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Oldest U.S. winery offers ‘crazy’ tipples

WASHINGTONVILLE (AFP) ― In a bucolic valley an hour from New York City, the oldest vineyard in the United States is producing everything from wines that end up on the White House dining table to what the chief winemaster calls “crazy” tipples.

Established in 1839 by Jean Jacques, a French Huguenot immigrant, the Brotherhood vineyard has produced wine ever since, surviving the Prohibition, thanks to a loophole for church wine, and a big fire in 1999.

The winery saw two changes of ownership around the turn of the 20th century and since 1987 has been in the hands of a group of Chilean investors, with the production headed by winemaster Cesar Baeza, who comes from the Chilean capital Santiago de Chile.

Baeza says that Brotherhood is proud of its deep roots ― and its head start over the more famous US wine in the west. “We were making wine before California became part of the United States. So there is no doubt about which is older,” he said.

Brotherhood is also linked closely to the little town of Washingtonville, population 6,000, where Jacques planted his first vines in 1837.

However, although the cellars are in Washingtonville, Brotherhood’s vineyards extend throughout the Hudson Valley, in the northern Fingers Lake area and Long Island.

“We are growing, expanding our infrastructure with construction of a fermentation cellar,” Baeza, 61, said while showing off one of the chilly chambers where the wine is left to age. “Right now we are bottling 200,000 boxes’ worth.”

Brotherhood produces high quality Riesling, Pinot Noir and Chardonnay wines, as well as sparkling wines. Some have been selected for meals at the White House. In fact, just recently a Brotherhood wine was chosen for a dinner for US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and past office holders such as Henry Kissinger.

“The chef, who comes from New York, decided to include our wine in this prestigious dinner. The truth is that we heard it turned out to be a pleasant surprise. Many people don’t know there is good quality wine so close to Manhattan.”

But tradition is not all you find at Brotherhood. Baez is also open to new ideas and he works with outsiders who have new marketing ideas but need the facilities.

One product is “Senor Sangria,” a fancy version of the popular summer drink that comes ready mixed in a bottle.

Another is Happy Bitch Wine, a brand created by Keryl Pesce, who aims at women looking to get over relationships.

“They are people who want to realize an idea, an invention. I say ‘yes’ to them. Most of the time these are products I couldn’t even imagine,” Baeza said, welcoming a light side to the usually closed world of wines.

“We are lucky to be in a very diverse market. If we exploit these niches, we will have many opportunities to develop,” said Baeza, who trained at the Universidad de Chile, University of California Davis, and also in Spain and France.
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