Some of the country’s oldest vineyards can be found in the Hudson Valley. The French Hugenots planted the first vines in New Paltz (now part of Ulster County) in 1677, 100 years before any vines were planted
in what is now California. When the Huguenots planted vines in the Valley they discovered a unique
combination of soil, climate and sun that together makes for ideal grape growing conditions. They originally planted their vines on the hillsides of the Hudson Highlands and started a tradition of grapes and wine that
continues to this day.
The wine making industry in the Valley has survived through wars, revolutions, blights, bad weather and Prohibition to become one of the most innovative and diverse areas of viniferous cultivation in the nation. The broad expanse of the Hudson River serves a dual purpose. The flowing water helps keep the climate
temperate, and the valley serves as a conduit for maritime breezes from the south. The gently sloping hills
provide ideal sites for vineyards, some of which, like those owned by Benmarl Vineyards, have been planted
Most of the early wines were made by families for their own consumption. But in 1827, Quaker Robert Underhill, who had established a self-sustaining community at Croton Point, planted grapevines brought from Europe with the intention of making wines to sell. The Croton Point community grew their own watermelons, apples, pears, chestnuts, castor beans and made bricks.
Although Underhill’s attempt to cultivate these vines failed, that didn’t stop him. Over the next two decades he cross-bred native and European vines and the results paid off - grapes with wonderful flavor growing on vines hardy enough to survive in this climate.
William Cornell established a vineyard in Ulster County in 1845. His endeavors greatly interested his brother-in-law, Andrew Caywood, who settled in Marlborough and worked on creating second generation hybrid vines. One of his products, the Dutchess grape, is still grown here today. Caywood’s vineyards are now part of Benmarl Vineyards and the original vines planted by Caywood are still tended there today.
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The first commercial winery in the Hudson Valley, Jacques Brothers Winery, was established in 1837 for the production of altar wines. Renamed Brotherhood in 1885, the Washingtonville winery is the nation’s oldest continuously operated winery.
In 1850, the region’s second winery was established at Croton Point. The company produced altar wines
and also marketed its product in New York City as a medicinal tonic. Although there is no longer a winery
there, the subterranean brick caves built by the founders to store and age their wines are still in existence.
The area, in the village of Croton-on-Hudson, is now a Westchester County park.
The third winery, also named Brotherhood, operated in Amenia in Dutchess County from 1860-1867, when
it moved out of the region.
The Hudson Valley Wine Company was opened in Highland (Ulster County) in 1904 by Alphonso Bolognese.
The company made altar wines for local monasteries and is now the Regent Champagne Cellars.
Regent Champagne Cellers has since closed it’s doors.
Hudson River Valley Wine Region History High Tor Vineyards, which operated on a scenic mountain site in Rockland County back in 1949, was one of the east’s most prominent wineries. Its owner, Everett Crosby, tried to get New York to change its laws and
do away with the expensive $1,000-per-year licensing fee. He was unsuccessful and his winery went out of
In the 1970s, New York Governor Hugh Carey appointed John Dyson as state Commissioner of Agriculture.
A wine enthusiast himself (he currently owns Millbrook Vineyards in Dutchess County), Dyson formed a
task force that drew up the Farm Winery Bill. With testimony from Benmarl Vineyards owner Mark Miller
and support from many other vintners and organizations, the bill was passed in 1976, paving the way for
rapid growth of the Hudson Valley wine industry. Annual fees were dropped to $125, making the endeavor
easier to afford for the smaller wine-makers.
Today the Hudson River Region, given this name in 1982 by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms,
has more than 20 operating wineries.
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