For this week's Q&A, we pose our questions to Carlo DeVito, an author, publishing professional, blogger and yes, winery owner. He, with his wife Dominique, owns Hudson-Chatham Winery in Ghent, NY, one of the Hudson Valley's newest wineries.
What (and where) was the first bottle of wine you remember drinking?
I have been trying and tasting and drinking wine since I was a kid. It was always at our family table. Italian. French. Californian. I've tasted some wonderful California cult wines and First Growth Bordeaux.
But I do remember my first bottle of New York State wine, which I bought at the Union Square Greenmarket. I was 24 years old, and I had my first job in publishing and my take home was $700 a month. It was Hunt Country Vineyards Table Red. I was co curious. I remember taking it back to my apartment and had it with a baguette, an apple, and some hard salami. I put an album on the turntable (CD players were too expensive), and drank. It wasn't the best wine I had ever had, but I remember thinking it was very drinkable, and was so surprised you could find a drinkable red in New York. It was affordable and a real eye opener. I was so impressed with myself on this new find. I brought it to a dozen dinner parties with other relatively poor publishing assistants, who were equally impressed. It was a conversation starter. I met Art Hunt only about a year ago, and I remember I told him how important it was to me. He laughed.
What event/bottle/etc made you decide that you wanted to be in the wine industry?
I loved going to wineries early on. I used to ride my 10 Speed bike from Trenton NJ to the shore in the summer time (my Breaking Away period), and I would ride by Cream Ridge Winery. It was on the way to the Jersey shore. Tom Amibile had started it. And when I was old enough I started to visit other wineries…Hopkins, Haight, and DeGrazia in Connecticut. Unionville in New Jersey. Sakonnet in Rhode Island.
Some of these were small, and I remember saying to myself, that thought it would be fun to do this. And when I wrote the East Coast Wineries book, after interviewing so many winemakers and tasting so many wines, I had the ridiculous idea, "I could do that." What an audacious idea. I look back even after these 3 1/2 years, and I am astonished at my brazen stupidity. There are days I want to ask my wife Dominique, "Why didn't you stop me?" However, I knew one of the reasons my wife and I were together was because deep down she was just as fascinated with it as I was. I knew she was hooked when for our 10th wedding anniversary, I told her we could go anywhere in the world. She responded by saying she wanted to do the wine camp in Long Island. And I remember saying, "We can go anywhere in the world, and you want to go to Long Isalnd?" She loved the week long adventure, touring all the wineries and tasting the wines. She's always been a good partner that way and we are a team…through France, California, Spain, Italy, Chile, the East Coast. But when I look back I know it goes back to that first half-dozen east coast wineries I visited, and I know that's where I first got the bug. The presses, and the barrels, and the vineyards. And once you fall in love with it…you're screwed.
Which of your current wines is your favorite and why?
I have two answers here. I love our Baco Noir. We took such special care in preparing it. It was hand-grown, hand-cared for, and hand-picked on a single, small, private vineyard. We avoided pumping at all costs. We blended the best two of three lots, and it was the first reserve wine we have produced at the winery. We are very proud of it. I think in future years we will be able to create a truly great wine.
And while I am very proud of our merlot and cab franc, the other thing I am proud of is our Paperbirch Raspberry Fine Ruby.
I originally started making it as a blend of other wines. I made it at home and served it during the holidays. Dominique my wife thought I was nuts. And then when we opened the winery we started making each of the components ourselves. And then blending them. We made a number of mistakes, including not adding brandy to some of our first attempts (by accident) and seeing the results splattered all over the tasting room after they exploded. But the final product has been a big hit. And to think I first started making it in my basement.
What has surprised you most about being a member of the Hudson Valley wine community?
I am constantly surprised by the history of the region and it's agricultural legacy as well as it's prowess. It is home to countless small dairies and creameries…goat, sheep, cow. The cheeses are incredible. The CSAs are numerous and incredible. The CIA is up here. It's an absolutely thriving community of artisans, farmers, chefs and people who appreciate such things.
I am also always absolutely astonished how helpful many of the winemakers are. I was not prepared for the level of assistance and general goodwill that is shared within that community. Yes, all have some competitive streak, but they are always ready to help each other, especially the new people. Advice. Information. Equipment. Products. Contacts. It's very, very refreshing, after coming from such competitve industries as publishing and fashion.
Other than your own wines, what wine/beer/liquor most often fills your glass?
Kistler Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. Pahlmeyer reds and chardonnay. Sin Que Non reds. Stags Leap Petitie Syrah. Turley Zinfandel. Duckhorn Merlot. Cakebread Cabernet Sauvignon. Montes Alpha M. Don Melchor from Concha Y Toro. Any Suaterns 20 years old or older. Jamesport and Oak Summit Pinot Noirs. Elk Run (MD) Vin de Glace. Vahalla (VA) meritage. Barboursville Barberas and Nebbiolos. Eve's Cidery Iced Apple Cider. Sparkling from Sakonnet (RI) and French Creek (PA). Benmarl Baco Noir. Raphael Merlot. Dry Blueberry from Bartlet Estates (ME) Almost any Amarone.
For beers, Sammuel Smith Taddy Porter and Imperial Stout. Lindemann's Frambois. Anything from Brooklyn Brewery and Stoudt's. Pilsner Urquell. Rolling Rock.
Is there a 'classic' wine or wine and food pairing that you just can't make yourself enjoy?
I don't eat liver. I hate ice cubes in my wine. I can't swallow room temperature beer or whites.
Wine enjoyment is about more than just the wine itself. Describe the combination of wine, locations, food, company, etc. that would make (or has made) for the ultimate wine-drinking experience.
Good wine needs only one thing… good friends or a beautiful woman (in my case, my wife). A Sauternes with foie gras is one of my favorite experiences in life, Or an ice wine or port with a blue cheese on raisin bread. Champagne and caviar. A cab and a Pittsburgh-style steak.
But I don't want to eat it alone. For me good wine requires good food and family and/or friends to share it with. I always have food with my wine. I rarely drink alone (except for an occasional beer). My best memories are laughing, talking, arguing, with my wife in a cozy hotel room, or at the dinner table, and smiling, and drinking wine. There is nothing better than sharing some of our favorite wines with other people we know and love, Comparing the sensations and tastes, and discussing anything from the important to the frivolous, that's wine. Anything else, and you can just have a diet coke.