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Valley Table interview with Clinton Vineyards, Phyllis Feder

Valley Table interview with Clinton Vineyards, Phyllis Feder

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Published by Debbie Gioquindo
The Valley Table interview with Clinton Vineyards, Phyllis Feder
The Valley Table interview with Clinton Vineyards, Phyllis Feder

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Published by: Debbie Gioquindo on Feb 04, 2013
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44
THEVALLEYTABLEDECEMBER
2011 – 
FEBRUARY 
2012
VALLEYTABLEPHOTOS
Seyval Blanc isn’t exactly a household name, evenamong wine lovers. A French-hybrid grape (that happens to grow especially well in the HudsonValley) captured the heart of Ben Feder, an artist, chef,businessman-turned-winemaker, who devoted hisentire vineyard in Clinton Corners to Seyval Blanc.You might say the next thing that captured Feder’sheart was Phyllis, his wife, who joined him in hisvineyard venture in 1988. The two made a formidableteam, transforming their 100-acre vineyard estate inthe Hudson Valley in the tradition of a small Frenchestate, producing the most romantic of wines(including one named Romance), championing aHudson Valley Wine Country brand and winning converts to Seyval Blanc. Since Ben’s death in 2009,Phyllis has taken the helm of the winery; productioncontinues in the careful hands of their long-timewinemaker, Chris Stuart. This summer, at the HudsonValley Wine & Spirit Competition, Clinton Vineyard’sméthode champenoise sparkling wine, Jubilee, took the honor as “Best Wine of the Hudson Valley.” 
phyllis
feder
of  
clinton
 vineyards
a valley table interview 
 about the business
 
DECEMBER
2011 – 
FEBRUARY 
2012
VALLEYTABLE 
.
COM
45 
PF
The vineyard was planted in 1974; Ben released hisfirst wine in ‘78––that was the ‘77 harvest. He won all themedals up and down the East Coast. It was a triumph forhim [even though] it was just 300 cases.The concept that Ben had (he was a Francophile) was toemulate in some way the tradition of the small estatevineyards in France, where they specialize in a singlegrape. Seyval is a French-American hybrid and a goodgrape for the Hudson Valley. The concept is, I think,intelligent; it’s based on what can grow well here. Ben wentto France and learned about
méthode champenoise
; hecame back and then did a beautiful
méthode champenoise
.And he was making a little bit of Riesling.When Ben and I got together we expanded a bit intomore of the
méthode champenoise
product and includeddessert wine.We have our Seyval Naturelle—that was the first[champagne]. Then we have Peach Gala. (That was amarvelous discovery. We had been to somebody’s housewhere they were pouring a French pink champagne—Ithink it was called Peche. We said this is pleasant but youknow, it’s weak. So we thought, let’s see what we can do.)We have another one called Royale—it’s SeyvalNaturalle with a little bit of Nuit, our wild black raspberrywine. It’s a blush—a gorgeous color. And one is Jubilee—itis really for people who say they like dry. The fellow inFrance from whom Ben learned about
méthodechampenoise
said to him, “You know, Americans
say 
theylike dry but they don’t really mean it.” However, this
is
dryand a lot of people truly love it. It’s very special.So, we were making table wine—Seyval Blanc—wewere making four
méthode champenoise
and one late-harvest Seyval we called Romance. And that was it—everything from Seyval.Enter Norman Greig, who had all those raspberries. Hehad tested an automatic harvester for the raspberries andbefore they knew it they had a thousand extra pounds of raspberries. Norman came here and asked if Ben wouldconsider buying his raspberries and making a raspberrywine. And Ben said, “No no, I don’t do that. Wespecialize—we just grow our grapes to make our wine.”Finally Norman prevailed. The wine was so lovely I named itEmbrace, and everybody really enjoyed it, so the thoughtwas we’ll buy another thousand pounds. Norman said,“Fine, but you have to pick them yourself”—he didn’t buythe harvester.Then Ben sought other growers and found a couple of ladies on the other side of the river who said, “Oh, yeah, wegrow beautiful raspberries, but you should see ourblackberries.” So he said, “Okay, send me a thousandpounds of blackberries.” And then he created Desire. So wehad Romance, Embrace and Desire. We added on from that.The whole vineyard is a little bit under 14 acres—800vines strong. The other day the fellow who is working withme in the vineyard now, he said that the lines of vinesmeasured a little over 5 miles. Isn’t that curious? Maybe wecould make a competition—
How many miles of vines doyou have?
You can have a lot of money  and things still wont go forward. You need leadership,enthusiasm and the ability tobring people into the fold and  generate excitement. Withouthat there’s nothing.
 
46
THEVALLEYTABLEDECEMBER
2011 – 
FEBRUARY 
2012
Last year the growing season was phenomenal––the vinesdid very well, and this year the vineyard is lookingspectacular. I’m very worried though—we need more helpin terms of just, you know,
workers
—people who doagriculture, who go from job to job wherever they can findwork. It’s a tough world, being a farmer. I’m already startingto get a little anxious about the harvest in terms of justgetting the right crew together.In the past, we used to have all these famous fellowtravelers who’d come to pick our grapes. They would comeand pick 12 grapes before lunch, have lunch, go back andpick another 22 grapes before it was time for cocktails. Itwas a big party—we ran the biggest parties in DutchessCounty. At a certain point I said we really have to hirepeople, so that’s what we did. It would be so marvelous tohave some sort of cooperative where you had a big crewand they can go from one field to the other.
While they concentrated on developing the quality of theSeyval production (“Please don’t call it Chardonnay”), they nevertheless remained open to other possibilities. When New York State removed the ban on growing black currants, they  jumped at the opportunity to develop a black currant wine—cassis—a very limited-production product that has arguably drawn the most attention.
PF
The cassis was quite a remarkable thing. The blackcurrant plant produced an airborne rust that destroyed pinetrees—it was actually outlawed. Cornell developed a strain of black currants that were disease free, and their desire was toconvince farmers they should grow it. So they brought Bensome black currants and asked him to create something. Hedid—and it was absolutely fabulous.We had a blind tasting here—we had some wines fromtop producers in Canada, Belgium and France––and wewon, hands down. The amount that he produced then wassomething like 60 cases; when we saw how well received itwas, we went forward.If imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, then I’m veryflattered—I have my own personal thoughts about how well[other wineries] are making cassis but I don’t go there.Everybody’s palate is different. I can say that, you know,we’re the only vineyard in the United States to get a goldmedal for cassis in international competition. (When wesaid we were going to enter the Los Angeles InternationalWine Competition, a friend said, “Are you guys crazy?” Iwas standing on a corner with Ben in 1995 in San MiguelAllende and there was an article about our cassis and aphotograph in
Business Week 
––it was a wonderful thing tohave for Valentine’s Day.)
High on Feder’s list of priorities has always been the promotion and branding of the Hudson Valley, something she’s pursued through the development of Hudson Valley Wine Country, the Duthess Wine Trail, the Hudson Valley Wine and Culinary Project and as board chair of the New York Wine and Grape Foundation. Small, artisanal wine producers in the Valley don’t have it easy. The biggest 

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