Posted on | April 23, 2014
Written by | W.R. Tish
Thanks to that infamous interruption known as Prohibition, most U.S. wineries count their history in decades, at most. However, Brotherhood, based in Washingtonville, NY, is about to celebrate its 175th anniversary. A new illustrated book—The Story of Brotherhood, America’s Oldest Winery by Robert Bedford (Flint Mine Press)—set for release in May tracks the colorful history. This multi-faceted company not only played a leading role in American winemaking, but also it reflected the blossoming of our wine-drinking culture as it evolved.
The Brotherhood timeline entails dramatic changes—in ownership, name, products and business goals—not to mention a devastating fire (1999). But in hindsight, Brotherhood’s sometimes jagged path of progress features threads of foresight, resiliency, innovation and a sense of fearlessness. Among the historic hallmarks (covered in detail in the book):
Brotherhood created the nation’sfirst hand-dug underground vaults—which were later expanded and to this day are among the most spectacular in the nation.
By taking establishing a network of customers for sacramental and medicinal wines, Brotherhood was able to continue production throughout Prohibition, distributing nationwide.
Viticulture at the property mirrored the evolution of the industry, moving from vitis Labrusca to hybrids (1970s) to Vinifera grapes (1987); meanwhile, installing modernized equipment over the decades enabled expansion and heightened quality.
Brotherhood was producing a broad range of sparkling wines long before American (and European) producers pushed the bubbly envelope in California.
Brotherhood invented wine tourism as an industry, offering tours and tastings in the scenic Hudson Valley since the 1950s and specializing in public events; 150,000 visitors and 14,000+ event guests are expected in 2014.
In Sync With America
The Emerson family, owners from 1886-1920, demonstrated a keen business sense, establishing the Brotherhood brand and a network of key on-premise accounts as far away as Philadelphia, Boston and Chicago. The following owners, the extended Farrell family, changed the focus to sweeter wines, following post-Prohibition and post-WWII American tastes, (attributed to the popularity of soda pop for the generation which was unaccustomed to wine during Prohibition). The Farrells also accelerated a then-radical effort to increase tourism to the winery. Then, as before and after, Brotherhood had a finger on the pulse of Americans’ tastes.
Today, led by a partnership (formed in 2005) of enologist Cesar Baeza and the Luis Chadwick and Pablo Castro families of Chile, Brotherhood is enjoying the best of several worlds, with tourism, contract production and the winery’s own label thriving side by side. Brotherhood Winery since 1987 has developed a range of award-winning vinifera wines. Recently the winery has also excelled in new product development as well as in the contract packing business, and was recognized as the exporter of the year in 2014.
Under a new management team headed by Hernan Donoso, Brotherhood has embarked on far-reaching upgrades that include increased tank capacity, new bottling equipment and renovation of all facilities. Donoso is especially proud of the winery’s achievements being in New York—in an industry so often associated with California. Buoyed by 175 years of progress, his focus now is on the future. Brotherhood recently launched cider production, and is committed to operating on a global scale. “Brotherhood Winery decided five years ago that we have the human resources, equipment and production capabilities to be competitive at all levels,” he says, “producing quality wines for us and for our contract packing clients so they can be proud of the brands they entrust to us to produce for them.”