If you’ve never been to Brotherhood Winery in Washingtonville, in nearby Orange County, NY, put it on your itinerary for this fall. Not only are the wines well worth the visit, but the winery is steeped in history. Yes, America’s Oldest Winery is indeed right here in the Hudson Valley!

Roll back the years to 1824 – almost 200 years ago! – when John Jaques established a vineyard on his farm in what was then known as Blooming Grove. By 1835 the Jaques family was selling grapes and making wine under the name of Blooming Grove Wines. The first commercial vintage was produced in 1839, which is considered the birthday of the winery.

Pride in product first

From the beginning, the winery seemed destined for big things. By 1858 the winery was producing 15 styles of wine and had about 35,000 gallons of wines, port, and brandy in its hand-dug cellars. Think about that! John Jaques’s three sons were in charge, and the name changed to Jaques Brothers Winery. A love of the winery life clearly flowed through their veins. John Jr. is quoted as saying, “The desire for gain never influenced my father to run a vintage that had not thoroughly matured. The purity of our wines was our pride and first consideration.” Sadly, as the brothers aged and passed away, the operation was sold in 1886 to a commercial enterprise, J.M. Emerson & Co.

Business and bubbles

The Emersons were businesspeople first, and continued the expansion of the winery, deciding to add a focus on Champagne in addition to the other styles of wine being produced there. The Emersons made the sparkling wine in the Champagne style, methode champagnois, which requires timed turning of all bottles. They invested in farmland in Hammondsport on Long Island to establish additional vineyards. The Emersons were also religious, and were part of a national group called the Brotherhood of New Life, which was founded by an Anglo-American preacher, spiritualist, and – surprisingly enough – vintner, Thomas Lake Harris. The Emersons named their winery Brotherhood because of their association with Harris’s community. When some of its then 2000 followers objected to the winemaking, Harris apparently reassured them that his wine was filled with divine breath, neutralized of noxious influences. I’d like to try that kind of wine.

Making it through Prohibition

When Prohibition went into effect, Emerson and his new partner, Louis Farrell, renamed the winery The Brotherhood Corporation, which by law at the time, was able to produce wines for sacramental and medicinal uses. It was a move that kept the winery in business, able to operate even through the Great Depression years of 1929-33. When Prohibition was lifted in December 1933, the winery celebrated by making available over 500,000 bottles of its 1915 vintage of Champagnes. What a Christmas that must have been!

The party years

Upon Edward Emerson’s death in 1942, Brotherhood remained in the capable hands of his partner Louis Farrell. When he died just five years later, he passed it to his son, who tragically died only three months after that. Fortunately, a cousin – Francis Farrell – and his wife, Eloise, took over the business and kept it going and growing. They recognized the significance of the winery’s history and rebranded Brotherhood as “America’s Oldest Winery.” Their acknowledgment of its history did not keep them from resting on its laurels. The Farrells continued the tradition of dedication to quality and selection, and had a knack for creating buzz. They promoted the winery as a tourist destination, offering free tastings and tours, and hosting themed parties. Soon people were flocking to the winery by the thousands in what was to become the very important business of wine tourism here in the Hudson Valley and across the country.

Pride in product continues

Tough economic times in the 1980s took their toll on the winery. In 1987, Brotherhood was bought by a partnership of local businessmen including winemaker Cesar Baeza. Like generations before them, they recognized the value and potential in the historic winery and set about reestablishing its prominence in the state and beyond. Baeza focused on making high-quality wines from vinifera, including Pinot Noir, Cabernet Sauvignon, Riesling, and others, alongside the hybrids and specialty wines. After a devastating fire in 1999, Baeza joined with the Chadwick and Castro families of Chile to help rebuild yet again. It is thanks to their commitment and vision that Brotherhood is as viable as ever.

Focus on past, present, and future

I caught up with the winery’s marketing manager, Renee Schweizer, to learn about what Brotherhood is up to today, always with an eye on tomorrow. Her enthusiasm is contagious, and it’s clear that the winery is firmly rooted in the successes of its past and a vision for its future – all while producing very fine wines.

What it’s like to work at America’s Oldest Winery? 

My office is located right above the bottling and production plant of the winery, so every morning when I walk in, I’m greeted with the aromas of whatever wine is being bottled that day – I don’t think you can ever really get tired of that!

Many people don’t realize that Brotherhood does a lot more than produce local New York wines and serve as a great destination to visit. Currently owned by two Chilean families, the Castros and Chadwicks, Brotherhood is viable on the national and international stages. Our wines today are widely distributed inside and outside of New York State, and we export internationally, offer contract packing services, and even have an import division branch, Vinecrest Co. In short, working for America’s Oldest Winery is exciting. We’re always aiming to do new things while paying homage to our historical past. It’s a nice blend.

What are traditions that Brotherhood is most proud of?

Our calling card has always been our longstanding history of over 180 years of winemaking, but another constant is our commitment to the necessary growth and innovation of producing quality wines. If you look back at the history of the winery, each owner imparted growth and expansion for their time that allowed the winery to flourish and really stand the test of time, especially Prohibition! To this day, Brotherhood Winery puts great importance on continuing that legacy. We continue to invest in the latest wine making technologies and prioritize the quality of our wines.

Brotherhood is home to the one of the largest hand excavated underground cellars in the United States, which dates back to 1839. Our wines are still barrel-aged in these cellars, something we are very proud of. We also have a great tradition of offering Grape Stomping to visitors every weekend in the fall, paying tribute to winemaking techniques of days past!

What is Brotherhood doing to keep itself current?

Aside from keeping our facilities modernized, which certainly plays a big part in keeping our services and products current, Brotherhood keeps a close ear to the trends of the market. Recognizing that a new generation of wine and alcohol drinkers is on the rise, Brotherhood rose to meet that call by producing #Bae Wines, a wine brand geared towards the millennial wine drinker. #Bae Wines offers a non-intimidating, uncomplicated and relatable wine drinking experience – Before Anything Else, #Bae Wines are there for you! The #Bae line offers a refreshing Riesling, both in bottle and can options, a Sparkling Rosé, and a line of wine seltzers just released this summer in Black Cherry, Peach, Pineapple, and Watermelon. #Bae Wines was made with one goal in mind, to be everything you need in a Bae and invites people to enjoy and share their #Bae Wines experiences on social media @Bae_Wines

Brotherhood’s 2017 Cabernet Sauvignon was awarded “Best Cabernet in NY State” at the 2021 New York Wine Classic Competition. And we were awarded exclusive use of the iconic I     NY logo, which is on our I     NY Red Blend.

What distinguishes Brotherhood’s visitor experience?

A visit to Brotherhood is an extraordinary opportunity to experience the perfect blending of a rich historical past with a modern-day present. Our calling card has always been our longstanding history of over 180 years of winemaking but another constant is our commitment to the necessary growth and innovation of producing quality wines.

We take pride in sharing both our historical location and quality wines with visitors. Although our operating procedures have been updated to better ensure the safety of our visitors and employees in a COVID-affected world, we still offer our famous underground tours of our cavernous cellars, still in use today, as well as wine tastings. The Brotherhood Village offers seasonal events and live music, an eclectic gift shop, 1839 Restaurant and Bar, as well as the perfect destination for a wedding or corporate event in the Grand Monarque Hall.

The best part about our location is that we are right in the heart of the Hudson Valley, which means there’s a lot to see and do! We are located minutes away from Schunemunk Mountain so there are a lot of great trails and hiking opportunities for nature lovers. Storm King Art Center is also a quick drive away and boasts beautiful outdoor sculptures and grounds.

If dining out is the main focus, we suggest heading down to the Newburgh Riverfront and checking out the various restaurants, most of which overlook the Hudson River. That area in general offers a lot of activities depending on the season including river tours and kayaking/canoeing opportunities. Of course, we recommend visiting any and all of the wineries on the Shawangunk Trail!

What’s something you can share about Brotherhood that would surprise people?

Most people think of Brotherhood as a great historical place to visit and then stop there. Brotherhood Winery is the proud producer of wines made from New York State-grown and loved grapes as well as from other American viticulture areas. When people taste our wines, they’re often blown away by the quality and taste. We don’t have any vineyards on our grounds, except for some show vines that we’ll use the grapes from for our Grape Stomping weekends. Brotherhood is actually one of the largest New York State grape buyers, and has been for many years now. We’ve established amazing partnerships with vineyards in the Finger Lakes and North Fork of Long Island. That delicious quality fruit is what enables us to produce the level of wine we are able to achieve today!

On an even lesser-known side of our operations, we bring in wines from around the world through our import division, Vinecrest Co., where we are always seeking the next adventure and frontier of wine. These include wines from Chilean “sister” winery Casas Patronales, as well as distinctive wines from France, South Africa, and more.

Get thee to the winery

With all this – and Grape Stomping – waiting for you, what are you waiting for? Visit Brotherhood: America’s Oldest Winery at 100 Brotherhood Plaza Dr., Washingtonville, NY. Visit their extensive website to go learn more – www.brotherhood-winery.com, follow them on social media, and best of all, find their wines at wine stores across the state so you can enjoy them any time. It’s really something that this treasure is in our back yard and its history can be part of our own celebrations. A toast to America’s Oldest Winery!