This article appeared in the January/February 2014 issue of Organic Hudson Valley. (A direct link in under Links to Articles).
The Hudson Valley was a major source of grapes for the northeastern region of the United States during the nineteenth century, and Whitecliff Vineyard & Winery in Gardiner, New York, run by Yancey Stanforth-Migliore and Michael Migliore continues that tradition today.
“We started planting the vineyard 30 years ago,” Stanforth-Migliore said. She calls the decision to begin the winery a gradual process. Michael Migliore has a master’s degree in organic chemistry from SUNY New Paltz. He had also purchased 18 acres of farmland. The vineyard arose out of trying to decide what to do with the land. Stanforth-Migliore describes the process as “figuring out what to do with what you have. He had a real interest in farming and the degree in chemistry, and planted some grapes and it fell into place gradually from there.”
Running a vineyard and winery is not an easy task. The vineyard is entirely family run and they do everything themselves, from growing the grapes to making and marketing the wine. “You’re farming, you’re manufacturing and you’re doing retail, and you’re manufacturing in a heavily regulated profession, so it would be helpful to be a lawyer. There’s a huge range of skill sets you use to be successful,” Stanforth-Migliore said.
One particular challenge that they have faced has been coming into the wine business at a time when New York wine generally, and wine from the Hudson Valley, in particular, had very little respect. Overcoming that challenge has been a very rewarding process. “Some very fine wines are made here,” Stanforth-Migliore said. “We’ve absolutely built something of value, my husband and I. People come in here every day and are really impressed and have a good time discovering the quality of our wines. Absolutely, we make world class wines.” The vineyard won Best White Wine In Show for their 2010 Riesling at the San Francisco International Wine Competition, a prestigious wine event.
Two of the most popular wines are Red Trail and Awosting White, both made from hybrid grapes. “Everybody who comes in here loves that wine in spite of what some of the critics might think about hybrid grapes. People love that wine,” Stanforth-Migliore said.
The weather is also a challenge. While the Hudson Valley is the oldest wine region in the country, it is also the coldest. “We’ve had a lot of work to do figuring out which grape varietals would grow here and what kind of wine we want to make,” Stanforth-Migliore said. Hybrid grapes are easier to grow, and a variety she speaks highly of is called traminette, which was hybridized at Cornell University specifically to be able to grow and tolerate the weather in New York.
Chemical use in all types of farming is a major concern for many people, the Migliore family included. “We’re very conservative in our use of chemicals and we use organic whenever possible. The best evidence of our responsibility in this regard is that we live in the middle of the vineyard,” Stanforth-Migliore said.
Whitecliff Vineyard & Winery also stands as a bit of a throwback to European style wines. The Hudson Valley had become known for very fruity wines in recent decades, in part due to economic factors resulting from prohibition, when the area transitioned from a major source of grapes for the northeast to a major source of apples. “We’re drawn to the classic, complex, dry style of wines that are wonderful with a meal, that people associate with France and Italy,” Stanforth-Migliore said.
In addition to purchasing wine at the vineyard, Whitecliff wines are available at stores from Albany to Brooklyn, with a full list of retail locations available on their web site at www.whitecliffwine.com. Wine is also available for purchase directly from their web site.