Best Wineries in Upstate NY & the Adirondacks
If you weren’t aware that Upstate NY had such a vibrant wine-making community, read on. We’ve got a number of suggested wineries here for you to check out, many of which offer tours, tastings and/or informative presentations. Whether you have an afternoon or a whole day to spend, you won’t feel like you’re missing out on what is bound to be a fun, tasty and informative-packed day.
One of our oldest and most loved beverages, wine has been around for thousands of years, with archeological evidence suggesting the Early Bronze Age in the third millennium BC as the beginning date for the domestication of the grapevine.
Since that time, wine-making technologies have improved significantly. During the Roman Empire especially, the wine-press was perfected, grape varieties multiplied, cultivation techniques improved, as did storage and shipping. The use of wine has also varied throughout history. Some religions celebrated the heady drink by using it in their ceremonial life, while others condemned it as an evil influence.
Fast forward to the modern day, and wine is made all over the world. With such a long and varied history, it is surprising that grapes and wheat were brought over to the Americas first by the Spanish conquistadores. These first fruitful vines were known as Mission grapes, which were followed up by French, Italian, and German vines brought over by successive waves of immigrants.
Although great wines are now made throughout the United States, Canada, and South America, upstate New York holds its own as a world-class wine producer. The land was settled by the Dutch, who first planted vines in the land, followed by the English and French. The first winery in upstate New York was established 175 years ago, but it was soon followed by countless others. According to some statistics, there are now over 200 wineries from Lake Erie to Long Island, one of the oldest commercial wine regions in the country.
In our area of New York State in particular, wine-making is big business. There are great wineries all over the Adirondack and Upstate NY regions that make homemade, old-world-style wines, as well as their modern counterparts. One that I recently had the chance to visit is Johnston’s, located just off of Route 29 in Ballston Spa. An unassuming winery run by Kurt Johnston and his wife, the business puts out raspberry, blueberry, cherry, and grape wines as well as honey and apple meads. All the wines are produced from start to finish on the premises, with products grown on the Johnston’s own farm and in the immediate area. The winery is an interesting place to visit, as all the wine-making equipment is located in the same building as the finished products, and Mr. Johnston is extremely open to explaining the winemaking process to curious visitors. The winery store even carries a wine-making kit for those interested in trying out the age-old tradition themselves. And in addition to wines, the Johnston’s also make old-fashioned preserves from their home-grown fruit, and carry locally produced maple syrup and honey. For questions about Johnston’s Winery call 518-882-6310 or email Kurt at email@example.com.
These entirely handcrafted wines are a specialty of sorts for the upstate New York area, where berries, grapes and other fruit grow abundantly throughout the warmer months. The Saratoga Winery in Saratoga and the Adirondack Winery in Lake George are two other locations that come to mind. The Saratoga Winery features Adirondack-style decor and a large tasting bar for visitors. The company attempts to support local growers by selecting wines primarily from the Finger Lakes region. They even have a signature wine, the Melomel, an ancestor of all fermented drinks made from fruit and honey, comparable to a port or sherry. Left to ferment naturally, the Melomel has no added sugar or additives. www.thesaratogawinery.com
A winery with a great presence in the area is Bully Hill Vineyards in Hammondsport (go into any liquor store in the area, and you’re bound to see their brand). Although the vineyard’s current incarnation was purchased by Greyton H. Taylor and Walter S. Taylor in 1958, the land had been owned previously by the same family. The Taylor family’s Wine Company actually started the winery atop Bully Hill in 1919. Today, Bully Hill’s grapes produce many different kinds of wine, from a fruity Chardonnay Elise with subtle hints of oak and a buttery finish to a Merlot with aromas of blackberry and plum. Located on the shores of Keuka Lake, the vineyard also has its own restaurant, which is open May through Thanksgiving. Owner and chef Lillian Taylor creates unique dishes, such as the Baked Brie & Sweet Walter Cranberry Compote or the Applewood Smoked Pork Ribs glazed with a Crabapple BBQ Sauce. For more information about the Bully Hill Vineyards, visit www.bullyhill.com
About 12 miles east of Albany lies the Altamont Vineyard and Winery, the first and only vineyard and winery in Albany County. Owned and run by Mike and Louis DiCrescenzo and Deborah Larned, the business was founded on a rundown vineyard and a winery left in disrepair. But after two years of refurbishing and nursing the vines back to their production potential, the winery has produced 30 tons of grapes and 1200 cases of wine. Twenty-three different varieties of hybrid grapes grown on the premises go into the homemade wines; these grapes are also used in some of their tasty jams and jellies. The winery hopes to offer more varieties of wine in the future after a collaboration with Wagner Farms, a vineyard in Seneca Lake. The wines to come out of this union would be Pinot Noir, Cabernet Franc, Gewurztraminer, Chardonnay, and Riesling. Altamont Vineyard and Winery offers free tastings on Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays from noon to 5pm or by appointment. 518-355-8100
The Lake Champlain Region is another great place to find wineries and vineyards. The rain shadow created by the Adirondack Mountains provides for the drier, sunnier climate in which grapes thrive. Despite the natural fit, wine was not an important industry in the region until the late 1990s. Snow Farm Vineyard in South Herbo, Vermont was the first to start the trend, with others soon following in both Vermont and New York. Now, there are twelve wineries in Vermont’s Lake Champlain Valley and four on the New York shore. A few to check out are the Amazing Grace Vineyard and Winery in Chazy, NY, featuring fruit wines in addition to those from home-grown hybrid grapes, Elfs Farm Winery & Cider Mill, which produces 7 wines, hard and sweet cider, and Vesco Ridge Vineyard, which uses traditional Old World methods to produce small, perfected batches of great homemade wine. Information about the Lake Champlain Region and its wineries can be found at www.lakechamplainwines.org
And if you’re looking to head a little further west in NY state, the Finger Lakes Wine Region is also another great area to explore.
–Jessica Nicosia is an Assistant Editor of The Free George.
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