The scene: Sunshine, a mild 70 degrees, fall foliage near peak.
Driving a winding country road with the sun roof open, classic 70’s rock playing, and the fresh fall air, smelling faintly of pine and earth. A gentle breeze shakes the trees and a flurry of multicolored leaves dance in the air. Some land in the seat with me – happiness!
I’d long wanted to visit the Hudson River Valley during fall foliage season. Normally I’m not a fan of solo road trips, but I had a super cute car to drive, and it changed my perspective for the better. I was more than ready to explore the Dutchess County Wine Country.
The Hudson Valley is very agricultural, dotted with vineyards, orchards, farms, and forests. The roads can be narrow and serpentine, often hilly, so you really can’t see far ahead. What all of this means is you’ll want a comfortable and responsive car to drive, and the Mazda 3 Grand Touring vehicle fit the bill nicely for me.
One of my favorite features was the multiple adjustments for the seats. I’m a petite person and it’s always a challenge to find a car that’s actually comfortable to drive. Imagine driving on a beautiful country road with almost no one else around, in a 6-speed! It didn’t take me long to go all out.
Follow The Duchess County Wine Trail
My first stop, Millbrook Vineyards, voted a top winery in the Hudson Valley.
As I turned off Wing Road I thought, if a winery could win awards on looks alone, Millbrook had it made. The beautiful landscape had me itching to break out my camera, and I’d not had a sip of wine yet. Honestly, wine travel is where it’s at – it effortlessly satisfies all five senses. And even if you don’t love wine, the scenery is always stellar.
The harvest was still underway and the vines were heavy with fruit and yellow, gold and orange leaves. The sky was dark with rain clouds, and smells of earth and fruit filled the air. I could have stayed there for hours just soaking up the colors and smells – and photographing everything, of course!
Located on the site of a former dairy farm, Millbrook has thirty acres devoted to wine grapes: Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, Cabernet France, and an Italian varietal called Tocai Friulano.
Millbrook was the first winery in the United States to plant the tocai friulano grape. I’d never heard of this grape before. I do love anything Italian and the Tocai Friulano was no exception. It has the pronounced minerality typical of Italian wines. The 2013 Tocai Friulano Proprietor’s Special Reserve was a gold medal winner in the NY Food and Wine competition.
My tasting was hosted by Jackie, who really knows her stuff. Not only that, but she’s fun and vivacious. I had one of the most informative tastings ever. A graduate of the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, Jackie spent three weeks in Italy as part of her education. My kind of girl!
Dedicated to growing only grapes that are suited for the soil and climate of the region, Millbrook wines have received accolades from top publications such as: Wine Spectator, The New York Times, The New York Daily News, Robert Parker’s Wine Advocate, and Bon Appetit.
Millbrook also sources grapes from their vineyards in California and Italy. Several wines from the Pebble Ridge Vineyards on California’s central coast are included in the portfolio tasting.
Millbrook is open daily from 12:00 – 5:00 p.m. Do check the website for updates.
My second stop on the Dutchess County wine trail was the award-winning and extremely picturesque Clinton Vineyards. The owner, Phyllis Feder, was busy preparing for a busload of wine and food writers when I arrived but generously spent time sharing about what makes Clinton Vineyards special.
Ben Feder (founder of Clinton Vineyards and Phyllis’ late husband), was a renowned artist who dreamed of having a world-class winery in the Hudson Valley but understood that the climate was somewhat limiting. He chose to specialize in the Seyval grape, which could withstand the Hudson Valley winters.
“Our mission is to emulate the tradition, quality, and passion of small estate vineyards in France. Happily, wine drinkers around the globe tell us we’ve succeeded.”
— Phyllis Feder, Owner, Clinton Vineyards
The first vintage of Seyval Blanc was an instant success. From there Ben went to France and studied at the famous Bollinger Vineyards, where he learned to produce champagne in the traditional French methode champagnoise.
Clinton Vineyards specializes in producing single grape wines all estate bottled from the Seyval, another grape I’d never heard of before. (This is another thing I love about wine: there’s always something new).
Phyllis is a very warm person, easy to talk to and I felt as though I was with a good friend right away. My comfort level increased when she had me pour my own tasting. Has that ever happened to you?
I tasted the Jubilee Champagne and the 2012 and 2013 Victory White. Tasting different vintages of the same wine is great way to learn that there is more to winemaking than growing grapes!! Though each wine I tasted was made from the Seyval grape, they each had their own unique aromas, flavors, and nuances.
Clinton Vineyards also produces exceptional dessert wines, and their Cassis has won many awards. It would make a divine Kir Royal mixed with one of the champagnes.
I think my favorite memory from Clinton Vineyards was a story that Phyllis shared with me. She told me when Ben proposed to her she said, “Yes, I’ll marry you, but I have one caveat, you have to change the color of the label.” Though Ben was an accomplished artist, he trusted her judgment, as Phyllis was quite accomplished in design herself, having worked for a prestigious New York firm. That original color can be seen on the walls in the comfortable and elegant tasting room.
Known as the Jewel in the crown of the Hudson Valley, Clinton Vineyards is open seasonally.
Closed. Updated 2019
My last stop in Dutchess County was Clinton Cheese and Provisions. The owner is Italian-American and he loves food – cooking it, talking about it, teaching…and did I say talking? If you want to learn more about the Hudson Valley and Dutchess County foods and wines, no kidding, go talk to Erik. He knows everyone. I’d call Clinton Cheese and Provisions the local yellow pages.
A fun feature of Clinton Cheese and Provisions is the outdoor library. It’s the first thing I noticed and took a photo of. To me, it is a perfect expression of the spirit of community that I saw throughout Dutchess County.
Be sure to try some Thunderhill farm fresh eggs. I also loved the beautiful dry floral arrangements by Weeds and Willow, and bath and body products from J.R. Watkins Apothecary.
Many people probably pass by Clinton Provisions on their way to Millbrook or Clinton Vineyards, but don’t do that. Stop and get some provisions for before, during, or after your tasting – and if you are new to the area be sure and get the 411 from Erik.
My visit was sponsored by Dutchess County Tourism and Mazda. All opinions and views expressed are my own.