Monday, June 11, 2012

The Little Wine Bus on the Hudson River

"Is this the Little Wine Bus?"
"Yes, but I am not done decorating. We will be boarding in a few minutes."

And so we were introduced to our weekend adventure. Looking for something fun to do with our Memorial Day weekend, we stumbled across The Little Wine Bus. We've had mixed luck with wine buses in the past, but we hoped that the promise of "little" tour would help ensure a good time. So we dragged ourselves to Times Square early on a Saturday morning to try to find our bus among the long line of tour buses coming and going. We got there a few minutes early. After disturbing our tour guide Tania, as she was putting up last minute decorations, we waited off to the side, watching the crowds wander by, and our fellow tour-mates slowly gather. It was a fun mix; a bachelor-ette party, several groups of friends, a handful of couples, and even some families entertaining out of town visitors. Tania directed us to our seats, ensuring that the large groups got a seat together, and then we settled in for the not-so-long ride through the strip malls of New Jersey to the rolling hills of the Catskills, and the wineries of the Hudson Valley.

The Bus, decorated with all things WINE

A barrel at Brotherhood Winery

Our first stop was Brotherhood Winery. The oldest continually operating winery in the US, Brotherhood was the only winery allowed to stay open during Prohibition (it was founded to make sacramental wine and was given dispensation to keep producing it for churches). As we drove through the small suburban town of Washingtonville, it was hard to imagine it was the home of a winery. We learned that while their current location was the home of the original vineyard and wine cellar, these days they grow their grapes further north, leaving just a handful of vines on site to remind visitors that they still do grow their own grapes-- even if they can't afford the cost of farmland in the middle of town. 

Although are group was sizable, we were offered a tour through the original winemaking facility, a cellar built in 1839 and still used to this day to age their wines. This was the most interesting part of the trip for me, since we don't often have the chance to see how the wine is made, and we had never seen a facility with this sort of history. Following the cellar tour, our tour group packed into Brotherhood's tasting room and enjoyed an interesting selection of their wines, including their Semi-Dry Riesling, famous for being the wine selected to represent New York State at the White House. It was a short stop, so we didn't have much chance to check out the gift shop or cafe before we all hustled back onto the bus, to wander through the hills to our next stop.

In the cellar at Brotherhood, a barrel labeled with info on its contents.
Our second stop was at the Bud Break Festival at Benmarl Winery. The flowers on the grape vines have finally given way to the first hints of fruits for the season, and it was time for wine makers to celebrate. This family run vineyard invited the community to join them, setting up a tent for their tastings, and offering live music and food. Here, our tour group broke up and had a chance to enjoy some wines at our own pace. There were several booths set up, offering up tastings of the various wines, along with some sangria, that we could wander to at our leisure, and even come back to if we enjoyed a particular wine enough. It was nice and relaxing, and let us enjoy each tasting that much more, though we did not get to learn as much info about each wine. Over the course of an hour or so, we wandered to each table, trying all the wines, taking a break to eat a quick lunch and enjoy the gorgeous views over the Hudson Valley. The lunch was provided as part of The Little Wine Bus tour and included sandwiches, pasta salad, lettuce salad, dessert, and bottled water--delicious and more satisfying than we expected from lunch included with a tour ticket. It was wonderful to see the family atmosphere mirrored from the family running the winery, tasting, and even the ice cream booth, to the families gathered along the overlook enjoying picnic lunches along with their wine tasting.
Grapes just showing their buds at Benmarl

The view from Benmarl

A glass of red wine, taken al fresco at Benmarl

Our last stop was something completely different. Glorie Farm Winery is something we have been talking about a lot recently in other stories: the combination of winery and active farm. We took some time to speak with the owner, Doug Glorie, and learned quite a bit about why he chose to approach wine making in this way. By this time of the day, it was hard to really get a good sense of his wine, as the crowd was getting both rambunctious and overtired from the hot, humid day, but we managed to get his recommendation on a bottle to bring home--his 2010 Synergy, a bordeaux-style red blend--which we look forward to opening soon to enjoy the memory of a wonderful day.

Glorie Farm, on top of a hill.

The wineries we visited were top notch, we had a great day. We mentioned before that we don't often love the large wine tours: the little wine bus was the perfect size for us, it didn't get to rowdy, nor did we feel like a factory tour. Tania, our host, worked nonstop to create a fun experience for all. Recommended as an easy getaway to wine country without needing a car.

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