On a wintery February morning, I took the Metro-North from Grand Central Station up to Poughkeepsie to spend the day at Millbook Vineyards & Winery. Having never ventured to this part of upstate New York before and wanting to learn more about New York’s wine industry, I excitedly accepted the unique invitation to attend MillBrook Vineyards & Winery’s final installment of their Winegrowing Boot Camp.
This was the first year Millbrook Vineyards ran the B0ot Camp, and with much success they introduced a six part experiential series that admits up to 20 students to learn about viticulture and winemaking first hand. The students are instructed by the winery’s VP of Winemaking and Vineyard Management John Graziano. The Bootcamp experience culminated in the bottling of the Tocai Friulano variety, which the Boot Camp participants helped grow and make throughout the past year. Before I detail the bottling of the wine event, let me provide an overview of the program from the beginning as it is quite a thoughtful and comprehensive curriculum.
In the spring, the participants are initiated into the Boot Camp with a lesson on vine pruning and tying during their fist visit. This is an important step in winemaking, as vintners must test the bud mortality, which means assessing how many dead or live buds there are on the vine. Pruning vines is essential in producing balanced and productive vines. Once the pruning of the vines and canes is complete, the vines are tied to the trellises to help concentrate the flavoring of the fruit. The buds have quite the difficult task of surviving the winter in upstate New York. Millbrook Vineyards is about 800 feet above sea level, which can lead to temperatures dropping to 8 below. The Tocai Friulano variety was originally chosen to be planted at Millbrook Vineyards for its stamina in the New York climate as it originates from Northeast Italy near the Alps.
During the bud break, the campers visit their vines to see how the buds survived the cold winter. About a month later, an integral part of the vine growing process takes place as the campers are instructed on vertical shoot positioning. This is where the vines are adjusted to ensure maximum sun exposure. By arranging the shoots vertically and separately, this avoids leaf overlap which can hinder the process of photosynthesis. In July, about a month after the shoot positioning, the campers will try to expedite the fruit ripening process via leaf pulling. This requires a delicate balance as too much sun exposure can lead to overripe grapes, whereas not enough sun exposure will result in tart and underripe flavors.
Perhaps the most celebratory installment of the Millbrook Vineyards Boot Camp is the Grape Harvest and Harvest Party that takes place during the Fall. It is also the most laborious session as each participant must pick the Tocai Friulano grapes from their vines, load the baskets and then dump them into the grape press. After the crushing, at the Harvest Party celebration, the participants revel in a few glasses of the distinctive Millbrook Vineyards wines as they toast their hard work and learnings from the year.
This brings us to the last session, the Bottling of the Tocai Friulano variety. Upon arriving at the winery, the General Manager David Bova gave me a tour of the wine cellars and bottling area. He provided a greatly detailed overview of Millbrook Vineyards & Winery and its history. The winery was originally founded by him and his brother-in-law John Dyson, back in 1985. They converted a 130-acre dairy farm into the present day winery. Thanks to the lands’ previous life as a dairy farm, it cultivated a nutrient rich soil that has helped in the development of the flavorful and productive vines. Each year, the winery produces over 15,000 cases of wines and of the total estate, 32 acres are planted with the Chardonnay, Tocai Friulano, Riesling, Pinot Noir, and Cabernet Franc varietals. Millbrook Winery distributes their wine in Dutchess County, Connecticut and Massachusetts. Their distributor, Winebow, sells Millbrook in all the rest of New York State, New York City and New Jersey. Then as part of the Millbrook Winery family, they own other properties including Pebble Ridge Vineyards in the Central Coast, California; Villa Pillo Estate in Tuscany, Italy; and Williams Selyem in the Russian River Valley.
The graduates of the Bootcamp bottled their wine with their custom designed labels and boxed up their year-long work in 2 cases. The campers cheered each other on as each had their turn at the end of the bottling conveyor belt. The jovial mood carried over to lunch as David Bova, John Graziano and the staff at Milbrook Vineyards toasted the campers on their graduation.
We had lunch in the top floor of the former dairy barn and I enjoyed getting to speak to the campers about their experience in the program. Unanimously everyone agreed they would like to come back for the 2nd annual Boot Camp as they learned an incredible amount from John Graziano and his team. They also felt very accomplished to have partaken in every step of the winemaking process in creating the final Tocai Friulano product. The camp served as a great outlet for many of the Boot Campers from their regular 9-5 professions. One of the campers enjoyed bringing his son to the Harvest Party as they bonded over harvesting and collecting the grapes, that he even wants to plant a couple of vines in his own backyard to start practicing his own wine production. I encourage you to visit this exceptional winery in the Hudson River region as the extremely hospitable staff, commanding grounds, and flavorful wines do not disappoint.
To learn more about Millbrook Vineyards & Winery click here. If you would like to register for the Boot Camp, it commences on Saturday, April 13th, and you can RSVP by calling (800) 662-9463 ext. 17 or contacting Marketing Director Stacy Hudson at [email protected].