America’s Oldest Winery: Brotherhood!

Now, I’m completely aware that this is probably the umpteenth time you will read about Brotherhood Winery on this blog, but I’ll try my best to keep my fellow wine enthusiasts from being, well, unenthused. (As if one can be unenthusiastic about wine, hah.)

My good friend, Sara and I met at the crack of dawn in hopes that we would arrive to Washingtonville, upstate New York at the latest by noon. After two trains to 42nd street, a bus going to Hoboken, an hour long ride courtesy of Metro North via “Salisbury Mills-Cornwall,” and a 3.8 mile cab ride, we quickly realized that we signed ourselves up for quite the trek. “This would have been an easier journey if we went to JFK and flew directly to France,” we joked while waiting for the train. (In all seriousness, we could have arrived to Paris in six hours. Our trip took seven and a half.) But what could possibly be better than getting to learn about wine-making on good old American soil?

We signed up for both the winery tour and tasting, which came with an option of varietal or traditional flight– the difference being dry and sweet wines. Wanting to maximize our experience to the fullest extent, we chose one of each. $10 a head for both tour and tasting is not bad at all. In fact, this also includes a complementary wine glass which everyone gets to take home and a tasting of up to seven flights. What a package!

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Our tour began with Joanne, a lady with a very pleasant disposition and a soothing speaking voice, who just so happened to be the tour guide. Before taking us down to the museum cellar, she introduced the exterior of the winery.


Being America’s oldest winery (est. 1839) means they’ve been through the best of times and the worst of times. In 1999, an electrical fire destroyed portions of the winery including the tasting and sales room to the adjacent Grand Monarque, which has been used as a catering hall. Though Brotherhood’s fortunes suffered for quite a number of years, they’ve managed to rebuild everything using metal and other anti-flammatory materials, in order to avoid another fire.


Joanne mentioned a man named “John Jakes” -to which I later found out was actually Jean Jacques- a French Huguenot who purchased a massive piece of land in the Hudson Valley to grow his own grapes. In 1837, he bought out this space in Washingtonville, thus became the birth of Brotherhood Winery.


By 1839, the cellars were dug and it is currently the oldest operating cellar in the United States. Interestingly, Mr. Jacques also once owned a boot company in this very same space before producing his own wines. You will find boot-making contraptions as part of an exhibit in the cellar.


Brotherhood has been passed down by generations of different ownership. After making wine for 60 years, they sold the property to Jesse and Edward Emerson, who were both New York City wine merchants. It wasn’t until they took over, that this winery was named Brotherhood, all due to a project which they collaborated with an organization called “The Brotherhood of New Life.”


It was 1921 when the Farrells took over Brotherhood; it was also when Prohibition started to take place in the U.S. While most wineries/distilleries at this time were being shut down, the Farrells decided to sell “sacramental wine” for religious ceremonies in order to preserve their daily operations. It was also the Farrells who started the now popular concept of wine tourism, where they began conducting tours down in their cellar to bring attention to their own wines.


Today, Brotherhood is owned by Cesar Baeza, a wine educator, consultant, and a “master of blending.”


Since there are no vineyards in the Washingtonville location, all their grapes are directly brought out from the Finger Lakes AVA and crushed on site here in Brotherhood. This is their “demo vineyard” as a display to demonstrate grape vines during tours.


Down in the cellar are rows of 60 gallon casks, which are mainly made from white American oak. These are no longer in use because of it’s lack of practicality. Yeast would stick to the inner walls during the process of fermentation and it was an incredibly difficult task to clean for second use. Child workers were often forced to go in these casks and clean the walls with sulfur candles, allegedly.


A demonstration of Methode Champenoise / Traditionelle. The bottles are twisted by hand in Brotherhood where they produce various sparkling wines.


An old wine storage.


Down further we go!


At last! This is where they store their wines for aging. Joanne says these barrels are a mix of French and American Oak.


This reads, “Pinot Noir, April 2014, 36 Months.”


This is one out of the several chairs you will randomly find in the cellar. This is to prevent from anyone tripping over these cracks.


3:25 pm and we’ve finally made it to the wine tasting . . .


So, just a quick recap: New York ranks third among wine producing states. Our notable regions include Lake Erie AVA, the Finger Lakes AVA, the Hudson River Region AVA, and the eastern end of the Long Island AVA. While much of our production is dedicated to native American grapes such as Concord grapes, regions along the Hudson and the Finger Lakes are similar in style to German wine-making practices. Riesling is one of New York’s important grapes, along with other varietals such as Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, and Cabernet Sauvignon.


Our tasting was introduced with a Blancs de Blancs, 100% Chardonnay, N.V. Sparkling Wine. Slightly dry, but soft and well rounded. Very crisp and has a pleasant mouthfeel.


This is a White House selected Riesling, chosen by the Clintons during their administration. Very floral and aromatic with a long clean finish.


“May Wine” is one of Brotherhood’s popular signature wines. A blend of fermented woodruff and strawberries. Traditionally served in Germany as a celebration of spring. It was very straightforward; almost like a liquefied strawberry jam. A little too sweet for my palette, but perhaps those with a sweet-tooth may enjoy this wine.


Aaaand how could I forget the Brotherhood Ruby Port!?! This was my favorite out of everything we tasted. Full bodied and velvety smooth with strong notes of ripe berries.


To conclude the tasting, Joanne personally thanked everyone in the group and guided us to the cashier who wrapped our little gift to take home. It was almost 4:30 pm and we had a long way back to our natural habitat, otherwise known as the concrete jungle. Sure, if we had a choice between closing our eyes and tapping our heels three times vs. riding the Metro North again back to Hoboken, we would choose the easy way back. But how can anyone complain with belly full of good wine and a day full of brand new experiences . . .

Australian Dessert Wines!

I recently dined at the Gramercy Tavern (42nd E 20th St) as part of my service analysis project for Dining Room Operations. Now, I know we haven’t really had a chance to explore Australian wines but I thought I should share this with my fellow wine enthusiasts.

During our final course of the spring tasting menu, our server Ana gifted us a glass of 2011 Elderton Botrytis Semillon. The front label spelled out “BOTRYTIS SEMILLON” in bold letters and instantaneously I thought of Sauternes from the Bordeaux region of France. Little did I know, I looked in to the wine list and found out that this dessert wine actually comes from the Barossa Valley of Australia.

A little bit about Barossa Valley:

It’s located 40 miles northeast of Adelaide in the state of South Australia. Barossa Valley has a long tradition of winemaking dating back to the 1840s and is one of the most important Australian wine regions. Although this region is largely known for their red grape varietals (e.g., Shiraz, Grenache, Mourvèdre a.k.a. Mataro in AU), the more cooler climates in the higher elevation allow for production of such wines as botrytised Semillon.

A deep gold in color, offering rich and opulent aromas, this bursts with honeyed pineapples, hazelnut, and creme brûlée flavors that come together seamlessly on the long and expressive finish. Evocative of a good Sauternes.”, says Wine Spectator.

My instincts weren’t entirely wrong after all.

This wine was very delicious; about $20+ for a bottle sold in retail; more expensive if you order it by the glass at a restaurant. Regardless, I had a sensational experience at the Gramercy Tavern and I highly recommend this wine.

2011 Elderton Semillon at the Gramercy Tavern;jsessionid=91576D0441B93EFE6A76AA9A7CDF4429.ncdlmorasp1306?bmUID=klJwnLB

Crush Wine and Spirits

Crush Wine and Spirits is anything but pretentious. The exterior of the store is so modest, you would never assume that past the automatic door is a 3,200 square foot space housing an array of carefully selected wines. Located on east 57th street, Crush is a Midtown gem that has been around for almost ten years. If the name Drew Nieporent doesn’t strike to you, then perhaps you should look into just a few of his restaurants (i.e, Tribecca Grill, Nobu, Corton.) He also happens to be the owner of this wine store along with managing partners Josh Guberman and experienced wine collector Robert Schagrin.

The design of this store is what makes this wine shop so special. Still wines to the right. Everything else to the left. (Sparking, sake, spirits, decanters, wine glasses, books, etc.) If you go further to the back is a private wine tasting room -which looks more like a private conference space- nicely upholstered with leather and mahogany. And adjacent to that is a temperature controlled room known as, “The Cube” where high-end rare finds are nicely tucked away behind a glass wall.

In the middle of the room are four to five stations where the salespersons anchor themselves to answering calls, handling online orders, and keeping an eye out for any patrons who need help being guided through the store. And even further to the back was a private office where a few more employees seem to be on their laptops. I didn’t understand why a midsize wine store required so many employees on site, as I witnessed one girl who stepped out the store, came back inside and unknowing of my presence, yelled, “It’s so nice outside, you guys!” . . . to which not a single soul replied. But perhaps their business is actually a lot larger in scope than it appears.

Their wines are organized from right to left: starts with German / Alsatian then to Esoteric, Spain, and Beaujolais and towards the back, rows of Bordeaux and Burgundy blends. All displayed against a glowing back-light, the bottles are carefully placed horizontally so the labels get the recognition it deserves. From top to bottom, the price ranges go from high to low, showcasing wines anywhere from $90 all the way down to $15. If you’re on an even lower budget, Crush offers discounted specials all displayed near the entrance ranging from $9 to $12 for a bottle. Not bad at all.

On the left side of the store is a nice collection of spirits, and a small fridge with: sake on top to chilled white wines in middle, and then to your Veuve Clicquots on the bottom. You will also come across some interesting glassware and accessories. Beautiful glasses from Champagne flutes, traditional Bordeaux and Burgundy, sherry and port glasses, to even a few old fashions. A few decanters were on display, as well as wine opening sets, perfect for a gift to your wine-obsessed friends.

Now, I didn’t get to see the Cube room or step into the wine tasting room (as it appeared at the time that it was occupied) but the staff so kindly guided me through the store and I for once did not feel like I was lost in an infinite abyss of unfamiliarity. The staff were available when needed but definitely not eager or overbearing … which I personally believe is the best kind of service.

I highly recommend Crush Wine and Spirits.



How To Use Hot Tongs To Crack Open A Wine Bottle


Saw this a while back, thought I should share it for those who haven’t seen it yet. Jonathan Ross, sommelier at Eleven Madison Park demonstrates the Old World method of using heated tongs to open wine bottles.


On another note, if you have Netflix, take advantage by watching this insightful documentary:


Happy Studying!