SARATOGA SPRINGS - On Saturday, visitors to the City Center could imagine themselves touring a unique wine region, with red and white wine, beer and even apple-pie moonshine to sample at the Taste of Upstate Wine, Food and Music Festival. To cleanse the palate, tasters could nibble on crackers, cheese, hot fudge and horseradish, as well as browse crafters’ stalls and discover carved wooden bowls and handmade soap.
“This fair has all my favorite things at the same time,” said visitor Lynn Bedeaux of Argyle. “Wine, cheese, chocolate, handbags and good friends.”
That’s just what the Upper Hudson Valley Wine Trail and Townsquare Lifestyle Events had planned for their first wine-tasting festival in the Spa City. The organizations partnered in what they hope will be an annual Taste of Upstate event, gathering 55 vendors — 17 wineries, two distilleries, two breweries and 27 others, including Saratoga Crackers and AC Wood. The fair also featured live music and art for sale.
“This was a mellow crowd compared with the Saratoga Beer Week gang,” said Nick Germano, live events manager for Townsquare Media and Townsquare Lifestyle Events. “No one broke down the barriers to get in, and we had many fewer broken sample glasses.”
Kathleen Weber, head of the Upper Hudson Valley Wine Trail’s Passport Committee and co-owner of Northern Star Vineyard, showed maps of the region’s vineyards and wineries, surrounded by supporting local businesses.
“We want to promote local wines and local businesses,” she said. “All these businesses are clustered around the wine trail.”
The Upper Hudson Valley Wine Trail, a group formed five years ago, as well as the region itself runs from Ballston to Lake George, taking in wineries in Saratoga, Warren and Washington counties. Currently, there are 12 member vineyards and wineries.
“Our wine trail is like a circle drawn around our places,” said Tara Nimmo, head of the Upper Hudson Valley Wine Trail’s Festival Committee and owner of Saratoga Winery. “We want the wine region to draw tourists. We promote and support one another — we can’t have oversaturation.”
Germano said, “We want to be Napa Valley, New York.”
Weber and her husband, Andy, began their Easton Northern Star Vineyard four years ago. Their Northern hardy grapes, grown from stocks, have now produced three red wines and three white: Marquette, Frontenac, St. Croix, La Crescent, La Cross and Prairie Star.
“I always wanted to have a farm,” Andy Weber said. “But pushing cows was too hard, so we started the vineyard.”
Weber said, “We can’t wait to open in August, after four years of work.”
Nimmo has been in business for 4-1/2 years. Her winery uses Seneca Lake grapes and produces a signature all-natural Melomel wine, made with local honey and fermented in a Kentucky bourbon barrel.
Red wines are a favorite of the Williams family from Philadelphia, in town to visit daughter Sarah and her boyfriend, Matt Monaco. Tom Williams and his wife, Sue, had planned on taking an actual local wine tour before learning about the festival. Tom Williams considered it one-stop shopping.
“This is our fourth adventure into wine tours,” he said.
Sue Williams enjoyed the Thirsty Owl offerings. Tom appreciated the variety of red wines.
“You could have a glass of Cabernet at every booth here, and they would all taste different,” he said. “If you had a glass of Pinot Grigio at every booth, they would all taste the same.”
He’d taken one or two glasses at every booth he’d visited so far. Sue, having had a bit less, refused to count the sips she’d had of his samples. Monaco had eight glasses, but said he wasn’t done yet.
Sarah Williams took the tasting laurels in her family: “I’ve had 10 to 15 sample glasses and a hot dog,” she said, smiling.