Upper Hudson Valley Vineyards Look to Launch Wine Trail

1/19/2013 7:00 AM
By Paul Post New York Correspondent

EASTON, N.Y. — Gerry Barnhart grew up milking cows on a Catskill Mountains dairy farm.

Recently, he retired as director of Fish, Wildlife & Marine Resources for the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation.

Now, he’s back in agriculture as president of the Upper Hudson Valley Wine & Grape Association that’s developing plans for a new Saratoga and Washington counties wine trail.

“Starting a vineyard and growing grapes is a lot of work, but it’s not nearly as much work as dairy farming,” said Barnhart, owner of Victory View Vineyard in Easton, N.Y. “It’s the kind of farming for people who really love farming, but don’t want to be as invested as a dairy farmer.”

Like several other vineyards in his area, Barnhart’s is located on one of the many former dairies that have gone out of business in recent years. This availability of land combined with new varieties of cold-hardy grapes suitable for northern climes are the two main reasons that vineyards are popping up in this part of New York, just north of Albany.

“And logistically, it’s closer to New York City and the densely-populated Hudson Valley than the Finger Lakes,” said Joseph Messina, owner of Amorici Vineyard in Valley Falls, Washington County.

Barnhart planted his three-acre vineyard in 2007, has already produced small amounts of wine for friends and family, and plans to open for commercial sale this summer, with two red wines and two white wines.

Victory View and Amorici are two of the approximately 12 vineyards expected to be part of the new wine trail. Plans call for having it in place by summer 2014, if not sooner.

“When you have several of these wineries work together, then you can bring people into an area to spend a weekend,” Barnhart said. “It would be a great boost for tourism.”

State approval is needed because the Wine Trail Program is administered by the state Department of Transportation, which puts up signs directing travelers to various wineries.

There are already several other New York wine trails in places such as the Finger Lakes and eastern Long Island.

Organizers are seeking support from local government before going to state officials to get required legislation drafted.

“We’ve approached some of the individual towns,” Barnhart said.

For example, Ledge Rock Hill Winery representatives have presented plans to the Corinth Town Board in Saratoga County, and the Easton Town Board in Washington County has already adopted a resolution of support. The Washington County Board of Supervisors was expected to take similar action this past week.

Eventually, it’s hoped that Assemblyman Tony Jordan, R-Jackson, and state Sen. Betty Little, R-Glens Falls, will introduce bills in the Legislature. Little’s backing is seen as crucial because she chairs the senate Cultural Affairs, Tourism, Parks and Recreation Committee.

It’s possible that a measure could be introduced and passed during the current legislative session that ends in June. However, Barnhart said, “It wouldn’t surprise me at all if takes until next year. Sometimes it takes a while for bills to get through the Legislature.”

A bill approved next year would make the wine trail ready for use in 2014.

Once the project gets off the ground, a website will be created where people can take a virtual tour of the trail before visiting in person, Barnhart said.

The University of Minnesota and Cornell University have been instrumental in developing new cold-hardy grapes such as Frontenac (red wine), Kay gray (white wine) and Marquette (a pinot noir type), Messina said.

However, weather is still one of the biggest challenges to raising grapes in the Upper Hudson region, he said. First, it doesn’t get the intense sun and ocean breezes found on Long Island. Also, this part of upstate New York has been inundated by heavy, hurricane-related rains the past two years, which can cause fungal disease.

“The Finger Lakes didn’t have those floods,” Messina said.

However, this hasn’t discouraged anyone because several vineyards in his area have already been established and several more are expected to come along in the next few years. Messina previously worked in the whole food industry. Other new vintners come from all walks of life — a chemist, biologist, mechanic and criminal science professor, he said.

“They’re all planting grapes and are in the process of getting their licenses,” he said.

Messina produces nine different types of wine that he proudly showed off to teams of college chefs at a recent culinary competition hosted by Skidmore College in Saratoga Springs, N.Y.

“It’s really an honor, at this point in life, to be doing something that I love and then telling you about it,” he said. “Everybody likes a different wine. That’s what makes the world go round.”

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