Brotherhood Winery: Grapevine Paradise in Washingtonville, N.Y.
There are three things you must do when visiting the Hudson Valley’s Brotherhood Winery: sample their flawless Riesling (you’ll never be the same), eat something prepared by French chef Christian Pierrel who runs the Vinum Café, and tour the winery with Cesar Baeza.
It was on pristine spring morning that I took my maiden voyage after hearing an Albany wine-seller rave about Cesar’s award-winning vineyard. I’m probably the only food writer on the planet not into wine, but the story of Cesar Baeza was too intriguing to keep me away.
The native of Chile got his start in the vineyards of Santiago and proceeded to travel the world to coax the best qualities out of grape crops in the Napa Valley, Spain, even Russia. Now, he’s principal owner and resident wine master of what happens to be the oldest continually operated winery in the nation. Brotherhood was established in 1839 by a family of Huguenots and survived prohibition by making sacramental wines for area churches.
This year marks Brotherhood’s 170th anniversary and Baeza said August, start of harvest season, will be filled with celebratory activities at the vineyard, including grape-stomping contests. Tours are given daily, and the cavernous tasting room is nearly as long as the Lincoln Tunnel. I hardly ever drink (the taste of alcohol just isn’t one of my turn-ons) but I swooned over the Blanc de Blanc Champagne and marveled at the unmistakable oak I tasted as a sip of Pinot Noir washed over my palate. Probably most intriguing is their signature Holiday Wine, an old Dutch recipe infused with cinnamon, nutmeg, and cloves (not flavorings).
The day I visited, the Zagat-lauded Pierrel served an al fresco lunch of handmade kielbasa and a velvet-tender red potato salad bathed in an olive oil and Dijon aioli. Paired perfectly après-kielbasa was a leisurely stroll through the tasting room. As he poured a pale gold cascade of Blanc de Blanc Brut for me, Cesar explained his theory on grape quality.
“The more stress put on a grape, the more character it has. Our grapes grow in a cold climate so they have to suffer a bit,” he said. “Their maturation is slower so they release a higher level of resveratrol, which is the compound that’s good for your heart. Pinot Noirs from New York State have the highest levels of resveratrol.”