Hudson Valley’s Brotherhood – the US’s oldest winery

Last year marked the 170th anniversary of what may be the area's best-kept secret.

brotherhood winery 311 (photo credit: Courtesy)
brotherhood winery 311
(photo credit: Courtesy)
WASHINGTONVILLE, N.Y. – Tucked into a quiet corner of rolling farmland an hour north of New York City lies what may be the Hudson Valley’s best-kept secret: Brotherhood Winery, a verdant campus of vineyards, a bottling facility, gift store and tasting room.
Last year marked its 170th anniversary, making Brotherhood the nation’s oldest continuously run winery. Open year-round for tours and tastings, the winery has been quietly drawing visitors from around the world, from a reputation for excellence that dates back to the 19th century.
Brotherhood Winery earned its longevity because it successfully evaded the prohibition era by supplying regional churches with sacramental wines. The Hudson Valley winery was founded in 1839 by a family of Huguenots and has had only a handful of different owners since. In its infancy, Brotherhood became known for its earthy Pinot Noir, and has since built a worldwide reputation on its award-winning Blanc de Blanc Champagne, Ruby Port and Cabernet Sauvignon. Bill and Hillary Clinton also selected brotherhood’s Riesling as the American white wine of choice for White House functions.
Word of Brotherhood’s award-winning wines and champagnes have spread across the eastern seaboard and beyond and in recent years, it’s become a frequented day trip destination for wine aficionados.
Tours are conducted daily, often led by owner and wine master, Cesar Baeza. Tours begin in subterranean caverns where Winnebago- sized barrels of Merlot and Riesling age for several years before they’re bottled and shipped around the world (Brotherhood has customers as far away as Japan and Europe).
Baeza, a native of Chile, is often found in the cavernous tasting room, pouring samples of Riesling and Blanc de Blanc Champagne and Brotherhood’s award-winning Riesling for visitors.
He got his professional start in the vineyards of Santiago and has worked at wineries around the globe, coaxing the best qualities out of grape crops in the Napa Valley, Spain, even Russia, before coming to Brotherhood.
Baeza preserves the Brotherhood legacy with touches such as aging his wine in barrels crafted from French oak trees, and replacing them every four years.
Much of the grape crop is grown on 40 acres along the Hudson River under the Rip Van Winkle Bridge, where Baeza says the rich soil and colder climate are the perfect elements for producing character-bursting Merlots and Chardonnays.
“The more stress put on a grape, the more character it has. Our grapes grow in a cold climate, so they have to suffer a bit,” he says. “Their maturation is slower, so they release a higher level of resveratrol, which is the compound that’s good for your heart.
Pinot Noirs from New York state have the highest levels of resveratrol.”
Though he travels south of the equator each winter to oversee his Santiago vineyards, Baeza devotes the bulk of his energy to the ever-expanding vineyards on Brotherhood’s Orange County properties.
“When people come visit Brotherhood, they’re often surprised by the quality of the wines,” he says. “They never realized this type of wine could be made in New York. Our best-selling wines are Riesling and Pinot Noir; they grow very well in a cold climate.”
One of Brotherhood’s most popular signature creations is its deep crimson Holiday Wine. The fragrant Dutch recipe is imbued with 12 spices (not flavorings), including cinnamon, nutmeg and cloves. “It’s served warm or at room temperature,” says Baeza.
“It’s also great for cooking.”
Besides using Brotherhood wines in home cooking, Baeza decided a perfect way to showcase his wines would be to open an on-site restaurant. Enter the Vinum Café, the restaurant is the creation of the Zagatendorsed chef Christian Pierrel, who hails from Normandy. The restaurant opened in May and features French-inspired menu items such as Hudson Valley foie gras, sautéed escargot, teriyaki-lacquered salmon and elegant endive salads.
“Food and wine go hand in hand,” says Pierrel. “That’s why I decided to open my restaurant here. And Caesar’s wines have an unusual character and depth. They’re more elegant and structured than many wines.”
Plans are also under way to allow visitors to view grapes up close and learn about the different varieties that grow in the Hudson Valley.
“My pet project is the ‘Gardens of Varieties’ which we planted this spring. Each row is a different grape variety. The idea will be to teach people how to grow grapes,” says Baeza. “We’ll also put in a picnic area nearby. People don’t like to rush through when they get here, Brotherhood is meant to be savored.”
IF YOU GO: Brotherhood Winery, 100 Brotherhood Plaza Drive in Washingtonville is approximately an hour north of New York City off of Exit 17 (Newburgh) of I-87.
The winery is open Tuesday through Sunday.
Tours are given between 11:30 a.m. and 3:30 p.m. Tasting room hours are 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Sunday through Friday and 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Saturday. Grape stomping is open to anyone interested and takes place from noon to 4 p.m. For more information call (845) 496-3661, or visit
The writer is a freelancer living in Lake George, N.Y.