Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Update: Book signing, wine tasting all about HV grapes

UPDATE (10/21/15): Steve Casscles, whose book I reviewed below, will have a different sort of book signing beginning at 7 p.m. Friday, November 6, at The Book House of Stuyvesant Plaza in Guilderland. Casscles tells me that in addition to discussing and signing his  book, he will be offering a limited amount of samplings of wines made with heirloom Hudson Valley grapes -- Jefferson, Clinton, Empire State, and perhaps a cassis. A nice opportunity to meet a true expert, pick up a book, and try some wines you've never had before.

(Originally published 8/3/15)

"GRAPES OF THE HUDSON VALLEY," by J. Stephen Casscles, Flint Mine Press, 272 pages, illustrated, softcover.

As I worked my way through this heavily-researched, intensely-detailed work by a renowned Hudson Valley viticulturist and winemaker, it occurred to me that I never again will need another book on the topic.

Steve Casscles has crammed a virtual lifetime of interest, energy and expertise into a 272-page guide that should appeal to drinkers of wine, makers of wine, sellers of wine, and growers of wine grapes. And, it's not a bad little history book as well, chronicling the grapes and wines from the first days of European settlers in the Hudson Valley right through to the emergence of the region as a major modern wine producer.

Casscles is uniquely qualified to address this topic. He has worked in the field in one way or another for more than three decades, beginning in the 1970s in Middle Hope, Orange County, and Marlboro, Ulster County, when he planted his first vineyard and produced wine as a home winemaker. He has worked at Benmarl Winery, but since 2008 has been the winemaker at Hudson-Chatham Winery in Columbia County, and for the past 25 years has tended his heirloom variety vines in a four-acre vineyard called Cedar Cliff in nearby Athens. Along the way, he has become an expert in heirloom grape varieties that were first developed in New York in the 1800s, and as a lawyer working for the State Senate has had a hand in crafting numerous laws related to wine, spirits, beer and cider.

His book is replete with charts, maps, photos, biographies, diagrams, historical nuggets ... even an illustrated how-to portion that can help a reader become a winemaker. Of particular interest is a rating system defining the hardiness, disease resistance, productivity, rigor and wine quality of each type of grape, must-have information for anyone hoping to succeed in the field.

The subtitle of the book, "and Other Cool Climate Regions of the United States and Canada," is an important one because this is not a book of use only in the Hudson Valley. As the planting of cold-hardy grape varieties continues to increase in Upstate New York, Michigan, Wisconsin, southern Canada and other such areas, and the number of wineries using them continues to increase, having such a body of information in one place is priceless.

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