Tuesday, September 30, 2008

October is New York Wine Month

New York Wine Month will run the entire month of October, with more than 115 restaurants and 150 wine stores throughout the state participating to showcase New York wines. With the harvest is in full swing, this is a great time to celebrate the bounty of New York as a wine-producing state, especially the wines of the Hudson Valley, which has been growing wine grapes since 1677, when the French Huguenots planted vines they brought with them from Europe.

One of the best places to sample New York State wines -- actually three of the best places -- is Vintage New York, a wine store and tasting room, that carries only New York State wines, from the Finger Lakes and Long Island in addition to Hudson Valley wineries. There are two locations in Manhattan -- in Soho, at Broome Street at the corner of Wooster, the other on the Upper West Side, at 93rd and Broadway.

The third Vintage New York location is in the Hudson Valley at Rivendell Winery in New Paltz. Stop off at the winery for a tour and a tasting either before or after touring the historic Huguenot Stone Houses downtown, some of which date back to the 1600s.

Monday, September 22, 2008

Hudson Valley Wine Industry Pioneer Passes Away

There's been a death in the family.

One of the pioneers of the Hudson Valley wine industry has passed away. Mark Miller was 89, the founder and loving watchman of Benmarl Winery at Slatehill Vineyards in Marlboro, the oldest continuously operating vineyard in America. Miller's vineyard overlooking the Hudson River has been growing grapes since the early 1800s.

Benmarl Vineyards received the New York Farm Winery License #1, in recognition of his work on getting that 1976 law passed. At that time there were only 19 wineries in New York. Today, there are more than twice that number in the Hudson Valley, and more than 250 in the entire state, including the Finger Lakes and Long Island.

Mark Miller was a 'character in the warm and wonderful sense' of the word -- a gentlemen, a gracious host, and a wonderful story teller, even if some of those stories might have been embellished. Ever so slightly. Some of those stories had to do with his previous life as an illustrator for magazines including The Saturday Evening Post.

The wine bug bit him in the 1950s after he lived in France for several years, and it became a permanent passion, along with art. He and his first wife Dene bought the Benmarl property in 1957, but had to wait another decade for the first harvest. He started a “wine club”, called the Societé des Vignerons, whose members could purchase two vines, attend the annual spring tasting, and receive a case of wine labeled with the Societé’s graphic design along with their own signature.

Miller's passions of wine and art meant that after the winery tour and tastings, visitors were encouraged to visit the little art gallery behind the tasting room, mostly his paintings and drawings. I was lucky to get a personal tour a few years ago while I was researching my first Hudson Valley guidebook.
He sold the winery a few years ago. Even though the little art gallery is gone, wisely, the new buyers have kept the vines in production, rather than sell the valuable property to real estate developers.

Mark Miller. He will be missed, but not forgotten.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Celebrate Nelson Rockefeller's 100th Birthday

This weekend, Saturday and Sunday, Sept. 20-21, Historic Hudson Valley and the Rockefeller Archive Center are hosting a special Nelson A. Rockefeller Centennial Weekend. It focuses on the four-time New York State governor and U. S. vice president Nelson Rockefeller, and his legacy in the arts, education, and the environment.

The event is being held both at Kykuit, the art-filled Rockefeller Estate in Pocantico Hills, where four generations of the famous family have lived, and at the Museum of Modern Art in Manhattan, which was founded by Nelson's mother, Abby Aldrich Rockefeller. The Rockefeller's NYC home was across the street from what would become MOMA.

Kykuit, by the way, is pictured at the right -- it is the image on the cover of my book, Great Destinations: The Hudson Valley.

Here is the schedule of events:

On Saturday, Sept. 20, events are in NYC, from 9 a.m. to 3:30 p.m.. with presentations at MOMA by experts including --
  • an introduction by Mark F. Rockefeller will begin the program.

  • The Keynote Speaker is author, historian, and political commentator Richard Norton Smith, a nationally recognized authority on the American presidency and a familiar face to viewers of C-SPAN, as well as The NewsHour with Jim Lehrer,

  • Other speakers include Cynthia B. Altman, Kykuit Curator;

  • Dr. Mary Schmidt Campbell, Chair, New York State Council on the Arts;

  • Dr. Clifton Wharton, Jr., noted economist, presidential appointee, and former Chancellor, State University of New York;

  • Robert R. Douglass, former legal counsel and Secretary for Governor Rockefeller.

The program moves to the Hudson Valley on Sunday, with special tours of Governor Rockefeller's art collection and the work of the Archive Center.

Tickets for this special Nelson A. Rockefeller Centennial Weekend are $125 per person, or $100 per person for members of Historic Hudson Valley or the National Trust for Historic Preservation. Contact Historic Hudson Valley.