Oh brother…

DSC01105Welcome back friends and fellow lovers of good wine, tasty bites, and strange travels. It’s been a while since we’ve broke bread, and I write to you now from the not so comfy confines of a grubby hotel room somewhere just west of Indianapolis. The 94% humidity here is oh so refreshing and it breaks my heart to think I’ll be waving goodbye to Indiana at the crack of dawn…

It’s always great to stumble upon a place, dish or wine you’re completely unfamiliar with. Upon re-entering the good ole’ US of A and after a quick breather with family, I set off for some wineries in the Hudson Valley, NY. Admittedly, this in not unfamiliar territory for me, per se, as I grew up in the Hudson Valley. But as a kid, I never paid any attention to the small and scattered wineries around this area, and from what I understand, this has become quite the destination for many wine tourists.

Technically speaking, the Hudson Valley stretches all the way from the border of New York and New Jersey to Albany, NY where the Hudson River flows. But most references to this area are directed at the more northern locales, and it’s incredibly scenic in spots. I’ll comment more on this area later as it relates to viticulture, but for now I’d like to take you on a tour of “America’s Oldest Winery” — Brotherhood Winery.

It’s ironic that the Brotherhood Winery in Washingtonville, NY would be my destination, years removed from ducking through the woods right behind the winery as we would skip high school classes. Or maybe it’s just fitting. Never one to waste an opportunity to miss the mind-numbing rambling (now that’s ironic) of my teachers, I didn’t think twice about this old collection of buildings, and quite frankly, didn’t really buy into the “oldest” claim either. And truthfully, I still wasn’t convinced of this when I pulled into the driveway many years later.

DSC01112The Brotherhood Winery was established in 1839 after French immigrant Jean Jaque bought a small plot of land in Washingtonville a couple of years earlier, and began digging underground cellars. The same cellars that were used then are used today and they are truly impressive in both size and design. One of the cellars, coined “the long cellar” stretches out a good 50-75′, and has been used in the past for marching band practice. The winery also maintains that they are the first cellar in America to offer tours of their cellars, and you can see why.

It’s important to mention here that the winery claims to be the country’s oldest continuous, commercial winery, and not its  first winery, period. It seems that Cicinnati, OH, of all places, is home to an older commercial winery (established sometime in the mid-1830’s), and there were even older mission style wineries established in California in the 18th century. The key here is that Brotherhood continued its operation during Prohibition, producing sacramental wines, and continued its operation after Repeal.

DSC01130The tour itself is impressive, full of thorough facts that pertained to the winery’s past and present, and more than enough eye-popping sights underground. Our guide did a great job of providing basic information for wine beginners (hey, we’ve all been there) and more technical aspects of the wine’s production. After about an hour into my visit, I was beginning to wonder why the hell I never came here in the past, and silently thanked the wine Gods that there was still opportunity to experience this living relic.

And then, we went to the tasting room.

Well, the proof is in the pudding, as they say. Unfortunately, the pudding was fairly bad. Sometimes really bad. The winery was purchased by a Chilean wine guru of sorts in the late 80’s and from what I can gather, he has transformed a quaint point of interest in NY into a marketing machine aimed at everybody and anybody. The wines sold there are made from grapes grown in California, Chile, New York, and Texas(!).

DSC01137Adding to this umbrella effect, many of the wines are labeled as they were back in days prior to Prohibition; care for a NY Burgundy? Have at it. How ’bout a NY Sauterne? Sherry? CHABLIS? It’s all available here in Washingtonville, NY. These were marketing ploys used by early American wineries to attract those wine drinkers who were familiar with and fans of European table wines. But it blatantly ignored the rules and concepts that surround these areas and was corrected after the repeal of Prohibition. Apparently, there is a grandfather clause which allows wineries to use these descriptions now if they used them before Prohibition. That’s like saying “Hey, we used to club seals back in the day when nobody cared, so now we can still batter up!” It was wrong then, regardless of the intentions, and it’s wrong now.

Now I know what you might be thinking at this point: “Oh, get over it Jared- you’re being a Euro-snob because you were just there.” Maybe. But those wines — the whites, sparkling, reds, and “Ports” — were all awkward and confusing. Some were overly sweet. Others were bitter and hollow. The introduction and first impressions of the winery were superb, but the silliness of its products and their labels made you quickly forget about those impressive cellars.

In truth, Brotherhood Winery is a great destination for people; where else in NY can you see, literally walk through, such wine history? The grounds are well-suited and designed for large parties, baby showers, etc. There was even a DJ bumping out hip-hop as I was leaving. You gotta give it to them — the place is a marketing juggernaut. And if it attracts those who might never have entered the world of wine, all the power to them and their NY “Rhineling”.

*    *    *

DSC01149 It’s time to say good night and fall asleep to the soothing sound of passing tractor-trailers. My apologies for the long delay since my last post, and I promise to be more consistent now that I’m a US citizen again. It really is good to be “home”, even if that means grabbing a quick bite at the gas station and more sleepless nights in the middle of nowhere. Then again, nowhere is sometimes better than everywhere.

With good cheer,



~ by Jared on September 16, 2009.

2 Responses to “Oh brother…”

  1. Thank Bacchus someone is telling it like is out there. Most people outside of our geeky wine world don’t know better than the misinformation they are given. That is what is all about right? Transparency, honesty, sense of place and tradition. I guess I’ll have another case of Santa Margarita P.G. Thanks Jared!

  2. Totally… it seems that misinformation in wine is a strong selling tool for lots of folks. I call it “wine fiction”. It easy for you and I to shake are heads and chuckle, but most folks translate this info. as fact and, sadly, tailor their buying patterns to this.

    Hence, I will continue to wear the cape of the wine-nerd hero and alert the good people of such dastardly practices!


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