Despite having rows of grapes on its 134-acre property, for the last eight years Red Maple Vineyard in West Park has focused on producing memorable weddings, not wines.
When Madi Marshall started working at the venue in 2015, the vines were primarily being used for photo ops. “I was a still a student, volunteering [at the] little organic farm that feeds the catering,” recalls Marshall. “I was figuring out what I wanted to do, and I got into this lucky position, where [the owners said] ‘you can manage the vineyard if you want to figure it out.’”
So, Marshall enrolled in a Viticulture and Enology program at Cornell, and, after graduation, went to Napa and California’s Central Coast to get her hands dirty. Now, as winemaker and vineyard manager, she oversees the production of six wines for Red Maple Cellars along with owner Shaleen Stone, whose parents, Gary and Liz, own Red Maple Vineyard.
The winery has three vineyards growing primarily hybrid grapes, including Marquette, Frontenac Blanc, Frontenac Gris, and Baco Noir, which Marshall co-fermented last year to produce an estate rosé. A small Riesling vineyard is expected to have its first harvest this fall.
“The benefit of growing hybrid grapes is that they don’t require the same amount of intensive spraying as a lot of the traditional vinifera grape varieties,” says Marshall. “They can be really delicious, but if they’re not made right, they’re inherently very sour. By making them into a rosé, we were able to take that acidity and turn it into something crisp and refreshing.”
Hudson River region-grown Chardonnay and Cabernet Franc grapes come from Maynard Farms, just five miles up the road in Ulster Park. And, Red Maple produces four additional wines with grapes sourced from Washington State, including a jammy Syrah; Ethos, a Bordeaux blend; a New Zealand-style Sauvignon Blanc; and Wildflower White, another Sauvignon Blanc with a refreshing, floral character.
“One of the things we’re working toward is sourcing more fruit from New York,” promises Marshall. “I’ve reached out to growers in the Finger Lakes and some within the Hudson River region because we recognize that’s one piece of our puzzle. This year, we’re going to boast more New York State fruit.”
In addition to wines, Red Maple produced five single-varietal ciders last year — Braeburn, Pink Lady, Stayman Winesap, Golden Delicious, and Ida Red — with apples from Maynard Farms. “I think people in the region have higher expectations for ciders since [the Hudson Valley] is already known as a place where people come to pick and eat apples,” says Marshall. “We don’t have to convince people that the cider from this region is going to be good.”
Convincing wine drinkers that Hudson Valley-produced wines can be delicious requires one thing: tasting. Red Maple’s 2019 wines were released earlier this month, and, for the first time, the vineyard is open for weekend tastings (advanced tickets required).
“In a typical year, we would be up to our neck in weddings, but with COVID-19, all of our weddings have canceled or moved to next year,” explains Marshall. “We’re encouraging people to come and get a glass of wine or flight. We made this really beautiful map, [and] we’ve set up spots all over the property for people to get out of the house, sit outside, and feel safe. They can be separated from people, but also enjoy some wine and good food.”
Along with wine, cider, a handful of cocktails, and craft beers from Great Life Brewing in Kingston, a short menu features dishes like local cheese and charcuterie plates, house-smoked pork shoulder tacos with chipotle crema and slaw, and tomato-arugula flatbreads, with an emphasis on locally sourced ingredients.
The socially distanced wine events are scheduled for weekends through September, and Marshall hopes they’ll continue, at least in some format, when weddings ultimately return to Red Maple.
“We’ve been exploring grants. A long-term goal is to expand to include another site so we can be more consistent [with opening hours] and not have to work around the weddings,” says Marshall. “We also want to get live music going and to promote art in the community. We hope that, through wine, we can also promote all these other awesome things that are going on in the Hudson Valley.”
For tickets, visit Red Maple Vineyard’s Eventbrite page.