What is NY’s oldest winery? Wrong!

25 Aug

The iconic Brotherhood Winery in Washingtonville, NY, has long laid claim to being the oldest winery in the United States. That claim is being challenged by a tiny Livingston County organization.

The upstart is the York Historical Society, headquartered in the Warren Homestead which was built in the 1830s by Samuel Warren (below left), a York grower and businessman.

They note that Warren’s first wine vintage was 1832, which would make Brotherhood not even the oldest in the state although it still can claim the title of oldest operating winery. By 1853, Warren’s line of York Wines topped the 3,400-gallon mark and had a national reputation. His sons, Josiah and Harlan, succeeded him in the growing and winemaking efforts. After five decades of operation, a railroad development program put the family out of business.

His reputation lay fallow for generations, until the York Historical Society recently purchased the property and decided to create tourism interest to help finance restoration and development of the property, in part by making it known as the birthplace of New York State’s wine industry. Society President Gary Cox has spearheaded the effort, and cites an 1836 newspaper ad for York Wines as proof of the tenure of Warren’s wines.

Cox, a retired college philosophy professor and amateur historian, says Samuel Warren came to the area from eastern New York at the age of 19. The following year, he purchased a 33-acre farm in what would become the Town of York. He built one of the area’s first sawmills, and made bricks and drainage tiles on his property. He also taught in the local school and became known as an expert horticulturist.

“By the late 1820s,” Cox writes, “Samuel Warren had married Sarah Flagg of Boston, MA, and had begun planting a vineyard near Bidwell’s Creek (a.k.a. Warren’s Creek) about two miles south of York Center. … Instead of European grapes, Samuel Warren, like a few others at that time, wisely chose for his vineyard American varieties like Catawba and Isabella. These were, it appears, chance inter-specific hybrids of American wild vines and the European varieties, and, in some cases, like Warren’s Early Catawba, the seedlings of such vines.

“In the autumn of 1832 — 28 years before the founding of Hammondsport’s Pleasant Valley Wine Company and several years before the planting of vines and founding of Blooming Grove, now Brotherhood Winery, Warren’s vineyard had produced enough fruit for a tiny vintage of 20 gallons. … By 1836 Warren was marketing the wine from his own vineyard in York. Cornell Librarian Marty Schlabach uncovered Warren’s advertisement [left] in, of all places, a widely-read periodical of that time called New York Evangelist, now accessible in digitized form. Marty’s discovery has had quite an impact.”

On Brotherhood’s website, it dates its history in these word (bold-faced emphasis mine):

“In 1810, a French Huguenot emigre named Jean Jacques purchased land in New York’s bucolic Hudson Valley and began planting grapes. By 1837, Mr. Jacques needed more land, so he purchased a plot in the quiet village of Washingtonville, NY, and planted another vineyard. By 1839, his first underground cellars were dug and Mr. Jacques fermented his first wine vintage.”

The Livingston County advertising discovery has prompted a number of well-known chroniclers of the wine industry to revise their works to recognize Warren’s pioneering efforts.

The relatively quick demise of the York Wines line came about 1880 when, Cox writes, “apparently with an unrestrained power of eminent domain, the Delaware, Lackawanna, and Western Railroad acquired a right-of-way through the Warren farm that destroyed their family businesses. When travel through York on the DL&W began in 1882, Harlan Warren — Civil War veteran, farmer, winegrower, miller, musician and purveyor of musical instruments –- tragically hung himself in the remains of the winery.”

Today, the York Historical Society markets the New York Heritage Collection of wines (some labels shown above) and a sparkling hard apple cider based on heirloom 19th Century grapes and the Northern Spy apple such as the Warrens and other farmers grew in Livingston County (shown in marked area of map). A charitable donation to the society is built into the selling price. The New York Heritage Collection has collectible labels that link these wines to the story of the pioneering Warren family.

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Posted by on August 25, 2010 in History, Wine, Wineries


10 responses to “What is NY’s oldest winery? Wrong!

  1. Annette Baeza

    August 25, 2010 at 10:39 pm

    Where is the documentation that this was a bonded winery? Brotherhood Winery has bonded winery license #2 (#1 belonged to a winery in Croton Point, NY. When they went out of business #1 was assigned to Pleasant Valley Winery later on,) Pleasant Valley acknowledges that although they are Bonded Winery #1, they are not the oldest. Brotherhood Winery is the oldest continuously operating winery in the U.S. Lots of people were making wine before Brotherhood but were not registered commercial wineries. Churches made their own wine for sacramental purposes. Does this make them wineries? If you want to go this route, how about the native Indians making their own blends from native grapes?

    • Bill Dowd

      August 26, 2010 at 3:03 pm

      Whether it is bonded or not doesn’t make it a commercial operation. You create something and you sell it. That’s called a commercial enterprise. As the story says, Brotherhood is the oldest winery still operating. But that doesn’t negate what others have done.

      • Annette Baeza

        August 27, 2010 at 8:43 am

        Wrong. Hello. In this country you can’t just open up shop and sell the wine you make. Wine has been made by almost every civilization. Here in New York I am sure there were many individuals making wine and probably selling it, including the natives who made wine out of different fruits and may have sold it, traded arms for wine. Does this make them the oldest winery?

        And Jean Jaques who started Brotherhood in Washingtonville, made wine prior to formalizing his business for his First Presbyterian Church, whether he was getting paid on the side, or not, there is no known record. The only records remaining show that Brotherhood is America’s oldest winery and no other winery can make that claim. It’s also the only winery on the Historic Registry and has the documentation to prove it.

        By the way, I am affiliated with Brotherhood, America’s Oldest Winery and we take this very seriously since this is our registered trademark.

  2. Taking Flight

    August 27, 2010 at 6:23 pm

    Interesting point of view. You concede that there is no record of Jean Jaques selling wine before formally starting his business, and your own website says he didn’t have his first vintage until after the Warren operation had already been selling its wine — and of that there IS a record.

    Yes, Brotherhood may be America’s oldest winery STILL OPERATING, and good for you folks and your lengthy success. But, you can’t keep coming up with all sorts of qualifiers to ignore everyone else. You’re still around. They’re not. Stay on a higher plane.

  3. obliterati

    August 29, 2010 at 6:49 am

    As a marketing person I would be comfortable in advising Brotherhood to continue claiming their “oldest winery” status no matter what historical facts are uncovered. In the long copy areas they can then proudly place themselves in the history of all winemakers in the state, eagerly adding the names of any predecessors that are uncovered over time. To the great unwashed, oldest means the oldest they can still buy and adding native American wine making to the list simple points to the absurd notion that that Brotherhood, or any other winery, could actually claim to be the OLDEST.

  4. 監視器

    September 19, 2010 at 11:33 am

    You certainly deserve a round of applause for your post and more specifically, your blog in general. Very high quality material.

  5. Keukahawk

    October 18, 2010 at 11:59 pm

    I never read, saw, heard or experienced Pleasant Valley Wine Company ever claiming to be the oldest Winery in America.

    The implication is/was for attention getting for the story line.

    Born and raised in the Pleasant Valley/Rheims area and had many relatives on both sides of the family work for PV before its current status, as well as friends and classmates.


  6. Gary Cox

    December 4, 2010 at 5:32 pm

    Having just encountered this blog for the first time, I find it very interesting.

    I appreciate Mr. Dowd’s careful replies to one who seems to be challenging the claim that Samuel Warren is now to be regarded as New York’s first successful commercial wine producer.

    I’d like further information about Blooming Grove’s Jean Jaques’ wine production for a Presbyterian hurch. What source or sources confirm this? If it’s accurate it would probably help to bolster the claim that early commercial wine production in NY was directed, at least in part, to the “pent up” demand in Christian churches for communion wine. This claim is, perhaps, surprising, since it was a time of notorious, rampant drunkenness in the young republic — and when, as a result, many Protestant churches would begin to align themselves with anti-alcohol forces.

  7. Jane Oakes

    December 5, 2010 at 8:27 pm

    I’m one of the researchers from the Town of York Historical Society and am still actively researching and fleshing out the story of the fascinating Warren family, who were involved with many of the great social movements of the 19th Century.

    Samuel’s daughter Fidelia would have been one of the first woman doctors in the U.S. had she not died only a few weeks before her medical college graduation in 1851. She is honored on the label of the Isabella wine in our New York Heritage Collection. Samuel Warren and his family were Abolitionists, now remembered in our new entry to the collection “The North Star,” named for Frederick Douglass’s newspaper published in nearby Rochester, NY.

    We take our research very seriously. It was a surprise to all of us to find that the Warren’s “York Wines” met with wine historian Thomas Pinney’s criteria for a “successful commercial winery.” It was run by both Samuel Warren as well as being continued after his death by his sons, Josiah and Harlan Page Warren.

    We never, as a historical society, have claimed to be the oldest continually running winery in the country. That place of honor firmly belongs to Brotherhood/Blooming Grove. Our winery has been out of business since 1882, although another winery the family had a hand in starting lasted until the 1930s — the Irondequoit Winery on Irondequoit Bay near Rochester. What cannot be denied, however, is that Blooming Grove (now Brotherhood) winery was not even running as a commercial enterprise when Samuel Warren, with intent to sell on a commercial basis, placed his advertisement for sacramental wines available from his own vineyard in that burgeoning and widely-read national publication The New York Evangelist.

    Early records in NYS show that people who ran inns and taverns, which often made their own wines and beers, had to pay licensing fees to be in business. Even the Warrens would have had to pay some fees to the state to operate their winery, per my research into this topic. There is a difference, however, between the date of bonding and what constitutes a commercial enterprise. Bonding in itself does not mean that you are the first of your kind to engage in a commercial enterprise, as it is a fairly recent construct of the state and federal governments. Commercial enterprises of all sorts date back to the dawn of civilization, with or without governmental sanctions. Annette is correct in that today you can’t just open up a winery and sell wine without the state getting involved with licensing and bonding, but that is a recent phenomenon in the long history of wine making.

    I would be interested in knowing what sources Annette is able to cite for Native American production of wines from “wild fruits,” and trading them for arms. The writing of the early Jesuit missionaries to what is now New York State don’t mention the Natives they encountered making wines, but perhaps she has access to some documentation that we would be interested in reading.

    Our Historical Society, with the help of several noted Finger Lakes wineries, is committed to bringing our current generation of wine drinkers the heritage grape varieties that were popular when our state was becoming a region noted for its wines. Many of these grapes — the Iona, Vergennes, Catawba, Diamond, Niagara, Concord and Isabella — have in the past gained an undeserved negative reputation with the “wine snobs” but are currently beginning to win top awards at major wine competitions. They often go unnamed and unacknowledged in popular softer table wine blends. We would like to see these grapes be appreciated for their delicious fruity flavors, be named on the label, and enjoyed by a new group of wine drinkers. Their fruit-forward flavors were much admired in the 19th Century, a time when fresh fruits were seasonal, unlike today when we might grumble at the price of green seedless grapes in our supermarket in January.

    Again, Brotherhood deserved its designation as our country’s oldest continually running winery, But they were not the first successful commercial winery in our state. And, the nature of historical research being what it is, a now defunct winery may yet be discovered which extinguishes our admittedly minor claim to fame in the Town of York. We are progressing on a book about the early wineries in New York State, and I can tell you this much right now: There were small commercial wineries to a much larger extent than any of the currently publishing wine historians have even touched on. It’s fascinating research, and I am having a wonderful time with it.

  8. Ron

    February 20, 2012 at 1:02 pm

    Jean Jaques was actually “John Jaques”. I have him as well as his children in census records dating from 1820 – 1910. According to every single record John Jaques was born in New Jersey. It sounds romantic to have his origins from Europe, but there is absolutely no source information for this. When I contacted the winery they were unable to give any historic information on John Jaques origin or ancestry. The web-site and other documentation states him to have been of Huguenot descent. Many Orange County residents at that time had come from various parts of the Minisink Valley which included parts of New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania and even some argued Connecticut roots. My inclination is to believe the census records which state John Jaques having been born in New Jersey about 1890.


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