I was really quite excited to be heading over to Brotherhood Winery in Washingtonville, New York. I’m fascinated by history, and that I was within an easy 2 hour drive of America’s oldest winery was too good an opportunity to pass up. So I popped the coordinates for Brotherhood and three other Hudson Valley winery into the GPS and headed out for a fairly long day on the Win(e)ding Roads.
The winery was originally started by Frenchman Jean Jacques in 1810. In the late 1820s/early 1830s, he moved to the current location and began digging wine cellars. He went into partnership with the Emerson family and together they decided on the name “Brotherhood” to honor the partnership. The Emersons, who counted among their ranks American author and transcendentalist, Ralph Waldo Emerson, were wealthy, well-connected vintners and distributors from New York with ties to Washington, D.C. The partnership they formed with Jean Jacques proved to be of great benefit to the winery, resulting in a number of “firsts” for American wineries: Brotherhood was the first winery to install a telegraph, and in fact the first telegraph transmission in the United States took place between New York City and Brotherhood Winery. They were also the first winery to install steam generators, and used them to power, among other things, the first elevator used in an American winery. The elevator was used to haul the grapes and wine into the two-story pressing and storage house built in 1860 and still part of the winery today.
After World War I, when most wineries in the United States were driven out of business due to Prohibition, Brotherhood remained open by converting their operation to the production of altar wine. Originally they produced small amounts of altar wine for local area Episcopalian churches, but with the advent of Prohibition, they expanded their operations, supplying Roman Catholic and Russian Orthodox churches among others. In addition to keeping their own winery operating through Prohibition, Brotherhood was also able to keep a number of California vineyards in business supplying the grapes needed to produce the altar wines. Today Brotherhood continues the tradition and a small percentage of their wine production remains altar wines.
Shortly after my arrival, I had the pleasure of meeting, albeit briefly, owner and winemaker, Cesar Baeza. Baeza has been Brotherhood’s winemaker since 1987, and approximately 5 years ago, took on two additional partners, South American winemakers, the Chadwick and Castro familes. Baeza, a charming and gracious man, continues to oversee Brotherhood’s wines, and is obviously a frequent visitor to the Tasting Room, greeting customers and stopping to chat and share stories about the rich history of the winery.
Until recently, Brotherhood did not own their own vineyards, instead establishing partnerships with vineyards throughout New York, particularly in the Finger Lakes and Long Island regions. A few years ago, however, Brotherhood obtained 80 acres a bit further north in Hudson, New York and now grow Riesling, Pinot Noir and Chardonnay grapes themselves, and continue to maintain partnerships with other vineyards throughout New York for the other grapes Baeza uses in his wines.
The Tasting Room is part of a larger complex that makes up the winery, both historical and modern. Across from the Tasting Room, the original winery building is now home to the Vinum Café, which features a 140-seat restaurant, a café, a tapas bar and an outside patio. Next door to the Café is the gift shop, which sits across from the 1860s-era pressing house.
The Tasting Room also dates to the 1860s and, like most of the other buildings in the complex has a stone exterior. Inside, the room is one of the largest Tasting Room spaces I’ve encountered outside of Napa/Sonoma and utilizes the entire space. The interior has the look and feel of a luxurious wine cellar: dimly lit and cool, with stone floors and walls lined with wine racks. The wines are organized by category: whites, reds, international, etc. and free-standing wine rack kiosks supplement the wine storage available on the walls. Spaced throughout the length of the room are a series of 6 bar areas, four of which are devoted to tastings. Each bar could hold 12-15 people comfortably, and signs overheard as well as the very helpful staff direct people throughout the room. When you purchase your ticket for the tasting, you are directed to a specific wine tasting bar, thus allowing for better crowd control and, I imagine, allows them to better manage the type of tastings served at each station.
Brotherhood offers you a choice of three flights: The Traditional Flight, a selection of specialty and table wines that tend towards the semi-sweet and sweet; the Varietal Flight, a selection of New York grown grapes, which tend to be drier wines, and the World Tour Flight, a selection of wines imported from various regions throughout the world. Each flight is $5 if purchased on it’s own. One flight, plus a winery tour and a signature wine glass will run you $10, and a tour of the winery without a tasting is $6. I, unfortunately, had planned a full day and so didn’t have the time for a tour, but I will definitely be heading back for another visit, and this time will make sure I plan enough time for the tour.
Tastings and winery tours are available Friday through Sunday year-round: January-March, Friday-Sunday 11-5; April-December, Friday 11-5, Saturday 11-6, Sunday 11-5.
Brotherhood’s Varietal Flight, Tuesday, August 31st…