The Wines of Palaia Vineyards

Marguerite Barrett
Contributing Writer

Palaia produces 3 whites, Chardonnay, Gewurztraminer, and Traminette, 2 white blends, 5 reds, Cabernet Franc, Merlot, Pinot Noir, DeChaunac and Lemberger, 2 red blends, 1 blush, and, surprisingly, Mead.  All are fermented and aged in stainless steel with French and/or American oak chips added as required.

The Tasting Menu includes 20 wines, with different vintages of several wines being offered.  A tasting, while complimentary, includes your choice of five wines, and I must admit it was tough to select only five.  But with the advice of my host, I finally landed on one white, the Traminette, three reds and the Mead.

2006 Traminette Pale gold in color, the nose is bright with pretty floral notes of citrus and honeysuckle.  In the mouth the wine is very light and crisp with notes of orange blossom and a hint of peach which provides a softness.   There’s a nice acid to the finish which balances the wine.  It’s a good summer wine, crisp and clean, not too heavy; it would pair well with light foods such as salads and seafood.

2006 Cabernet Franc Both the 2006 and the 2007 Cabernet Franc were available on the Tasting Menu that afternoon, so I asked my host if he had to pick only one, which would it be – his answer was swift and sure – the 2006.  Garnet colored, the 2006 Cabernet Franc has a nice nose, with that flinty, salty tanginess I so often find in the Northeastern Reds.  Medium-bodied, the wine is fruity, but not overpowering, with notes of black cherry, some peppery heat, and a hint of chocolate on the finish.

Uva Secca After the Cab Franc, I opted for one of the two red blends, the Uva Secca.  The principal grape is Cabernet Franc, and tasting this back-to-back with the Cabernet Franc is an interesting contrast.  The Uva Secca is slightly sweeter than the Cab Franc, with a softer, less fruity nose.  In the mouth the wine is more subtle, with stronger fruit notes than I found in the previous selection.  It’s also slightly smoother than the Cab Franc, with fewer tannins, and a warm spice finish, cloves perhaps, rather than the sharper heat of pepper.  The wine opens up nicely in the mouth and layers with each sip.  Overall, I really liked this wine, definintely preferring it to the 100% Cab Franc.

Lemberger My third and final red selection was the Lemberger, not a grape I’ve encountered often.  When I first started my win(e)ding road adventures, I tended to stick with what I knew, figuring at least I’d have some frame of reference by which to evaluate the wine.  However, as I’ve spent more time on the road I’ve found myself being more adventurous, trying wines and grapes I don’t encounter as frequently.  Hence, the Lemberger.  Also a garnet color, the nose is dark and dusky, with tantalizing notes of bacon.

Now – that was a first.  Never encountered bacon in a wine before.  But, I agree with Tom Colicchio of Top Chef, bacon does improve just about anything, even wine.  In the mouth the wine is rich, dark and earthy with subtle notes of bacon on the palate as well.  There’s a light smokiness on the finish which complements the earthy bacon.   Medium-bodied with a smooth finish, this is a really interesting wine.  Not sure it will be everyone’s favorite, and I still preferred the Uva Secca, but if you’re ever at Palaia, it’s definitely worth a try.

I reserved the fifth and final spot on my tasting for the Mead.  I had first tried Mead on a trip to Ireland about 6 years ago.  Sweeter than I normally like, I did enjoy it, and usually pick up a bottle around St. Patrick’s Day to round out an irish-themed meal.  It’s not a wine you see often, anywhere, and I usually have to go to a larger wine store to find it.  So, I was truly surprised to see it on the menu here.

As it was being poured, I could already discern differences from the Irish Meads I am used to, beginning with the color which is a very pale straw, almost clear.  Next the nose is much softer and more subtle than the Bunratty Mead I usually drink, with faint notes of honey.  In the mouth, the wine has floral notes, light touches of honey, and a nice acid on the finish to balance the wine.  More delicate than the Irish Meads, it’s not bad.

Palaia Vineyards ~ Highland Mills, New York

Marguerite Barrett
Contributing Writer

The word that first comes to mind when thinking about Palaia Winery is eclectic.  There’s a kind of haphazard charm to the place that speaks more to the layering of generations of family and interests, than to deliberate design.  In the front yard, classical statuary shares garden space with flags, flowers, and a whimsical stone statue of a pig in cap and waistcoat (my personal favorite).  A variety of signs dot the drive and gardens, directing folks to the tasting room entrance and admonishing them not to make off with the glasses.

The eclecticism continues in a charming and spacious tasting room encompassing the second floor of an old barn renovated and converted into the winery.  The renovation looks to have kept the barn’s original wood walls and timbered ceilings and finished off the space into a cozy, if somewhat cluttered room.  Pictures and posters line the walls, and varied keepsakes, gifts and the knick-knacks of an interesting and slightly bohemian life can be found in all corners of the room.  This is an obviously well-loved and fun space.

As mentioned above, the Tasting Room is on the second floor; the entrance leads directly into a stairway that brings you up along the back of the bar and into the main room.  The bar extends the length of two walls in a curved L-shape, and there are several bistro tables and chairs scattered throughout the middle of the room for guests who wish to linger.  A screen door at the end of the bar leads to a large porch with additional tables and chairs, and Palaia often has live musical guests on weeknights and weekends who entertain the crowds on the patio.  There is also a large open air stage next to the vineyards behind the winery where Palaia hosts stage plays and larger performances.  Guests are obviously encouraged to purchase wine to enjoy with the show, hence the plea to return the glasses.

In addition to music and theatre, Palaia also sponsors a Lucy-Look-Alike Contest, inviting contestants to dress up like Lucille Ball and participate in a re-enactment of the legendary I Love Lucy episode in which Lucy and Ethel try their hand, er… feet, in grape stomping.  The winner receives a case of Palaia wine, and looking at the pictures on the wall behind the bar as well as on the website, it’s obvious this is a very popular and highly entertaining event.  For those interested in stopping by, or entering the contest, the next “Great Lucy Look-Alike Grape Stomp” is scheduled for September 25th.

Dating back to the 18th century, the farm was originally part of a larger farm once owned by Aaron Burr.  Today, Palaia has 10 acres of grapes and plans for more in the future.  They planted their first vines in 2001, producing their first vintage in 2005.  In 2002, they received a $15,000 grant from the State of New York to restore the barn, and after 4 years of painstaking work, opened the winery in 2006.

Palaia (pronouced pa-LIE-a) produces 14 wines: 3 whites, 2 white blends, 5 reds, 2 red blends, and 2 specialty wines, one of which is a mead.  Now that’s not something you find in most wineries.  Their tasting menu includes more than 20 of their vintages; a tasting is complimentary and includes your choice of any five of the available wines.  Tough to choose only five, but there was no way I was passing on the Mead.

Palaia is open seven days a week: Thursday, Friday and Saturday 12:00 pm – 10:00 pm; Sunday, Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday 12:00 pm – 6:00 pm.  They feature live music Thursday through Sunday, unless they are hosting performances on the “main stage.”  All ages are welcome for outside events, but you must be 21 to enter the Tasting Room.  You can find a schedule of upcoming events on their website.

Palaia Vineyards
20 Sweet Clover Road
Highland Mills, NY 10930

Coming Tuesday, September 7th, The Wines of Palaia Vineyards