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Growing a Wine Culture

June 28, 2019

The Capital Region isn’t quite the same heavy drinking place it may have been twenty years ago. I wasn’t here then, but I’ve heard stories. There’s a reason we have so many neighborhood taverns. And I’m not passing any judgement. I love these local places, where you can go to feed your soul, and warm your bones in the frigid depths of an Albany winter.

More than anything, we’ve got a beer culture. And it’s amazing. I have a hypothesis or two about how this relatively small part of upstate New York is able to get its hands on such amazing beers, but that’s a conversation for another time. Get yourself to one of our better breweries, beer stores, or beer bars, and prepare to be delighted.

However, after moving here from California, I was dismayed at the state of wine at our local wine bar, most of our better restaurants, and at our regional wineries themselves. We had no wine culture, and it showed. Okay, “no wine culture” may be a bit strong as dp’s was the notable exception. Plus the Fort Orange Wine Society was surely still carrying the flame.

Today, I’m thrilled to say we’re at a point of inflection.

When I first met Vic Christopher as he was building out the Lucas Confectionery in Troy, I told him he was crazy to open a wine bar… in Troy. If memory serves, I said, “Troy isn’t exactly a wine kind of town.” But he and Heather Lavine proved me wrong.

Part of their success, beyond the fact that they were the only game in town, was that they tried to make wine accessible. This was a casual place, which invited you to come and hang out. There was even wine on tap.

Heather’s wine store 22 2nd Street is my favorite in the region, because it serves a singular purpose. There she sells her beloved natural wines, in a tightly curated, and ever changing inventory. Even if you know nothing about wine, you can go in, speak to anyone working there about the flavors you enjoy in beverages, the foods you might be eating, the event you are attending, and the amount of money you would like to spend, and they will find you the perfect bottle… or mixed case.

Once Troy established itself as a wine town, Hudson-Chatham Winery opened up a tasting room on River Street. For those who don’t know, this winery makes wines in upstate New York from grapes that grow well in upstate New York! It’s a novel concept, but it’s a challenging one, because it results in wines with unfamiliar names.

These are our wines, and the challenge is making them well, and letting the grapes express a sense of place. They aren’t supposed to taste like a Pinot Noir or a Cabernet Sauvignon. You need to enjoy them for what they are. And I do.

I’ve longed to sit out on river street while enjoying a chilled bottle of their estate Seyval Blanc, which you can drink on site for just the retail price of the bottle. No markup! I love that so much.

Today, things are starting to get interesting.

Pōst Wine Bar recently opened up on Lark Street and is also preaching the gospel of natural wine. They too have a tightly curated selection of wine by the glass, and on Mondays it’s happy hour all day, when every glass of wine is $2 off. This is a great place to explore these unique, fresh, and vibrant wines.

A little further down the street, 288 Lark Wine & Tap just opened its doors. The place seems to take on more of an Italian vibe. However, the menu posted online lists the availability of wine flights that I love, and includes a structured tasting flight of wine paired with chocolate. Ooh, that sounds fun.

These are in Albany, which means our growing wine culture has crossed the river!

Back in Troy, the River Street Market is gearing up to open. Stacks Espresso and Sweet Sue’s Copper Pot are already fully functional. And in addition to the Jaime Ortiz burger stand, the Mazonne concept incubator, the BBQ spot, and the health food place, is Luka’s.

Luka’s Salumeria & Spirits, is in no way affiliated with the Lucas Confectionery, but it too is a wine bar with cured meats and cheeses. Actually, their sandwich menu looks fantastic! We’ll see what the wine selection

I know that Vic thinks the name of this new upstart is too similar to his place on 2nd Street. Frankly, I wasn’t convinced until just now when I tried to Google “Luka’s wine bar Troy, NY” which returns results for Lucas Confectionery instead. So maybe it will be good for Vic and Heather, as people who hear news of a wine bar in Troy will head to the internet for directions, and their phones will bring them to 2nd Street instead of the Hedley Building.

Who knows. We’ll have to see how this plays out.

Regardless, it’s clear that wine is having a moment, and I am encouraged to see interest for wine bars rise. Now, all we need in New York is to have wine available in supermarkets. And then restaurants will be compelled to up their wine game as well. I just wish I was able to stick around and be here when that happens.

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