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Dutchess Is Crafty

by Kathryn Boughton

The times they are a’changin.’ Where cows once dotted hillsides throughout Dutchess County, the new face of agriculture no longer has a moist nose or dewy eyes. Grapes now ripen in the sunshine, developing the rich flavors that create distinctive wines. At the same time corn, rye and wheat await their transformation into distilled spirits and brewmasters create unique beers and ales.

New York State has become one of this country’s leading producers of locally developed beverages. The state now ranks third in the country for wine production and fourth in the number of wineries. At the same time, the number of craft distilleries has grown from just five 10 years ago to 65 today. More than 300 breweries call the state home and recent data suggests an almost 60 percent industry growth statewide, generating more than $3.5 billion.

Ron Hicks, assistant county executive for Dutchess County, said, “For many years we have had wineries, but we have just seen an explosion in craft brewing and distilling.”

He cited the Taconic Distillery at 179 Bowen Road, Stanfordville, which recently opened, and the Millbrook Distillery, currently before the Amenia Planning Board.

“It’s a growing industry,” he said. “People have always created (alcoholic) beverages here—there was a lot made during the Prohibition and Dutch Schultz manufactured moonshine on the Dutch Spirits site in Pine Plains. Now a Millennial-class individual has decided to recreate history and bring back the whole operation.”

In Poughkeepsie, Mill House Brewery owners Jamie Bishop and Larry Stock have gone from a local brew pub to taking over an empty industrial space and distributing their product in cans that are sent as far away as England, Hicks said.

Referring to the new kind of entrepreneur, Hicks said, “The people involved are all well-educated—you see the Millennial class doing this.”

As business people, the Millennial impresarios are alert to the growing desire for locally sourced foods. “The culture shift of people wanting to source locally is very strong here,” Hicks said. “People want more control over the ingredients in what they eat. The craft beverage producers are focused on making high-quality products and on local sourcing, which helps the farmers.”

There are also spin-off businesses. For example, the region is home to Dutchess Hop in Langrangeville, the first commercial hop farm in the Hudson Valley. It fills a void that Carmine Istvan, owner of Eastern View Nursery, saw in the fast-growing craft beer industry.

And Hicks said the region will soon have a cooperage specializing in making barrels for the beverage industry.

While many of these businesses are new endeavors, the idea of specialty beverages is not new. Among the veterans in the field is Clinton Vineyards in Clinton Corners, which is celebrating its 40th anniversary. Ben Feder, an artist who purchased a former beef cattle farm and “decided it would be nice to grow grapes,” started it in 1976, according to his widow, Phyllis Feder. Today, Mrs. Feder owns the vineyard and, at age 81, is the oldest female vineyard owner in New York State and possibly in the country.

Under the Feders’ direction, the vineyard has grown and diversified. “We had our first harvest in 1978, producing Seyval Blanc,” Mrs. Feder recounted. Then Ben Feder later went to France, where he learned to make Méthode Champenoise sparkling wines.

The Feders were ever-open to new creations. “We decided to make Cassis,” recounted Mrs. Feder. “We knew there would be stiff competition but we chose to move forward and made an exceptional product. We expanded our portfolio considerably after 1988. It was a matter of what intrigued us. We were not the bean-counter type of couple; we did things we would enjoy drinking and that we thought our customers would like.”

Her husband is gone now, but Mrs. Feder’s enthusiasm has not waned. She continues to introduce new products—Pinot Noir, this time. “In the last three years, we have been trying some new vines,” she said. “I decided a Riesling and a Pinot Noir would be nice additions.

We’re now transitioning to vinifera (the Old World grape used in many European wines), but we will have to allow three years to get any meaningful amount of fruit.

“The real challenge is the weather and certain varieties of grapes that are not as hardy in this climate,” she continued. “That is one reason my husband chose Seyval Blanc—it’s very hardy and adaptable and makes wonderful wines. But there are people who look down on hybrid grapes—my husband called them Vinifera racists. These are the people who believe only in Vinefera. But it’s tough to grow, so many in the Hudson Valley use hybrid grapes and make nice wines.”

Clinton Vineyards, which welcomes visitors, is also launching a new website. On April 15th it will celebrate a tax-free day to take some of the sting out of customers having to pay income tax that day and May 6th will bring a mini-farmers’ market featuring artisanal foodstuffs from local producers.

Other successful craft enterprises located in Dutchess include:

Dutch’s Spirits in Pine Plains, co-founded by Ariel Schlein and Alex Adams in a moonshine-making distillery that pays homage to its Prohibition-era roots.

Denning’s Point Distillery in Beacon, located in a historic 19th-century building in downtown Beacon, which produces bourbon, whiskey, gin, and vodka made from locally-sourced ingredients.

Mill House Brewery in Poughkeepsie, which has formulated 35 different beers in its four-year history, with a focus on local sourcing.

Cascade Mountain Winery, also a veteran of the craft beverage industry, is one that has not forgotten how to have a good time. The vineyard hosts Summertide in July, a three-night music, food and wine festival featuring the best of the Hudson Valley.