Special occasions always seem to bring about special outings, don’t they? Well, at least within my inner circle they do. This time, the special occasion was my birthday. The special outing: a two-hour trail on horseback, followed by a visit to the Warwick Valley Winery & Distillery in Warwick, N.Y. for wine tasting and a casual lunch.
Fifty miles outside of New York City, the Warwick Valley Winery & Distillery seemed like the perfect place to experience some local food and drink produced right in our backyard, so to speak, while supporting the New York wine industry, which is one that has been blossoming over the past decade.
The number of new wineries in the state since 2000 exceeded the total number of wineries that have opened in the previous 170 years, many of which are located in nontraditional regions of the state, according to a study conducted by the New York Agricultural Statistics Service. (As of Dec. 31, 2010, there were 303 wineries in the state according to the New York Wine & Grape Foundation.) Here are some other impressive numbers: Nearly 5 million tourists visited New York wineries in 2008, according to the latest study done by Napa Valley-based Stonebridge Research Group on the New York wine industry, and wine sales amounted to over $500 million.
If the crowd at the winery was any indication for the continued growth of the industry on that October Sunday, the outlook is bright.
There was a live band playing at the entrance to the main house, hayrides were in session and the smell from a large barbeque next to the outdoor patio brought back summer memories. The winery’s Pané Bakery Café, featuring menu items made with locally grown fruits and vegetables, was packed, but worth the wait. The lobster roll and pulled pork sandwich were among my favorite dishes.
Nestled on 60 acres of orchards and farmland—growing 20 varieties of apples and pears—the winery sits in the middle of the historic “Black Dirt” farming area, known for its dark, rich soil; this region was once called “the drowned lands.” It consists of the remains of a shallow lake formed as the last glaciers in the area melted away some 12,000 years ago.
Warwick Valley Winery produces a variety of red (one notably named “Black Dirt”), white and blush wines, Doc’s Hard Cider—ranked among the top 5 ciders in the world by The New York Times—and fruit ports, brandies and cordials using an imported German steam bath still.
Inside, two tasting stations were set up and we were able to sample a selection of wines, ciders and brandies before making our purchases. In fact, the winery was the recipient of a New York State grant to develop the state’s first fruit brandies in 2001, it says. They were a hot seller that day, but I was lucky enough to get my hands on one of the last bottles of pear brandy. I’m feeling another spirited cocktail party coming on—a sweet one.