Planning a vacation can be stressful. The tedious process of booking flights, hotels and activities almost deflates the excitement one initially has when deciding to take one.
To avoid that stress, many people have been turning to day-long getaways or “daycations.” These daycations require little planning and naturally run cheaper than a week-long cruise to the Bahamas, and though a 24-hour excursion may not be as glamorous as spending spring break on the Cape, it can provide some quick-fix fun.
One way to take advantage of a beautiful day is to visit the Hudson Valley wineries.
Though most associate American wine with Napa Valley in California, some of the country’s oldest vineyards can be found a couple hours north of the city, wineries such as those established by the French Hugenots, who planted the first vines in 1677 in what is now New Paltz, nearly one hundred years before any vines were planted in California.
What makes the Valley a great place for vineyards is the unique combination of soil, climate and sun that results in ideal grape-growing conditions.
The region runs long, from northern Westchester County to the city of Troy, making for a wide spectrum of temperatures and climates.
“Each county has its own little area and its own microclimate,” said Karen Gardy, a board member for the Hudson Valley Wine Country collective. “On the lower end of the Valley, the temperature can get about 10 degrees lower, earlier in the year. That lends itself to a wider variety of grapes and a wider variety of wines.”
For example, gamay noir, described as a medium-bodied red wine, is a clone of pinot noir and is made with a hybrid grape, as most modern-day wines are. But this particular grape can only be grown in Ulster County, and not in Rensselaer County, despite the areas being a mere 45 minutes apart.
It is because of this climate spectrum that the Valley can produce a wide variety of wines, both red and white.
A five-degree temperature difference can make for a bitter and sparse harvest or a juicy and flavorful crop of grapes.
But it is because of the region’s varied climates that Gardy and other wine aficionados say the vineyards of Hudson Valley produce some of the best quality wine in the country. To compare, Long Island, which also has a popular wine culture, is best for producing red wines. The Finger Lakes region yields mostly riesling.
“Because of all of these microclimates, when you go to a wine tasting in the Hudson Valley, you are going to sample a much wider variety of wines than you would on Long Island or the Finger Lakes,” Gardy said.
Winemaking is a delicate process that requires patience and a strong taste palate. Cornell University, which played an active role in supporting the Valley’s vineyards, even offers a degree in enology, the study of winemaking.
There are 43 wineries in the Hudson Valley, located as far north as Clinton Corners and as far south as Warwick.
Though each winery hosts individual wine-tasting sessions, the most popular option is to take a tour of the region and visit several wineries in one day.
“I highly recommend sampling wine at more than one winery,” Gardy said. “One area in the Hudson Valley will specialize in specific kinds of wine and then another winery will offer something completely different.”
What gives the Hudson Valley an edge, aside from its microclimates and various grape species, is that the region can produce many other fruits.
“We make a lot of fruit wine,” Gardy said. “In fact, an apple wine that was produced here won Best Wine in 2007. And with the production of fruit wine, we often see many European tourists because fruit wine is traditionally European; so there’s that familiarity and appreciation there.”
In fact, when the French were going through their revolution, most, if not all of the grape-vines in France were destroyed. In order to repopulate the vineyards, the French went to the Hudson Valley, which they had once colonized, and used some of those vines.
Hudsonvalleywinecountry.org, the official website for the organization, has a plan-a-tour feature that allows visitors to choose from a list of wineries to tour.
“This feature allows people to pick and choose which wineries they would like to go to and creates an itinerary with directions to each location,” Gardy said. “It’s really a handy tool and can help people choose the winery that will best suit them.”
Though the wines served at each winery differ, Gardy said the experience is relatively the same at each.
Generally, when guests arrive, they will be greeted by either the owner or the winemaker or, depending on the time of year, an attendant who is well versed in wine.
“After welcoming you, they would hand you what we call a tasting sheet,” Gardy said. “Each tasting sheet will list all of the wines the winery has to offer, as well as some notes on the overall taste of each wine.”
Taste sheets act as guides for those who are not familiar with the wine culture. Words such as “full-bodied” and “woody” are used to describe the taste and feel of each drink.
Typical wine tastings include four to six half-ounce samplings. While half an ounce may not seem like a lot, Gardy said it is the perfect portion for visitors to get a good sense of the wine without sloshing their way through a tour.
“Of course, if there is a particular wine that you enjoyed, you can have a second taste but half of an ounce is the perfect amount,” Gardy said. “I’ve been to some tastings where they serve an ounce and a half of each sampling. Over-pouring takes away from the experience because, if you are going to three or four wineries and are being served large portions, by the time you get to the third or fourth stop, you won’t be enjoying yourself any more.”
Two wineries that come highly recommended by Gardy are Brotherhood in Washingtonville and Oak Summit in Millbrook.
Brotherhood Winery boasts of being the oldest vineyard in the country and is a one-hour drive from the city.
Oak Summit serves pinot noir exclusively. But what it lacks in quantity, it makes up for in quality.
“They only grow the one type but it’s phenomenal there,” Gardy said. “They really are the standard for pinot noir in Millbrook.”
While Brotherhood and Oak Summit are favored, each winery in the region offers an original and flavorful experience.
In addition to ordinary tastings, wineries host special festivals that feature an array of food and speciality wines.
In June, the Shawangunk Hudson Valley Wine Trail will be hosting an international food festival. Attendees will receive a “passport” and tasting ticket for the weekend that will grant access to each of the wineries on the trail, with each stop representing a different country.
As wine is an alcoholic beverage, having a designated driver is always recommended. And to ensure that the sober members in your party have an enjoyable experience as well, many wineries offer “designated driver deals,” providing munchies and nonalcoholic beverages at significantly lower prices.
The Hudson Valley Wine Country website lays out information on all the wineries in the region and descriptions of what they produce, along with a history of winemaking in the area.