November 2008 Issue of Wines & Vines
 
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Making Slow Wine at Stoutridge

New Hudson Valley winery-distilled uses gravity flow and solar power

 
by Hudson Cattell
 
 
Stoutridge Vineyard
 
Stoutridge Vineyard's winery is built on the site of a pre-Prohibition winery. The remaining foundation wall of Morano Winery was restored to become the front wall for the tasting room patio.
 
    Wine East HIGHLIGHTS
     

     
  • Stoutridge Vineyard's ecologically friendly design reflects Stephen Osborn's "slow winemaking" practice.
     
  • Osborn hopes drawing tourists to the New Hudson Valley will draw attention to the importance of farming.
     
  • The winery currently releases about 4,000 cases of wine per year, utilizing as little machinery as possible during winemaking.
     
Just as slow food links the pleasure of food with a commitment to the environment, slow wine focuses on making the best wine a priority while protecting the ecology and environment of a region. For Stephen Osborn at Stoutridge Vineyard in Marlboro, N.Y., speeding up the winemaking process in order to take a wine to the marketplace faster is hard on the wine and has a greater negative impact on the environment. Slow winemaking, as he practices it, involves using the gravity flow method of winemaking, and eliminating filtering.

Osborn and his wife Kimberly Wagner are also strong preservationists. When talking to visitors, Osborn is fond of saying that Stoutridge was built to last 300 years. It's his way of emphasizing that he and Wagner want to see the Hudson River Valley remain an important wine region for the foreseeable future.

Building confidence is a major concern in a wine region where land prices are high and profit margins for growers are thin. "We have to think of everything we can do to keep farmers in farming," Osborn said. "Without farmers, there is no product for us." For Osborn and Wagner, this means operating a winery economically to build profits to pay farmers what they need to stay in business. From the start they have had the twin goals of maximizing profits and slow winemaking.

In order to avoid major modifications or upgrading at a later date, the building, which houses a distillery as well as a winery, was built to last as long as the 4,000 pounds of concrete used in its construction. By building the winery into the hillside, Osborn and Wagner were able to create an energy-efficient structure that would use the earth's natural 55?F temperature to cool the winery in the summer and warm it in the winter. A 40-kilowatt Sunpower photovoltaic solar cell system was installed on the roof facing south to supply the building with 100% of its electrical needs.

The winery was built on the site of the pre-Prohibition Morano Winery. All that remains of the original structure is one foundation wall, which was carefully restored to become the front wall of the tasting room patio. Osborn was the architect, and he modeled the building on a German winery design.

Stoutridge Vineyard
 
A 40-kilowatt Sunpower photovoltaic solar cell is installed to cover half the roof of the winery at Stoutridge Vineyard. The cells supply the building with 100% of its electrical needs.
 
Another reason for building the winery into the hillside was the intention to create a gravity-flow winery and use minimalist winemaking techniques. The wine can flow from a higher tank to a lower tank rather than being driven uphill by a pump. Two chain hoists were installed--a stationary hoist that can raise a tank 12 vertical feet, providing the necessary height to allow for gravity flow to the bottling area, and a trolley hoist that can both lift a tank and move it over. The lack of turbulence in the transfer of wine from tank to tank is credited with retaining the quality of the flavor of the grapes in the finished wine.

Osborn graduated from Cornell's food science program in 1984 and subsequently spent seven years in the wine industry in California. He and Wagner purchased the farm in June 2001 and began replanting the vineyards and building the winery. The first crush was in 2006 and yielded 1,200 cases. In 2007 they made 4,500 cases, and the projected production in 2008 is 4,000 cases. The couple sees 4,000 cases as the upper limit in the future, in order to save on personnel costs. The winery already has two full-time employees, both of whom are on the vineyard side; Osborn and Wagner are the only two involved in the winemaking.

Stoutridge vineyard
 
Stoutridge Vineyard combines centuries-old traditions and high technology to reduce the environmental footprint at its Marlboro, N.Y., site.
The gravity-flow winery was designed and equipped so that one person can operate it alone. All of the tanks are on pallet lifts, and the largest contains 330 gallons, because the next larger size has thicker walls and the additional weight would make it too hard for one person to handle. In addition to the chain hoists, an elevator was installed to bring wine up to the tasting room and move equipment around.

Wines are neither filtered nor fined. A variety of yeasts is used, sometimes in combination to add complexity. Chemical additives are avoided.

Visitors sometimes express surprise when they learn Stoutridge does not have a mechanical bottling line. Osborn explained that for a winery of Stoutridge's size, manual bottling is sufficient, because they can bottle their entire production with a six-spout filler in a matter of two weeks. Bottling is the least fun part of winemaking, Osborn said, in part because the machine takes over. Hand-bottling can also avoid the frustration of something breaking down on a mechanical bottling line.

Stoutridge also has patented a three-dimensional wine label made of a soft, rubbery material. The three-dimension element follows the artistic pattern, and from the lowest point it is no more than 1-2 mm high, to avoid being marred during packaging. The new labels have been test marketed in wine stores, and customers gravitate towards those bottles and appreciate the tactile feel of the label.

Unfortunately, Osborn has been unable to find a way to cut the cost below $1 per label, making it too expensive to use on Stoutridge's regular wines. Until a way is found to lower the cost, the three-dimensional label will probably be used only on reserve wines or ice wines, and it may be used on distillery products with a higher profit margin.

Stoutridge Vineyard
 
The winery's location in a hillside keeps the building cool in the summer and warm in the winter, which is important in temperature-sensitive areas such as the barrel room.
 
The distillery is equipped with two five-plate Christian Carl pot stills and a 30-plate rectifier. Two maceration pumps with large motors have been installed to save time in mashing the grain to release the starches that the enzymes can work on. Osborn anticipates producing 6,000-8,000 cases per year from the distillery and, due to the higher profit margin, could run the business as a distillery. With land prices running much higher in the Hudson River Valley than in the Finger Lakes, he thinks there will be many more distilleries in the region in the not too distant future.

The backbone of the Stoutridge business plan is agritourism. With the exception of a few restaurants, all sales take place at the winery. New York City is only 70 miles away, and many customers are willing to make a day trip to the region. Much of the publicity for the winery comes from membership on the Shawangunk Wine Trail. During the first 18 months the tasting room has been open, 15,000 tourists have visited the winery.

Three wines with proprietary labels were placed on sale from the first vintage in 2006, which Osborn called his test vintage. Wines from five other New York wineries and a distillery are also sold at Stoutridge, as permitted by New York's farm winery law, and visitors have been asked to taste these wines along with the winery's own wines to get an idea of what wines customers are likely to want to buy. The comparison will also give Osborn an idea of how his own wines stack up. Ten wines are being made from the 2007 vintage. Visitors are charged $5 to taste five wines, and they get to keep the glass.

Stoutridge Vineyard
 
The elevator installed at Stoutridge Vineyard hauls wine up to the tasting room, which is large enough to accommodate a busload of visitors.
 
Stoutridge has 11 acres of grapes--3 acres of Riesling, 2 of Sangiovese, 1.5 acres each of Pinot Noir and Refosco, 1 acre of Teroldego, a northern Italian red grape, and lesser amounts of Pinot Blanc, Noiret and Valvin Muscat. Within the next two years, Osborn expects 75% of his wines to be estate grown. Only three wines will be marketed as varietals: Chancellor, Frontenac and a Cabernet Franc-Noiret blend. The grapes used by the distillery will come from farms on the newly established Marlboro Farm Trail.

One of the three estate wines now on sale is Quimby's Rosé, named after Howard Quimby, a local farmer whose family has grown grapes for a century. Osborn takes pride in making that wine in the same way Quimby's ancestors did. Both Osborn and Wagner realize that by building a winery intended to last for generations, they are showing their faith in the future of agriculture in the Hudson River Valley.

Reach Stoutridge Vineyard at 10 Ann Kaley Lane, Marlboro, N.Y. 12542, by phone at (845) 236-7620, or by e-mail at steve@stoutridge.com.
 
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