I live down the road from a high school named for Washington Irving’s famed character Ichabod Crane (from The Legend of Sleepy Hollow), and a few miles from the Rip Van Winkle Bridge that connects Hudson to the Catskills. Quaint folktales all. And yes, Irving was the first American literary superstar. And that is something about the Hudson Valley that is quite apparent when you live here – you live in history like they do in Boston. Around every corner is some part of American history.
There is firstly, the majestic Hudson River, discovered by Henry Hudson more than 400 years ago. The English and Dutch were ensconced here by the mid-1600s. New York has now been a state in the union as long as it was a colony.
Big and mighty, the river was a super highway not unlike the Mississippi at one point with the Day Liners going up and down, and Hudson River Sloops too. For centuries the Hudson Valley was the bread basket of New York City, with shipments of food actually being announced in Gotham’s newspapers. Orchards, vineyards, dairy farms, chicken farmers, supplied a steady stream of wheat, fruits, vegetables, and meats daily to the hungry city.
OlanaI live not too far from Olana and the Thomas Cole House, homes to two of the biggest artists of the Hudson River School of painting. Currier & Ives’s artists repeatedly drew inspiration from the region. There are huge mansions that belonged to the Livingstons, the Vanderbilts, the Rockefellers, and the Roosevelts, and many others, that represent the movers and shakers of times gone by. The Bald Eagle and other birds of prey have returned to fish the river. And yes, it was the home to Woodstock, and Pete Seeger and Levon Helm used to be seen walking the streets and playing for free for decades.
Most importantly, the valley claims the title as The Birthplace of American Wine, and it is hard to dispute that fact. The Huguenots and Dutch were making wine here back in the 1600s. The valley is home to America’s oldest continually operating winery, Brotherhood, established in 1837 (which is celebrating its 175th Anniversary this year), and is also the home of the Caywood Vineyards, at Benmarl Winery, which are the oldest continually operating vineyards in North America. Little known today, the region was the hotbed of the Farm Winery Act, in the 1970s, which changed the wine landscape in New York forever, and many Hudson Valley wineries including Benmarl (No. 1) and Clinton Vineyards were rewarded for their efforts by receiving the first Farm Winery licenses. More recently, places like Warwick Valley Winery & Distillery and Tuthilltown Distillery were at the forefront of the new distilling wave in New York state, and Hillrock Estate was the first farm-to-glass distillery in the US.
Hudson Valley vineyardsWhile this rich tapestry of history is always with us, it is not that which defines the region today. The Hudson Valley is one of the booming-est regions on the eastern seaboard. It is a hotbed of CSAs, small independent sustainable farms, and a food culture that combines the cutting edge of farming with the hipness of Brooklyn. The valley boasts dozens of small, artisanal creameries that make internationally recognized cheeses. Indeed, the New York Times even opined, “Call it the Brooklynization of the Hudson Valley, the steady hipness creep with its locavore cuisine, its Williamsburgian bars, its Gyrotonic exercise, feng shui consultants and deep clay art therapy and, most of all, its recent arrivals from New York City.”
I cannot lie. It wasn’t like that when we bought our farm here, but we saw it happening, and we’ve been a part of it. The food culture here is rich. Major chefs open new restaurants every month throughout the valley, stressing locavore cuisine. Many of these establishments are reviewed in the Times before anywhere else, with sneak previews given to elite food writers.
The valley also claims several food magazines including Edible Hudson Valley and Valley Table, as well as its own wine magazine Hudson Valley Wine. And it’s also home to dozens of food and spirits writers including Kevin Zraly and Steve Kolpan (both born and bred valley men), both of whom have championed the home turf, as well as Gregory Dal Piaz and others.
And the burgeoning wine region has exploded
The valley, which runs from above Albany down to New York City, is home to fabulous wineries, some of the most cutting edge cideries in America, and some of the most coveted distilleries this side of Tennessee and Kentucky, and is maker of more artisanal cassis than anywhere else in North America. The region features four separate trails: The Shawangunk Wine Trail; The Dutchess Wine Trail; the Hudson Berkshire Beverage Trail, and the Upper Hudson Valley Wine Trail.
Hudson Valley WineIn the last three years, more than a dozen wineries have substantially expanded (to keep up with increased demand), some of them doubling or quadrupling in size. The northern valley has seen more than 20 new artisanal farm beverage businesses start up in the last 5 years. They seem to sprout like mushrooms. The Hudson Valley his more to more than 40 wineries, as well as more than a dozen cideries, and more than a dozen distilleries. Outside investment is rampant, with the Chileans owning Brotherhood, and with English giant Grants (the world’s largest whiskey distiller and distributor) now owning Tuthilltown Spirits.
The wines have been featured in Wine Spectator, Wine Enthusiast, Sommelier Journal, and Snooth.com The distillers and cider makers have been featured in GQ, Esquire, Men’s Health, and many more. And all sectors have been covered in the New York Times and Wall Street Journal!
And what kinds of wines does the Hudson Valley produce? The region offers zesty, lean whites, and soft, approachable reds, with bright fruit, nice acidity, and low tannins. Chardonnay. Riesling. Tocai Fruliano. Seyval Blanc. Cabernet Franc. Pinot Noir. Baco Noir. In the past ten years the region has bridged a gap between learning how to grow and make high quality vinifera, and make hybrids that will excite. Sparkling wine is a growing business, while small producers make micro-batches of delicious dessert wines from local fruit. And the region features many incredible winemakers, like Kristop Brown at Robibero Winery and Glorie Farm Winery, Brad Martz at Whitecliff Vineyards, Steve Casscles of Hudson-Chatham, and many others.
The Hudson Valley is the Eataly of the eastcoast. There is nowhere else like it. Great wine, cider, and spirits. Great food. Great farming. All with a little bit of hipster attitude. If there were a Disney World of food, it would be the Hudson Valley. When foodies die and go to heaven it usually means they moved to the Hudson Valley.
AutumnOf course, there is one thing that has been a constant throughout the ages – autumn. There is no more beautiful a place than the Hudson Valley in the fall. Crisp, cool nights, warm days, trees alight with red, yellow, orange, and blue skies that absolutely hurt your eyes – this is the most magical time in the valley. And you will have a ring side seat. It’s the same season that inspired the Huguenots and Dutch, the Rockefellers and the Roosevelts, that moved the brushes of Cole and Frederick Church, that inspired Pete and Levon. And it has inspired great wine, cider, and spirits.
I am so proud to live in the Hudson Valley.