Wine making in the Adirondacks dates back to early settlers who fermented wild grapes and other native fruits and berries. Grape cultivation in this region is no easy feat. Thanks however to new hybrid varieties and a greater understanding of the region’s terroir, the number of vineyards are growing.
New York State recognizes five wine grape growing regions, or American Viticultural Areas (AVAs), including the Finger Lakes and the Hudson Valley, but a group of local growers are petitioning to create an Upper Hudson AVA. Like the Farm Brewery Law, which has led to a local increase in hops and barley farming and the beer and distilling industries, an Upper Hudson AVA is expected to encourage similar growth in the wine industry. Gary Akrop, owner and founder of Ledge Rock Hill Vineyard and Winery in Corinth, is among those working toward this goal.
Gary’s pioneering spirit has earned Ledge Rock Hill the distinction as the first Adirondack winery to produce and introduce an award-winning commercial wine from grapes grown within the Blue Line. His vineyard is situated on the mountainside ledges of his property, where he grows Marquette grapes. The sandy loam and ledge rock soil, and the location’s orientation on the hillside, have proven to be ideal for the vineyard.
Choosing a site for grape growing is not an exact science. Unlike traditional farming of grain and vegetable crops, grapes can grow in non-traditional farming areas. Marquette is a cold climate hybrid developed by the University of Minnesota specifically for colder regions like the Adirondacks. Traminette (Cornell University) is another hybrid with cold-hardy, disease resistant characteristics that enable the vines to withstand the ravages of northeastern winters.
Gary began winemaking as a hobby in the Hudson Valley where his interest progressed over 20 years. With a background in chemistry and a family history of winemaking, it was natural that he would take the craft to a higher level. Before ever producing wine commercially, Gary took home his fair share of awards as a home producer. He and his wife Debra transplanted permanently to their vacation home uphill from the winery in Corinth ten years ago, taking with them their passion for wine, and have been producing commercially for five years.
We asked if he’d had any “a-ha” moments along the way.
“I’ve had plenty of aha moments. One is the number of people that come into the area from New York City, New Jersey, and Connecticut and have discovered the winery in the woods. Originally, the vineyard was going to be the focus and produce for restaurants downstate and the tasting room was going to be for them to come up and sample new releases. But I put a sign out front and then cars started to come.”
And they’re still coming – in cars, limos, even a Greyhound bus!
We visited Ledge Rock Hill for a tour and tasting. Adorned in Adirondack ambiance, the tasting room is neat and, well, tasteful. The petite pine bar and four stools make this an ideal setting for a small group to sample the wares and learn a little or a lot about each of the wines. The wine production and storage area behind the tasting room doubles as a private event room for chefs and sommeliers to sample new releases. The tour is brief, but Gary will go into as much detail as visitor cares to get into.
Quality far outweighs quantity when it comes to wines produced here. From barrel to bottle, every step is scrutinized. In addition to his own grapes, Gary also obtains grapes from a few high quality partner vineyards in the Finger Lakes and in California. Premium grapes are hand picked, hand sorted, and shipped to the winery where they are gently pressed to retain their delicate flavors. Gary’s red wines are aged a minimum of ten months to up to two years in carefully selected American or French oak barrels. White wines are cool fermented and aged in stainless steel. Ledge Rock Hill wines are produced, aged, bottled, labeled, and corked on site.
The tasting menu that day included a dozen red and white wines, sweet and dry and in-between. Marquette (red) and Traminette (white) are the best sellers. Our sampling amounted to the entire list between the two of us, swapping glasses back and forth for double the pleasure. The Marquette is a mouthful of information, perhaps even surly to our unschooled taste buds, earning much critical acclaim and international awards, including the silver medal at the San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition. We decided this wine deserved further scrutiny at home. You can’t take home a red without a white, right? Because this fruity white wine with a gentle citrusy sweetness was delicately delicious (and we worked hard learning how to pronounce its name), two bottles of Gewurztraminer were also ushered into the bag. Homework.
Never ones to keep it simple, we later conducted our own very unscientific comparison, a practice we recommend. When sampling a new local wine, we suggest purchasing a bottle of the same style from another commercial winery, just to note the differences and to see how it measures up. We don’t pretend to know a lot about wine, but tasting is learning, and education is our top priority. Ledge Rock Hill’s Gewurztraminer not only stood up to a California Gewurz, its more distinct and mature flavor left the California with a few bruises. We haven’t yet tasted the Marquette against another. Too much knowledge can cause headaches!
Sample and purchase from Ledge Rock Hill’s tasting room at 41 Stewart Dam Road in Corinth from April to December. In July and August, the winery is open Tuesday, Thursday, and Friday 1-5pm; Saturday noon to 6pm; and Sunday noon to 5pm. Days and hours are scaled back early and late in the season, so check the website or call before making the trip. A flight of six samples from up to 15 produced (availability varies) at Ledge Rock Hill is $6 and comes with a souvenir glass and expert information about each of the wines on the menu. Or pair with dark chocolate truffles, Jake’s Gouda Cheese, or an Italian meat, cheese, and olive plate.
Ledge Rock Hill wines can also be found at the Warrensburg and Glens Falls farmers’ markets, Battle Hill Brewing Co. in Fort Ann, Corinth Wine and Liquor, and Bailey’s Wine & Liquor in Lake Luzerne. Or dine with their wines at Rocco’s Restaurant in Corinth and UpRiver Café in Lake Luzerne. The winery is on the Upper Hudson Valley Wine Trail and the Adirondack Craft Beverage Trail, and participates in a number of wine and food festivals.
Gary’s philosophy is simple. “Wine making is our passion, but customer satisfaction is the reward.” These two satisfied customers agree.