddsford winery in Pennsylvania.

So, Benmarl represents the west Hudson River wineries at Suburban and we currently stock their 2007 Estate Seyval Blanc. This inexpensive, dry white wine showed well at the Festival and also was a best seller at Suburban’s June 21st New York Wine Expo. The Seyval Blanc grape is a well-known, winter-resistant, French hybrid that is widely grown in Canada, the Finger Lakes and the Hudson Valley. – Jay Roelof -

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