Demarest Hill Winery... 2/16/13

Back in February my then girlfriend and I went away for the weekend. We stayed at a cute bed and breakfast called Peach Grove Inn - a restored 19th century Greek Revival home. We arrived fairly late in the night, probably around 9 o'clock, and walked into this uninhabited and seemingly untouched house; every room was carefully curated with pieces of furniture from the same time period, antiques that caught our attention and for me the light fixtures and fire extinguisher were amazing! We wandered into the dining room where the dining table was set to the hilt for the next morning: dishes with soft floral decorations, silverware, napkin rings, intricate place mats and other amenities that read like a fairy tale dinner. The innkeeper John lives downstairs and eventually heard us, he was understanding and accomodating, leading us to our room and in fact was up late when we were having some minor water pressure issues with the shower. We stayed in the Colonel William F. & Juliet Wheeler Room, one of only two master suites and furnished with a queen sized bed, a working fireplace and a private bathroom.


The next morning we made our way down to breakfast and found out that the inn was in fact fully booked through that weekend; the other guests were a colorful crew of couples, one in fact from around the corner in Bushwick, Brooklyn where I live! The food was great, the pies and jams were awesome and the idea to make ice cubes from coffee to keep your iced coffee chilled was a winner. Though we only stayed for the night it was comfortable, accomodating and warm. I can see doing this again at some point in the future but now onto the winery....

Local wineries have always held a specific kind of allure in my mind. I feel like wine drinkers start out from a similar position: they drink what they've grown up around whether it be wine from a specific region or a set of grapes they've come to know and expand from there guided by adventure, culinary experimentation, or to continue a personal taste aesthetic because that set of wine epitomizes the pinnacle of "wine". There are many reasons why we drink more of one type of wine over another, why we drink from one region or set of regions, or even one country over another - we're after a sense of mythical/historical continuation with our experience wrapped in that one bottle.

It's this sense of story that draws me towards smaller wineries. It started out as an idol interest while working in wine shops but was peaked when I visited relatives in North Carolina. We went to a handful of wineries, tasted obscure american-french hybrid grapes that I thought were fascinating and tasty alongside the usual staples found in almost every other region, and though I wasn't blown away I felt like I had stepped into the petridish of wine making (who knew a Sangiovese from Cellar 4201 in Yadkin Valley, North Carolina would be one of my favorites from that day). The allure of tasting varietals grown for decades, if not longer, from unexpected places is exciting and speaks to that collector in me: trying as many variations and combinations as possible because each experience is a concise compact expression of it's place, methods, and history. Plus, the idea of going off the beaten track has always been something of a habit of mine.

It's not so unusual today to find sections (or even a few bottles) of New York State wine from the Finger Lakes Region or from the North Fork of Long Island in our local wine shop, they've come a long way, are often worth the money and many times this is how we begin learning the wines closer to home.  Prior to this getaway we had already gone off to the Brotherhood Winery in Washingtonville, New York for a tasting and found success (reviews to come) and so in planning this trip for the weekend I thought it would be great to see what another nearby winery had to offer.  In doing some research I drew the list down to the few that matched up with our day and time restrictions and settled on Demarest Hill Winery in Warwick, New York. I chose this winery because it's website boasts over a dozen wines, distilled beverages, and other assorted libations. This should have perhaps been a bit of warning but it again fit our schedule and thought it would be fun.  

On this cold breezy day, flecks of snow whipping from the snow drifts, we made our way into the tasting room that sits atop a hill overlooking the vines. It was but a fifteen minute drive away and the temperature didn't change much from outside to inside, but we found ourselves in a large room with every wall covered in wine along with a central table populated by their distilled beverages and fortified wines. The bar was being run by, who I could only assume, was the winemaker: an elderly gentleman who at the time was pouring for another couple as we looked around. In the face of the sheer volume and variety of wines I felt like we had hit it big time. When it came to our tasting ($5.00 for seven samples) we started with a few whites: the Riesling, Chenin Blanc, Supreme Chardonnay, and the Chardonnay. Instantly I found something off the wine, something that wasn't overt but persistent throughout each of them and not only that, but the pours were... well... sips, literally sips of wine that were hardly samples. Next we tried a few reds: the Bacchus Noir, Red Bouchet, Zinfandel, Warwick Ruby Red, and the Warwick Red Deer Local I believe (I could be wrong as I know I bought two of the reds I hadn't had in the tasting). Except for one of them, this flight had the same flaws as the whites, something was awry and instantly I knew that whatever we were being served was far from fresh, tasted a little rancid, musty and corked but almost not enough to really be sure (saved by the small pours!). Even the sherry and ports offered the same flawed note and by the end, regardless of grape or make, we could have been served the same wine just filtered to be lighter or heavier, fortified or not...

The balsamic vinegar was by far the best I'd ever had, albeit slightly on the acidic side but zesty and flavorful. Suffice it to say I was rather disappointed in this winery that seemed to offer so much. With my remaining optimism I purchased three bottles anyway in the hopes that what we were being poured was some expired wine and not the true expression of what they offered.

Demarest Winery 1.jpg

Fastforward to mid-April. I popped open the Red Bouchet and not having even having poured a glass red berries followed - this was what I was waiting for! With the first glass the nose was tight, reminiscent of red fruit but as I kept drinking through the first hoping that the off-putting note of mustiness would subside it became obvious that aeration wasn't going to save this wine. I couldn't even get through a second glass and hoped leaving it over night, having now been exposed, would help a bit.... but no it turned fairly quickly.

And then last week I opened the Victoria Merlot and this one was even more in your face with a combination of mustiness, wet cork, raisined fruit and berry notes. In trying to taste it I felt like I was trying to swallow a berried fireball: the acid was so high and the alcohol was so promiment (both wines were only 12.5%), caused me to spit it out, try another glass with a similar reaction, and pour the rest of the bottle down the sink. In hindsight both were strangely reminiscent of watered down port that was on the cheap and kept past it's prime, and actually the last bottle I have left is the Porto Fino which I'm hoping actually tastes as it should. 

Although this first trip wasn't a success, I'd more than love to go back and give Demarest Hill Winery a second try. Perhaps going in the dead of winter wasn't the best choice, maybe they had no fresh wines open or didn't want to pop any new ones, but that wouldn't explain the blanket experiences throughout all of them or why picking random bottles from the inventory would all taste so off.