A toast to Brotherhood

Arriving on the grounds of Brotherhood, America’s Oldest Winery in Washingtonville on a recent morning, WAG is quickly swept up in the historic feel of the Hudson Valley landmark.

And it’s no surprise, since the winery that celebrated its 175th anniversary in 2014 is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

The surroundings evoke a decidedly Old World-feel, from a simple, circa-1859 chapel to a stately stone building aptly called Grand Monarque Hall.

But it’s the announcement by our tour guide, Glenn Yanow, which takes us by surprise.

“Most of the tour’s going to be underground,” he says. “There are cellars under all these buildings.”

And, we will soon find out, those cellars beneath Brotherhood Village are the heart of the Orange County operation that officially launched in 1839 by a man called Jean Jaques. 

THE HISTORY

The Brotherhood tour takes visitors through Brotherhood Village, where we hear about the Grand Monarque Hall (now a popular wedding and special-event venue), the Mansion and the Chapel and pass by both the Gift Shop (filled with not only wine-themed accessories but also artisan-made goods and more) and the Vinum Café. The winery hosts numerous events, including live summertime entertainment and welcomes visitors all year long.

In history shared by both Yanow and in panels posted throughout the cellars, visitors learn how in 1810, a French Huguenot émigré named Jean Jaques purchased land in the Hudson Valley and began to plant grapes. By 1837, he added more land in Washingtonville and two years later, as history — and the Brotherhood website — tells us  “his first underground cellars were dug and Mr. Jaques fermented his first wine vintage. Those cellars, the oldest and largest in America, are still in use today at Brotherhood Winery.”

The Jaques family — first Jean and then his sons, as the Jaques’ Brothers Winery — operated the enterprise for nearly 60 years. It would next be under the ownership of Emerson family, who renamed it Brotherhood.

In 1921, Louis Farrell purchased Brotherhood and stayed afloat (when so many other wineries struggled) by selling wine for religious ceremonies throughout Prohibition. That move earned Brotherhood the title of America’s oldest continually operating winery, with Farrell eventually starting what has come to be known as wine tourism.

In 1987, a partnership of businessmen, including prominent Chilean winemaker Cesar Baeza, purchased Brotherhood. The group would see it through a period that included a devastating 1999 fire, eventually leading Baeza to form a new partnership in 2005 with the Castro and Chadwick families of Chile.

THE TOUR

Today, the site not only bottles Brotherhood wines, but Yanow says, “We are a major bottler here for many, many East Coast wines.”

Up until the 1960s, Yanow says all the grapes for Brotherhood wine were grown here, but land was then sold off for surrounding development.

Now a demonstration garden showcases a selection of grapevines but, Yanow notes, most all of the grapes used here are brought in from other parts of New York, including the North Fork, the Finger Lakes and places closer to Brotherhood.

Underground, the tour is all about a climate-controlled (approximately 58 degrees) walk through Brotherhood history, touching on the creation of the hand-excavated cellars now filled with displays that round out the working parts of the operation. These include Prohibition-era bottles, original winemaking equipment, historic images and a crested wine vault filled with historic bottles.

Visitors are introduced to winemaking methods and the barrel-aging process (some 200 oak barrels are on display — spot the CS notation for Cabernet Sauvignon, for example), with questions encouraged throughout.

Along the way, tidbits are shared about the production methods of the premium wines that include red and white varietals and traditional, sparkling and dessert wines.

THE TASTING ROOM

Tours start and end in the state-of-the-art tasting room that also serves as a gallery featuring work of regional artists as well as a shop/showroom.

After our journey through Brotherhood’s story, our small group is ready to taste some of the winery’s creations, which Yanow serves up in commemorative wine glasses that participants get to take home. He deftly explains the options for each flight, noting which of each of three pours is dry or sweet, sparkling or not.

It’s an introduction, we note, that leads most all visitors directly to purchase a drinkable souvenir. (Personal favorites included the Brotherhood Winery Carpe Diem Moscato Spumante and the Brotherhood Riesling, both of which we did purchase; and, yes, there are plenty of lovely indoor and outdoor spaces to relax in before hitting the road).

From a start in the 19th century, today Brotherhood is sold in Asia and northern Europe and carried by some 700 retailers in the tristate region, as well as Pennsylvania.

The winery is also part of the 80-mile Shawangunk Wine Trail, a group of 13 wineries in Ulster and Orange counties. Visitors, Yanow says, come not just from the region but rather, “all over the world. We get people from China, Japan, Europe.”

And, with each visit, the Brotherhood story — and wines — reach a new audience.

Brotherhood Winery is at 100 Brotherhood Plaza Drive in Washingtonville. It is open daily April through December and Fridays through Sundays January through March. For more, visit brotherhood-winery.com.

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