“Slipin Sips” is a wine column written by Staff Writer Sam Lipin (hence the title, “Slipin”). As an amateur sommelier, Sam exists deep in the world of wine, particularly natural wine, and this column seeks to share the joy he finds in fermented grapes with the rest of the world.
At this year’s Peripheral Natural Wine Festival in Hudson, N.Y., I had the pleasure of tasting more than a hundred different wines, ciders, mead and everything in between, all of which were farmed organically and made through natural winemaking techniques without additives. The day was long, and although I’ll still be recovering from my consumption by the time this piece comes out, I must fulfill my duty to report my findings. While the folks at Peripheral did include several purveyors of European wines, the fair worked to promote wines made domestically, especially those from the Hudson River Valley and the nearby Finger Lakes region.
These regions of New York State are typified by their cool climate and proximity to relatively large bodies of water that cool down the vines in the summer and warm them up in the winter. Vitis Vinifera grapes –– the “noble” varieties that hail from Europe, such as Pinot Noir and Chardonnay –– were first cultivated in the Hudson River Valley and the Finger Lakes region. In this manner, the wines of this region seek to be compared to those of similarly cold regions, namely Germany and northern France.
Even as climate change has worked in the favor of these regions, the wines that impressed me the most were not those imitations of European wines, but wines made from hybrid and indigenous grape varieties. Hybrid grapes are made by crossing European Vitis Vinifera grape vines with those native to America. Indigenous American grape vines are far more resistant to the harmful effects of freezing temperatures and fungal pressure, the two biggest plights for Vinifera around the world. Using hybrid grapes allows winegrowers to plant vineyards in even the coldest of climates.
To make sure we’re on the same page, I will list some of the more popular grapes of this sort: Niagara, Catawba and Concord for the indigenous varietals; Frontenac Noir, la Crescent, Seyval Blanc and Itasca for the hybrids. The wines are typified by their rip-your-face-off acid, low body and alcohol content and prominent jammy fruit aromas mixed with a healthy dose of mossy wilderness. We’ve already talked about the natural wine producers in Vermont, many of which champion aforementioned hybrid varieties, so allow me to now introduce you to some pioneering natural hybrid wine producers of the Empire State.
Hudson Chatham Winery: I first tasted their wine at last year’s fair and was absolutely wowed, so much so that I begged them to come to the Vermont Wine Fair 2022 hosted by Schmetterling Wine Shop. Steven Rosario and his husband Justen Nickell bought a small winery in Ghent, N.Y., in 2020 and began transitioning the land and wine from a conventional methodology to a regenerative, more natural-leaning style. The couple recently uprooted a large chunk of their wines to make way for 2,000 new plantings, choosing to start anew and leave the land’s chemical-strewn past behind them. The wines they have made during the last three vintages have been sourced from organic vineyards in the Hudson Valley and Finger Lakes, and boy, do they sing! Rosario and Nickell display incredible creativity when it comes to wine, allowing their wines to be driven by taste rather than some purist ideal for what hybrid wines should be. While their simple, single variety wines are impressive, my favorite bottle of theirs is petillant natural (sparkling wine made naturally without the addition of commercial yeast or table sugar like they do in large production champagne) containing Seyval Blanc, Hudson Valley peaches and nectarines, as well as local hops. I mean… hello!
Wild Arc Farm: Across the Hudson and an hour south from Hudson Chatham Winery lies the biodynamic, permaculture-focused farm run by long-time Brooklynites Todd and Crystal Cavallo. Beyond making delicious wine using hybrids, Vitis vinifera and ingenious varieties alike, Wild Arc Farm has committed itself to building more sustainable and equitable food systems in the Hudson Valley and the greater New York State area. Two issues they are focusing on are a reduced overtime threshold for farmworkers and the transition of some of their cuvees to more sustainable bottling options, like canned wines. I tasted their canned Concord wine and was pleasantly surprised — it tasted of fresh black currant jam one might put on French toast. Other beloved wines we tasted included their 2022 Qamar Al-din, a skin contact co-ferment of the Cornell hybrid Aromella and Riesling, and their 2022 Blackbird, a co-ferment of Noiret and Riesling.
Chertok Wines: Lastly, returning back home to Vermont, we have the grape and apple wines of Max Rose. Hailing from Shoreham, Rose’s goal has always been to supply the market with affordable New England wines made naturally through organic farm practices and low-intervention winemaking. Natural Vermont wines tend to demand a pretty penny, often costing between $35 and $60 per bottle, but Rose has been steadfast in selling his wines for around $25. All of his wines are made by co-fermenting estate-grown apples with hybrid grape varieties, creating an easy-drinking wine for any palette. Of the three winemakers mentioned in this article, Chertok wines are the easiest to find; you can get them at the Hare and the Dog in Middlebury.
Lest I ramble on and on, I’ll cease here. For those interested in attending a wine fair near you, I would recommend looking into the RAW Wine festivals. Flouting a much more international lineup than Peripheral, RAW wine is the chief event space for natural wine exploration in the world. Check them out in New York (Nov. 12–13), Toronto (Nov. 15) and Montreal (Nov. 18–19).
Sam Lipin '23.5 returns this fall for his third semester as an editor for the Sports section. A Classics major with an Italian minor, Sam worked as a reporting intern this summer at the Addison Independent. He has hosted four radio shows through WRMC and tells his friends he plays rugby though he has not been to a practice in a year and a half.