Brotherhood Winery

A blog about Brotherhood feels like a blog about the history of the American wine industry. It picked its first commercial vintage in 1839, which means Brotherhood was making before California even joined the United States.

Brotherhood was one of the few wineries to continue making wine during Prohibition. It even pioneered modern wine tourism; apparently this was quite the party spot ‘back in the day’. So next time you visit a winery, you can thank Brotherhood for inspiring that idea.

Founder Jean Jaques was French cobbler who in 1837 planted a vineyard in the town of Washingtonville, selling fruit to customers in New York City. When grape prices dropped he decided to switch from selling grapes to making wine, naming his business Blooming Grove Winery.

Blooming Grove – which after several changes of ownership was renamed the Brotherhood Wine Company around 1886 – was a commercial success. While its profits were originally driven by the sale of ‘medicinal tonic’ and sacramental wine, over time they also produced more wine for commercial sale. It appears most of their wines used American grape varieties, although they did source grapes from elsewhere.

Brotherhood also made sparkling wine labeled as ‘champagne’, long before that term was exclusively used by the French.

The advent of Prohibition in 1920 hurt business but didn’t shut it down, as they pivot to their roots of making ‘medicinal’ and church wine. Fortunately, they never relinquished their stock of sparkling, so when Prohibition ended in 1933 they had a stock of sparkling wine on hand to celebrate.

Brotherhood also pioneered modern wine tourism. While wine sales slumped in the 1970s the owners capitalized on their location outside New York City and historic backdrop and organized tours (and parties).

Today, Brotherhood is owned by a South American wine consortium and purchases grapes from around the United States, although New York fruit seem to get a special focus. I didn’t learn its production numbers, but I get the sense they do a lot of custom crush and bottling for other NY wineries. Brotherhood doesn’t own any vineyards though, so don’t show up expecting long rows of picture-perfect vines.

Brotherhood has a religious connection in their history, but not what you might think. No, they never had monks planting vines or stomping grapes. It’s much better than that – the name was inspired by what might be considered a religious cult.

Not far from the winery was spiritual commune called “the Brotherhood of New Life”. This community had some interesting ideas, among which was that God is bisexual (I swear, I’m not making this up) and promoting the use tobacco.

The wine merchants who owned the winery also sold wine made by this commune. New owners Jesse and Edward Emerson liked this name so much they adopted it, becoming “The Brotherhood Wine Company”.

If you’re going to visit, make sure to do a tour first. The cellars – also dating back to 1839 – and are so big they actually doubled as a bomb shelter. PS – if you MUST utilize a bomb shelter, this is the one to stay in because it’s stocked with some of the most massive wine barrels that I’ve ever seen. The tour lasts about half an hour but it’s definitely worth it.

As for the wines, they are most famous for their Rieslings (a lot of fruit comes from Wagner Vineyards) but they sell everything from sweet wines to port-styles to Carménère and Pinot Noir. Their port-style has consistently been my favorite, although I’ve also enjoyed their carménère and pinot noir.

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