I was recently in upstate NY (where I grew up) to visit my family and attend a few events. As I was driving along one of the main roads out to my parents house, I noticed a sign along the road for a winery. I almost turned around to drive by it again because I thought I must have misread the sign. I had no idea that there were wineries in this area. I was giddy and intrigued and rushed home to look for the website, which I found. Amici Vineyards is located in southern Washington County near Valley Falls NY (about a half hour north of Albany, NY). I emailed the owner and winemaker, Joe Messina, and made an appointment for a tasting.
We had a great time on our visit! My sister-in-law, who is also a wine lover, joined me on this adventure and we loved it. Mr. Messina could not have been more welcoming and gracious. He took us on a tour of the vineyards and shared with us the trials and tribulations of owning a winery. He goes to great lengths to be as natural and resourceful in his business. For example, he has a group of chickens that live in the vineyard to assist in pest control. He also makes his own trellises by hand from wood found nearby. His gorgeous winery dog helps take care of the chickens by scaring away any predators. This allows Amici to avoid using pesticides on the vines, thus keeping the wines as true to the terroir of the area as he can.
He has recently planted the cold-weather friendly Marquette varietal, which is a cousin of Pinot Noir. This “cold hardy” grape was developed by the University of Minnesota and was designed to endure cold winters. Those vines are young so I will have to wait until future visit to try this innovative wine.
After a tour of the vineyards, we saw the winemaking facility and did some barrel tasting. This is a small operation and it was really interesting to learn about Mr. Messina’s winemaking techniques, which are naturally going to differ considerably from a large scale winery in California. We tasted from the barrel a white wine from the Cornell developed grape called Cayuga. This wine was full bodied with crisp acidity (no malolactic fermentation was used on any of the wines we tried). The Cab Franc, which has been in the barrel for nine months was a light and elegant wine. It could use some more time in the barrel, but it was a nice wine in spite of a rough 2011 vintage (a hurricane devastated 85% of the crop from that year which is highly unusual for upstate NY).
Next we went upstairs to the tasting room which was welcoming and quaint. Amici Vineyards has a relationship with a winery in the North Fork of Long Island, Lieb Family Cellars, so we tasted wines from that property as well.
The Amici wines were very enjoyable. The 2010 Cayuga was made in the dry style which is uncommon for the varietal. I was most impressed by the Cabernet Franc wines made by Amici. The 2010 version was considerably more mellow and smooth after the additional year in the bottle (we tried the 2011 from the barrel), and Amici also made a 2010 Reserve Cabernet Franc which I just loved. This wine was elegant and smooth with a lovely nose. This visit was very inspiring in that I really think that good wine can be made anywhere.
If you are in the Albany area and looking for a fun afternoon activity on the weekend, I highly recommend taking a drive out to Amici Vineyards. Take a stroll through the vineyards, meet the chickens and try some locally made wines.