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A Family Vineyard Takes Root

Rural Intelligence FoodA lot of deskbound urban executives dream of one day owning a vineyard, but few pursue the dream as studiously as Carlo DeVito, owner with his wife Dominique of the Hudson-Chatham Winery.  Instead of building castles in the air, DeVito, Editorial Director of Sterling Publishing (“We all,” he says ruefully of the vineyard-owning set, “seem to have day jobs,”), wrote a book, East Coast Wineries, a Complete Guide from Maine to Virginia (Rutgers University Press).  “That helped me decide on the Hudson Valley,” he says.  “I wanted to be in New York State because they are making some great wines here. And the Valley is gorgeous, very fertile.  Besides I’ve always lived near water.” 

In February ‘06, the DeVitos, who have twin sons Dylan (left in photo) and Dawson, now ten, closed on a fourteen-acre farm in Ghent.  That May, they put in three acres of grapes, with the intention of adding two or three acres each year.  Alas, the first year’s backbreaking labor met with heartbreak last year: an entire year’s growth was lost to deer.  Now surrounded by an electrified fence (“Not how we imagined it, but…”), the vines are on their way again.  “It’s one step forward, one step back,” Carlo says.

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One giant step forward from the start was discovering Ralph Cooley III, a neighbor whose grandfather Ralph Cooley I, had run a dairy farm, Brisklea, where the DeVito’s now live and work.  “When we moved here, someone recommended that we contact Ralph to help with the farming,” says Dominique.  “So we called him, and he and Carlo hit it off.  He is now our farm manager. It’s nice that a family that was historically in farming has reconnected with the agricultural life.”   

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“We do not have any estate wines at this time,” Carlo says.  Even without last year’s setback, it would have taken three summers before they could make wine from their own grapes, a milestone they hope to achieve next fall.  Meanwhile, they bring fruit and juice from vineyards around the state to their own wine-making facility, where they then finish the wines—everything from further fermentation to blending, bottling, and packaging.  Steve Casscles, a Greene County resident who has won multiple awards in amateur winemaking competitions, is a consultant and one of the suppliers of grapes.  They will continue this practice even after their own vines are mature enough to yield a crop. “There are parts of the state that excel at certain styles of wine—Riesling in the Finger Lakes, Merlot on Long Island,” he says. “In the Hudson Valley, it’s Baco Noir and Seyval Blanc. We just bottled some Baco Noir from the Casscles Vineyard in Athens.” 

After spending two summers at the farm, Dominique DeVito and the twins finally pulled up stakes in Freehold, NJ and moved to Columbia County full time.  At the winery, Dominique’s charming shop specializes in artisanal food products from local cheesemakers, sugarmakers, and chocolatiers.  Yet even with all these fabulous treats so close at hand, when it comes to seeking a reward for the boys, who attend Chatham Middle School and help in the vineyard when they are not too busy kicking a soccar ball around,  “We con them by promising Dairy Queen,” Dominique says. Among the many chores: mashing the fermenting grapes with a baseball bat (photo above).
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Hudson-Chatham Wines are available at several Columbia County outlets—East Chatham Wine & Spirits, Kinderhook Wine & Spirits, Fairview Wines & Spirits in Hudson, and, of course, at the Hudson-Chatham Vineyard store.  “We also do lots of special events,” says Dominique.  One coming up next month: A Psychic Fair with tarot-card readings.  The DeVitos themselves no doubt will be hoping for a glowing prediction for next year’s crop. 

Hudson-Chatham Winery
1900 Route 66, Ghent 518.392.WINE (9463)

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Posted by Marilyn Bethany on 09/23/08 at 05:09 AM • Permalink