Slow Winemaking at Stoutridge Winery

In addition to studying slow food, we studied slow wine.

After we and the chickens had been hunkering down in the house for Hurricane Sandy, we enjoyed getting out of the house to go to Stoutridge Vineyard in Marlboro, NY for a tour and wine tasting.  We were greeted by the owner Steve Osborn, who became interested in wines and winemaking while studying biochemistry at Cornell.  There, he discovered that he could remember the flavor of a wine perfectly, which has been useful not only for his wines but also for his paintings which are the wine’s flavors.  In 2001, he and his wife bought the 14 acre property and began making wine five years later.  At ninety miles an hour, he described to us how his winery is different from all other winemakers’ in North America.

Steve explaining how he makes wine. Look, his paintings on the wall!

Beginning in the tasting room, Steve gave us a general overview of typical winemaking in America and how his philosophy differs from the norm.  Most wineries in the United States produce their wine with the intention to ship it and make it available to the greatest number of people.  That’s why we can easily buy California wines in the Hudson Valley.  But, as Steve explained, the wine goes through several processes such as fining and filtering by which all of the proteins and pectins (and polyphenyls in reds) are removed, as is the sediment.  The proteins and pectins are removed from processed wine because when it is heated during transport, they cause the wine to have less flavor. Thus, because Steve leaves these in his wines, the logistics required to transport his wine make it impractical for his wine to travel long distances.  Moreover, when restauranteurs have asked him to let them sell Stoutridge wine, he has told them not only that they have to buy it at full price but also warns them that if they keep it in a warm place (as many do), it will be undrinkable.

Stoutridge’s wines are never fined, filtered, or pumped.  He uses gravity, lifts and rails to move the wine and tanks.  But, as part of his philosophy, he only uses solar energy and furthermore, he usually makes enough energy to sell some back to the power company.  Finally, he doesn’t add any sulfites to his wine, which normally help preserve processed wine.  Sulfites stop the fermentation process of the wine but also prevent bacteria from entering the wine.  His wine, with the proteins and pectins and without the sulfites, can (and should) age many times longer than wines which are designed to be consumed after a few years, as is the case with most processed wines.

Grape Press

We had the opportunity to taste the difference between processed wine and Stoutridge’s “slow” wine.  Steve chose three types of wine for us to compare: Seyval Blanc, a “house red”, and a Merlot.  Immediately, we noticed the freshness of Stoutridge’s wines, as well as how they retained carbonation!  He explained that this is because they aren’t pumped and filtered, which removes it from processed wine, as we soon saw.  With the house red, the flavor of the processed wine was much less intense than that of Stoutridge’s.  The Merlot surprised us all by not being a heavy wine but rather having a full flavor.  Coincidentally, both of the Merlots we tasted came from the same grapes on Long Island so the tasting of those was as close as it could be to compare the flavor of the different processes.  We finished with a 2006 wince called Quimby’s Rosé, which was the first wine that Steve made at Stoutridge.  The grapes used are concord grapes (yes, as in the one used for grape jelly) from Howard Quimby whose father supplied grapes to the winery in the early twentieth century.  It tasted completely different from what we had sampled previously and many of us wished we could have taken some home, especially since it is the only winery in North America that sells unprocessed wine!

Wine tasting!

Aside from happy taste buds, what we took away from Stoutridge was a better understanding of the wine industry and why it operates that way, as well as an appreciation for a different way of making wine.  Also, the terroir associated with processed wine is completely different from that of a local, unprocessed wine (as in Quimby’s Rosé).  Finally, we saw an agricultural model which was based not on the idea of perpetual growth, but on pursuing a philosophy (and profitably).