Wine Tasting in Sullivan County, New York

Explore this sleepy region outside New York City where Basha Kill Vineyards is making a name for itself.

Wine aficionados planning a vineyard tour in New York will generally turn to the Hudson River Valley, Long Island or the Finger Lakes regions, where most of the state’s grapes are grown—excluding, of course, the huge Concord grape-juice vineyards around Lake Erie.  

While there are other winemaking areas in the state, including the Niagara Escarpment and Lake Ontario region of central New York, one of them has not yet been fully discovered, namely Sullivan County, which is about 75 miles northwest of New York City, in the Catskill Mountains. This year, Paul Deninno, owner, manager, vine-tender, grape-picker and vintner of Basha Kill Vineyards in Wurtsboro, N.Y., is aiming to change that.

“Five years ago, I decided I wanted to do something agricultural with my property,” Deninno says. After recently visiting Napa Valley, he threw himself into the wine business, taking classes at Cornell’s Enology and Viticulture program—where cold-and-disease resistant grapes are bred in an organic, chemical-free vineyard in this region. Additionally, he attended seminars in the New York Finger Lakes region. Tests showed that the soil there is good and the climate is similar to that found in Germany, he says. This is convenient, as he prefers to make wines he likes to drink—medium bodied reds and semi-sweet whites (in the German style).

His 600-vine winery, which produces 500 cases per year, is open for tastings and tours year-round on Saturdays from noon to 6 p.m., and on Sundays from Memorial Day to Labor Day. On Saturday, May 16, the winery is hosting a release party for its new 2008 red wines, with entertainment by the Blackberry Blues Band. The $10 cover includes wine tasting, music and a Basha Kill wine glass. Bottles cost $13 to $15.

Vineyard Background

The vineyard produced its first commercial crop last year—a cabernet franc named Black Bear and a noiret Deninno named Bowfin, both reds, and the Cayuga grape with which Deninno makes his Whitetail. All of Deninno’s wines are named after animals found in the nearby Basha Kill Wildlife Management Area—a protected wetland only a stone’s throw away from Deninno’s front door that gives his vineyard its name.

And while his own vines are untested, his skill as a vintner is not. He’s been mixing and bottling grapes purchased from established Finger Lakes wineries for three years, and six of the seven 2006 and 2007 vintages he entered in last year’s Hudson Valley Wine and Grape Association’s competition. He took home medals, including a silver and a gold, which signifies best-in-class designation for the 2006 Whitetail—one of the same wines he made with his own grapes in 2008.

Behind the winery, Deninno has build a wide, inviting patio and deck overlooking his vines and the Basha Kill, where visitors—mostly New Yorkers with weekend homes in the area as well as locals—like to get together and chat over a glass of wine. Once a month, Deninno brings in a musician and this year, he will fire up a newly built grill pit and offer wine and food pairings.

Basha Kill Vineyards. Tel. 845-888-5858,

Destinations: New York

Themes: Culinary

Activities: Wine Tasting

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