ValleyTable article on the Heritage Wine Project

The Hudson Valley Heritage Wine Project Documents Local, Sustainable Varieties

J. Stephen Casscles brings over 45 years of experience growing heritage grape varietals to Milea Estate Vineyard in Staatsburg.

By Raphael Beretta

He himself owns a farm in Athens, called Cedar Cliff. On 12 scenic acres, he cultivates more than a hundred rare varietals.

“I have been growing French-American hybrids since I was 14 years old and when I started working at Benmarl Vineyards around 1974,” Casscles says. He wrote Grapes of the Hudson Valley and Other Cool Climate Regions of the United States and Canada (2015), the result of a decade-long effort.

This text chronicles the history of the fruit-growing industry in this region. In addition, the author details over 170 grape varieties arranged by breeder. The book provides important historical context on the breeders’ families and their goals for hybridizing. Casscles became fascinated by hybrids, as they are much easier to grow here. In addition, the resulting wines reach a higher quality than vinifera (common Old World varieties) would in this region.

“Almost every grape that is covered in the book I either grew or knew a grower who grew them and made wine from them.  On my tasting notes, I keep a list of all my notes for wines tasted, so I organized those binders (about 15 of them) by grape variety. So, I could see what common descriptors would be for a grape variety, how they aged, and the kinds of wines that I made from them,” he explains…