Our wine tour of the Hudson “gunks” off first with Stoutridge Winery. The winery sits at the end of a pit. On the right, a drainage pipe pours into what aspires to be a pond. Small plots of vines run up the hill like thinning hairs. The drive ends at the winery: an imposing cream cube littered with french lanterns, potted plants and hand-written signs that misdirect the entry.The side door opens to a long tasting bar connected to the cash registers. Behind the bar bounds Stephen Osborn with his bottle brandished high in hand. We catch him in mid-attack, breathless and raving, something about all other wines being canned tomato juice, processed, homogenized, pasteurized blandness.
The crowd stands a good yard away from the bar. They near this proselytizer in polyester only to fill the next glass and then step back. We squeeze up and Osborn throws two glasses down without breaking his verbal stride.
He starts with white. A pretty standard Vidal Blanc, like many from the Finger Lakes, with light white pear, honey and enough acidity to keep it from being boring. Next, two white blends showing off 2006’s cool climate acidity against 2007’s sunnier climes but softer and flabbier results. Next, the reds cut the palate with unending acidity and tight tannins. Osborn proudly kept waving his decanters up to a hanging light. They were ink black and not just hazy but opaque. The texture resembled pureed tomato sauce. Briars, black pepper, grass, pencil lead, stones overwhelmed any fruit quality. Drinkable whites and really rough reds, but what matters is the spin.
Osborn pushes that this is how wine is meant to taste. He adds nothing unnatural and says all his wines are unfined, unpumped and unfiltered. In itself this is laudable but slightly misleading, because he never educates us about what he actually does. Words like eco-friendly, solar power, green, all natural, antioxidants and slow food keep filling his sentences and the room, assuming these terms are self-satisfying. Worse, this distracts from real problems with his wine.
He won’t ship because his wines cannot survive the heat of trucks (all of which are refrigerated). The wine is naturally fizzy because that is…um nature (a little stirring would resolve that problem). The crystals at the bottle bottom are normal (potassium tartrate crystals actually develop when wine is over-refrigerated). The wine is hazy because it contains healthy pectins and proteins, which he does not filter or fine away (a little more racking, even with your gravity-only setup, would solve that). High acidity and rough tannins are good for you, just decant for two hours or more (what? my wife’s already gone to bed.).
Osborn never asks for reactions or questions about his wine. He must know it all.
Now hammered, but not because of alcohol, we break off to check out the winery. Shrink-wrapped barrels and stainless steel vats were cloistered behind glass. A computer monitor on a dresser enlightened us with bright colors about tank temperatures. Whether they were real or not. The kicker was the “Museum”.
In an act of premature aggrandization, the Museum displays man-sized barrels mounted with LCD screens, knobs and Stoutridge’s tomato sauce logo. The small plaque on the 1990s tropical carpeting reminds us that this hallowed space is cold because it is in a hill and therefore environmentally friendly. Impressive? Sure. But this all reeks of Disneyland (surprise, Osborn comes from California). Standing there, I cannot imagine these gleaming barrels in use. Everything is too clean and polished. That heady aroma of wine at work is no where.
Branding wine matters. The labels on your bottles should convey to the customer something about what is inside. That something can be the taste, place, persons or purpose behind the wine. If Osborn claims that “this is what wine should taste like”, then why does his logo and labels resemble airbrushed playdough? If his message is all-natural wine, shouldn’t his label be something other than a cartoon blob? Or maybe that is it. Like the blob, Stoutridge is not open to comment or question. You cannot fight it’s mixed message of environmentalism and modernism. Nor do you want to drink it.