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.

No comments: