EASTON — Andy Weber is hoping that, someday, Upper Hudson will be as synonymous with wine as Napa Valley or the Finger Lakes.
He envisions a region in which dozens of wineries experiment to develop a new and amazing “cold climate wine” that would draw connoisseurs eager to experience the New York difference.
“The long-term goal is world-class wines from these cold climate grapes,” he said. “It’s a great big experiment. A lot of experimentation going on. It leaps forward every year.”
He has worked for years to get the area recognized, both by the state and the federal government, as the Upper Hudson Viticultural Area.
The last step — federal approval — has finally gone through, and soon local wineries will be allowed to label their bottles as from the Upper Hudson. Those who grow and produce 100 percent of each bottle on their vineyard can add “Estate Bottled,” while wines with at least 85 percent local produce can say “Upper Hudson.”
The labels should be allowed in a matter of weeks, Weber said.
Weber runs Northern Cross Vineyard in Easton.
He is encouraging other wineries, and distilleries for liquor and hard cider, to locate near his vineyard. The more growers there are, the better the wine will be, he said.
So far, there are about 25, from Schenectady to Greenwich. A map of all the producers can be found at www.uhwt.wine.
“We love them. I don’t view them as competitors — we help each other,” he said. “It’s like we landed on Mars. There’s no 50-year history of growing grapes here.”
So when he needs help, he sometimes has to go to professors and growers in other states to get ideas. Then he comes back to his vineyard and, through trial and error, slowly improves his product.
“You just say — these are the clarifiers you use, this is the temperature it was, how did the wine turn out?” he said.
He and his neighbors have already begun creating a culture of collaboration.
Mike Valla, who has just finished the second of three years needed to get new grapes ready for harvest at Creek Haven Vineyard of Schaghticoke said Weber has regularly helped him as he got started.
“Andy has been of enormous help in his unselfish passion to help others in this area of Washington County and beyond, who in the last couple of years also planted northern hardy wine grapes for farm wineries,” Valla said. “There are three new startup vineyards within just a couple of miles of Andy’s vineyard — Andy has displayed a true desire to ensure that all new farm winery endeavors in the AVA (American Viticultural Area) succeed.”
Weber said other new farmers also helped him with his experiments.
He has been struggling to get good wine from one grape, the Prairie Star, that seems perfect for this climate. Neighbors have been helping him get better results with it for years.
He gets an “off flavor” when he ferments the grape, and this year he realized the grape was missing a nutrient. So when he started fermenting this month, he added skin and stems from another grape that doesn’t have any nutrient problems.
“It’s been fermenting for a week now. So far, no off flavors,” he said.
In a blog he keeps about the AVA, he thanked neighbors for their help on that grape.
But Valla said Weber deserved special recognition for his work in creating the Upper Hudson Viticultural Area. He called Weber an “unsung hero” for his work doing all the research, collecting data to describe the climate of the area and its boundaries, and shepherding it all through state and federal bureaucracy.
The goal is to encourage more people to actually grow the fruit here, Weber said.
“We’re focusing on the farming,” he said. “Some sellers (in this region) get grapes from Napa. But people will say, ‘That’s not what I want.’ They don’t go to the Finger Lakes to buy California wine.”
From a marketing perspective, he said, buyers want a collection of wineries.
“Someone is not going to come here to visit one winery,” he said. “There’s two wineries near me now, and in the future there will be four more. The more the merrier. We could always use more fruit.”
Some wines won’t be possible, no matter how developed the vineyards get, he added.
He’s growing grapes that can survive even minus 25 Celsius (minus 13 Fahrenheit). But other grapes are far more vulnerable to cold.
“That’s why Chardonnay is not a local grape. It wouldn’t survive the winter,” he said.