Jan Palaggi from Palaia Vineyards
They say wine, women and song are inseparable. Add a few good men and we have the family affair of Palaia Vineyards in Highland Mills, NY.
I just visited with Jan Palaggi, self-proclaimed queen of the operation that she and her husband Joseph founded thirteen years ago. We explored the property, winery and event spaces and tasted some wines. Before sharing my impressions of the wine let me say that while making great juice is a big part of the Palaia family tradition, music, good food and festive events are too. Together they make a delightful experience to be enjoyed by all.
Joe artfully crafts unique Hudson Valley wine, true to their terroir, based on lessons passed down from his grandfather, Angelo Palaia who emigrated here from Italy taking the name Palaggi at Ellis Island many decades ago.
Jan runs the winery operations and their many events with the help of her capable operations manager, Craig Cowton, and son Joe. Jan is not afraid to get her hands into the earth. You are very likely to find her helping in the fields and there’s a lot that goes into hosting a lively party every weekend.
Of course there is a proper tasting room too — decorated in an eclectic mix of 60s hippy and antique New York. Here you can learn about the Palaia wines in a relaxed, unpretentious setting with nice people and good food to go with your wine. Jan told me that they embrace a rule that I squarely agree with, “There is no right way or wrong way to taste wine.” She said that wine tasting “should not be stuffy, but fun and engaging.” And, the way their wines are nicely priced so you can take some home.
We tasted four wines, three made from their own grapes and the last, a mead, from local honey from nearby Pine Hill.
The first is called Pearl — soon to be re-named “Pearl Power” — made of 100% traminette, a hardy grape that seems to thrive in many corners of New York State. It has a floral and spicy nature and is made into wines of dry and off-dry styles. I found this wine to be very reminiscent of Alsatian and Northern Italian wines I so enjoy. It has lovely balance, present but not cloying fruit, and distinct acidity giving it a nice structure. I would love this wine with Asian, Southeast Asian cuisine, or a nicely browned roasted chicken.
Then I sipped two vintages of their cabernet franc, soon to be labeled Zappa Franc — you might be getting the fun theme of Paiaia’s new branding. I liked the 2007 better than the 2008. The 2007 had a big nose, and rich meaty flavors, dark cherry and sundried tomato. Would love to have this with our Passover brisket. The 2008 is a little more reserved, and in that more appealing to some palates. Both were nicely balanced and clean.
Last but not least, Jan was excited to pour and get my impression of their mead. I don’t drink Mead often, although I do like it. Jan’s has a seductive, semi-dry smoothness, with lots of tender fruit flavors that are utterly delightful. Goes down easy. I could so imagine some poor soul waking up dazed after a night at the harbor pub. Only to find himself shanghaied, on a schooner to the far east.
On the other hand Palaia’s wines have a relatively low alcohol level so you might be safe.
Back to the winery’s busy event schedule — Palaia’s 2015 season has already begun with music and fun every Friday, Saturday and Sunday. Jan and Joe are both musicians and on some nights, with a little wine, you might see them join the house band, to play some great classic rock.
Their first big event is Saturday May 2, a Mayday Festival. In June there is the well-liked Celtic Festival. Imagine being in a pastoral setting enjoying the sweet-sounding pipers from the Orange County Ancient Order of Hibernians, rocking bands, clacking step dancers, and of course this year’s beautiful Rose of Tralee, if you are Irish you know who “Rose” is.
Through the summer there is the Beatles Festival, the Woodstock Festival and more into the harvest months. Most events benefit local charities. A full schedule is on the Palaia Vineyard website.