Saturday, September 4, 2010

Old World, New World

Remains of Bolognesi Winery, 2008 - Lucey Bowen

                                                Highland, New York
                                                May 20, 1938
Dear Carl, 
      The Bolognesi wine place[1] is probably what you have been looking for. I hope so. You take the Newburgh road out of Highland (9W I think) and go for two miles turning to your left and taking a dirt road that leads towards the river.  The Bolognesi family has about 200 acres of sloping land and the vineyards are in almost every available spot almost placed there it seems at random. They have formed what is called the Hudson Valley Wine Co., Inc. etc (see the two booklets).
      The Bolognesi family came to America in 1888 from their home in Bologna to make their way in the new world. For four centuries their family had made wines in Italy and they brought with them knowledge of raising grapes and a technique of making wine. The Father’s name was Alexander and the mother's name was Benilde. They named all their children with names beginning with A on account of the old man. The children are Alfred, Ada (the girl), Alphonse, Arrigo, and Aldo (the eldest and "the works” in the company — probably the eldest son business). The mother and father are dead and the children carry on their craft.
      Around them have built up an almost medieval feudal system of tenant farmers. That is they let their help have little farms on their place and the men get their living or part of it from working in the vineyards, driving trucks, pressing wine, cultivating etc.  They grow the following grapes; Iona (a famous grape in that section which was originated on Iona Island which is in the Hudson and they are especially fond of it), the Bacchus, the Catawba, the Delaware, the Concord. Also they grow a few Muscat graces to make muscatel. The arbors are about eight feet apart and they are trimmed way down in the winter and cultivated all the way from row to row in the spring and as the new shoots come out the vines are tied.
      In the fall when the picking time comes, the women in the little Italian colony (some of these people speak no English) turn out with gaily colored cloths wrapped around their heads and with smocks and aprons and pick the grapes. Among themselves they have a few parties at the time but nothing for outsiders. Most of the families are great wine drinkers and a little boy told me that his uncle dipped his bread in wine as if it were milk. They are great on cooking with wine as are the Italians but getting their wine probably free they probably do it more than they did in Italy.
      The Bolognesi wines are made with all the craft of the old world but Aldo seems to have had enough sense to install modern machinery for bottling (imported from France). The buildings are Romanesque and there is a towering campanile which overlooks all the vineyards and has a fine view on of the Hudson just below. There is a lovely old clock on the tower. The buildings have round windows; many of them, and over the doorways are bricked semi-circles. Over the chimneys kind of half cylinders cut length ways made out of bricks. They have little flower gardens here and there with stone fences and stone porticos and in one of them are fig trees. They have kept the old Early American houses on the place also and the severe white clapboard looks rather forlorn and pathetic beside the brick and stone edifices. The boys themselves built most of the buildings and did most of the work on the farm. None of them have married. Ada Bolognesi plays a kind of Lady Bountiful role going around to the huts of the peasants and looking after their welfare. One of the children around the place said we call her: "Signorina” and said the little boy "that means the boss” She showed his mother how to make cookies. She knew how to make cookies, the little boy said, but the Signorina showed her how to make better cookies. She is a famous cook, I gathered and while I was taking notes I saw a letter to someone on the desk, which went into a lot of detail about food and cooking with wine etc. But I gathered that their recipes are conventional Italian cooking they brought over from the old country. Only Aldo owns the firm. He has a sales manager name William E. Barneby who lives in Highland. He is the modern American who contacts the outside world for the little untouched world of the Bolognesi family.
      When the grapes are picked they are pressed by a giant roller, which looks like a giant rolling pin. It drops into the vats and then is run into 2500 gal tanks and then in the spring and fall it is racked off which means the ebb clear wine is run into casks and the residue removed. This residue could make a wonderful Hudson Valley brandy or Hudson Valley native spirit but they do little of that. It does make, I believe, vermouths and aperitifs by a process of rectifying or adding herbs. Then the wine is aged in the casks gradually being put into smaller casks. Some of the casks were products of our native cooperage industries in times past but others were imported from France and Germany. They feel the casks are almost as important as the grapes. They made for a while two native wines which they developed themselves called Delkadet and Questalon (according to Alfred) is dark and like a claret or Burgundy "but remember it has its own flavor" he said, and it is dry.  While Delkadet is rose and dry and is much like a light French table wine but still has a taste, which is local to the Hudson valley. After the wine is aged it is blended. They believe very much in vintage wines. For example 1928 and 1934 were excellent years and they think 37 was too but it is rather soon to tell.
      They are very proud of their sweet Catawba wine. It is not fortified (that is spirits added to arrest fermentation) but is naturally sweet. This result is obtained by keeping the bottles absolutely sterile. Ordinarily if brandy is not added such wine as this referments. They are proud of the fact that they do not pasteurize their wine. They point out that the residue of the grape could make am excellent spirits as the taste of the native grape is so strong and good it would be carried over. (Pasteurizing changes the taste of the wine, they said)
      They are very proud of their champagne but have been licked on it as they have been on their natives wines just mentioned by the snobbishness of the Americans for foreign wines and champagnes and brandies and vermouths etc. The Iona makes excellent champagne, as do the Delaware and Catawba. They make champagne but let it get its fizz naturally and do not artificially give it fizz. They could make a native sherry out of Delaware that would be rich and up dry but again the preference of Americans for foreign stuff. They could do a real job on it and invest in a what do you call it sherry making plant but it wouldn't pay. California spoils things with their cheap wine and poor qualities. The sherry would have a taste all its own. They have experimented with these wines and found all these things to be true. They are very honest and sincere. As Alfred said, the American people do not seem interested in how you do your work, how good your craft and technique is, but what you shout about your wine, whether it is true or not.
      They speak a great deal of the Grape Belt in the Hudson Valley. It
extends from Marlborough to Highland with a maybe a mile or two on
either end sticking out and goes in from the Hudson not more than
two miles and only on the West Bank. Why? It may be because this
section is so protected or because of special qualities of the soil
or both. But it is a very real region to them. The fruit belt goes
from Newburgh to Kingston and grapes CAN be grown in it but the
best grapes are in that belt they call the grape belt. Gleason was wet,
they say, in saying that only sweet wine can be produced on the
Hudson. Yes, sweet wines m can be produced successfully but if you
know how to do it you can also produce dry wines as good as anywhere.
In the grape belt "the big red Concord grapes are as plentiful as grass”
says Alfred. You had better check Frank Schoonmaker’s article in
the New Yorker on this outfit at the beginning of repeal.
I believe it was one of his series on wines and went into the taste
and vintage business. I didn't see it.
      Odds and ends; when the champagne is in the bottles on racks they
speak of it as in tierage. Someone showed that this grape belt
on the Hudson is the same latitude as some of the finest
vineyards of Italy. The boys dug the cellars too. 
The dean of the casks is a 2700 gal job that came from Germany.
In California one of the trouble with their wines is that they use
great square casks. Which are not nearly so good and
"can never be the same." They put out an inferior grade of
wine for price under another name but it nearly kills the old man,
Aldo. He is very proud of the wines he puts out under his own
      Do you know anything about the Geneva Agriculture Station?
The B's hope they will supplement the varieties of the Catawba and
Delaware and red grapes. This stations have already done a job on muscatel.
Note the book on New York wines mentioned in one of the pamphlets.
      The B’s are against selling wines in gallons.
They feel it does not age properly in glass unless it is in a fifth.   
      I presume you have seen The Hudson by Wallace Bruce. The book I spoke to you about is the Second Expedition of Vaughan up the Hudson in 1777 and was published in 1861. Johnston will try and find it. Be sure and save that Shawangunks booklet as I see he is asking $lO for it. He is antique guy I told you about here. ..I mean Johnston. These two pamphlets ought to give you the formal stuff about the Bolognesi outfit. I could give you some more stuff on them if I spent more time there so tell me if you want me to go back. I feel it is a good story but it would take a lot more time and palling around to get the stories that would be nice. They make The Brotherhood place look sick. Anyway, I am pretty sure that these two are the only wine places on the Hudson. Tomorrow I do Eagle's Nest, the sociological island.[2]
      Then Grahamsville where they hold their own World's Fair every year for one day. I couldn't find the Atheist cemetery in Poughkeepsie. Doctor Poucher who wrote a book on Dutchess Count cemeteries had never heard of it. However, I’11 check further.

[1] Now the Regent Champagne Cellars; vineyard is overgrown, buildings remain.
[2] The origin of the term “sociological island” is obscure, but may have arisen from the eugenics work of the Cold Spring Harbor Laboritory and is today, scientifically dubious. It refers to groups cut off from the surrounding culture and society, and liable to marry within the group. The stories and beliefs of these groups fascinated Bowen and Carmer, appearing in The Hudson as “Witches Leave Star Tracks” and in Bowen’s photographs of the Ramapos, Eagle’s Nesters, Pondshiners and Bushwackers.

1 comment:

  1. This letter seems to foreshadow the rise in popularity of New York State wine and related alcoholic beverages.