Tousey Winery, in Germantown, began in 2006 with a dream. Founder and beekeeper Ray Tousey longed to make his own cassis, a liqueur that has a long and complicated history in the Hudson Valley. Intrinsic to his dream, was Tousey’s desire to create a crème de cassis with all local ingredients, including his own honey.
Cassis is a sweet, dark-red liqueur made from black currants. Up until 2003, to find a local cassis was impossible. Beginning in 1911, black currants became a sort of “forbidden fruit” because a disease the berries shared with white pines. White pine blister rust was a fungus that was thought to easily pass from the currents to the pines. With a burgeoning lumber industry in the region, the logging industry put pressure on lawmakers to eliminate the currants; eventually both the federal and several state governments passed bans on growing black currants. New, disease-resistant, varieties of currants were later developed and in 1966 the government left it up to the states to lift the ban. The campaign to repeal the ban in New York State was spearheaded by Hudson Valley fruit grower Greg Quinn, who was able to persuade the state to lift the ban in 2003.
Previous to the ban, New York State was a leader in the production of currants, but today few Americans are familiar with the berries. Now wineries across the state, especially in the Hudson Valley, are moving to change that. The first local winery to begin producing cassis after the ban was lifted was Clinton Vineyards, in Clinton Corners. Since then the Hudson Valley has become increasingly known for the quality cassis that is produced by local wineries and vineyards. And for Tousey Winery, it was the cassis that started it all.
“Ray wanted to make a cassis with his own berries and his own honey,” said son-in-law and winemaker Ben Peacock. “In order to do this, he had to open his own winery. And with 200 hives he realized that a winery was a business in and of itself.” At that time Peacock and his wife Kimberly, Tousey’s daughter, were living in Europe and decided to come to the Hudson Valley to help Tousey refine and run his winery.
2010 saw the opening of Tousey’s Tasting Room, and this fall the Winery celebrated the opening of a new tank and barrel room. Since coming over from Europe, Peacock’s focus has been on positioning the winery as an integral part of both the local movement and as a draw for local tourism. “Now, we have a 15-acre vineyard,” he said, which puts the winery in the fortunate position of being able to produce estate products, entirely from their own fruits. (Currently about 50 percent of Tousey’s fruits are grown in their own vineyards, with much of the remaining grapes coming from the Finger Lakes region, specifically from Miles Wine Cellars on the western shores of Seneca Lake.)
Peacock acknowledges Clinton Vineyard’s pioneering of local cassis as an inspiration for their own production, however by using estate-grown currants and their own honey in the process, Tousey takes a different angle. Tousey Winery has also begun making a name for itself across the state, earning positive reviews for their Pinot Noir in both Wine Enthusiast and the New York Cork Report.
One of their more popular wines – the pinot noir – is described by the New York Cork Report as having “aromas of red raspberries, strawberries and cranberries mingle with slightly earthy, woodsy notes on a classic pinot noir nose,” Peacock suggests the Pinot Noir as a very food-friendly wine. “It pairs very well with most foods,” he said. “It will compliment ham, turkey and most pasta dishes. It’s a good all-arounder.”
Another of their wines that received a very positive review by the New York Cork Report is their oak-barrel aged Cabernet Franc. Lenn Thompson, Executive Editor of the popular blog, wrote that after tasting Tousey’s Cabernet Franc, it is “hard not to consider Tousey Winery a major player in the resurgence of quality wine in Hudson Valley.” The wine is described by Thompson as plummy, medium-bodied with hints of chocolate and spice. Peacock describes it as having a blueberry nose, with a softness to the palate, making it perfect for wintry, February-style foods to get locals through an increasingly frigid winter. “It pairs well with heavier meats,” he said. “It lends itself to something like pork or lamb.”
For the white wine enthusiast, Tousey’s Queen of Clermont blend is also popular. It is citrusy, with a hint of sweetness, making it a refreshing pairing for fare on the spicier side. Peacock recommends the Queen of Clermont as a compliment to Asian Cuisine that has heat to it, but also suggests it for salad and pastas. “It is crisp and refreshing,” he said. “It cleanses the palate with just a hint of sweetness. We generally recommend it to people who like their wines on the sweeter side. It’s a nice blend that’s not too dry.”
Looking forward to warmer months, or perhaps another string of days in the mid-50’s, Peacock recommends Tousey’s Riesling (which has already sold out this season!), their Pinot Noir, as well as their Rosé. “Rosé is generally misunderstood,” said Peacock. “Many people turn their nose up at it, but it is actually one of the trickiest wines to make.” Cheekily called “Rebellion Rose,” Tousey’s rosé is a food-friendly wine with a floral freshness, making it perfect for lighter fare as the temperature rises.
As the weather warms, Tousey and Hudson Valley residents both can look forward to their first estate Reisling. An addition to the house red is also expected to be forthcoming, with a King of Clermont being bottled as a compliment to their already popular Queen of Clermont. With about 3000 gallons of their own fruit, Tousey is looking to bottle their whites in the spring, and their reds and rosé in the summertime.
In the meantime, all of their wines can be sampled in their Germantown tasting room, along with other products grown and made right on the estate. Located in the Blue Roof building, on the northbound side of Route 9, the Tousey Winery Tasting Room is open Friday, noon to 7-p.m., and Saturdays and Sundays from noon to 5p.m. Tousey also has a table at the Rhinebeck Farmer’s Market on Sundays, where tastings are available. And, on Valentine’s weekend, the Tasting Room will host a special “Art, Love & Wine” event pairing the work of Rhinebeck artist Tom Cale with Tousey’s wines and festive nibbles. The event is free and open to the public.
Jen Kiaba is a photographer and writer based in Rhinebeck, NY. Her photography has been published in both regional and national magazines, and has recently been used for several international book covers. To see more of her work, visit http://photos.jenkiaba.com/