When winemaster Cesar Baeza first took over the Brotherhood Winery, he says he felt like a missionary. “Sometimes the last thing people think about is local wines, but little by little we started coming in with quality wines and converting people,” says Baeza, who purchased the Washingtonville based winery with several partners in 1987.
Brotherhood Winery is the oldest winery in America and was opened in 1839. After almost 60 years in existence, the winery changed hands and was renamed the Brotherhood Winery. It was named after the Brotherhood of New Life—an experiment in utopian communal living in the Hudson Valley.
A native of Chile, Baeza has always had a passion for wine making. He attended the University of Chile, earning a degree in viticulture and enology. He was awarded a scholarship to pursue his Master’s degree in viticulture and enology at the University of Madrid. He also studied at the University of California, Davis and at California State University, Fresno. After graduating, he worked briefly at the Brotherhood Winery in the 1970s and then PepsiCo hired him for its research and technical service division in Valhalla. As part of his job, Baeza gave technical assistance to suppliers and company-owned wineries worldwide. PepsiCo owned brands included Yago, Stolichnaya, and Roland Thevenin of Burgundy.
In the late ’80s when Baeza heard the Brotherhood Winery was for sale, he decided to leave PepsiCo and purchase it.
“It’s the oldest winery in America. It has a lot of mystique, it has so much charm, so much history,” he says. He adds that he thought a vineyard in New York was an ideal location because one of the largest markets for wine in the world is New York City.
Since he has taken over, Baeza has steadily expanded Brotherhood Winery’s business. “New York has started giving us some respect which is something that we didn’t have many years ago,” he says. Beyond the wine, Brotherhood Winery has picturesque grounds and is home to a catering facility and restaurant called Vinum Cafe.
The winery’s specialties are Riesling, a white wine and Pinot Noir, a red wine. Both types of grapes grow very well in the Hudson Valley.
“Wine is fashion,” says Baeza. “The movie Sideways made Pinot Noir very trendy, very fashionable and luckily we were one of the top producers of Pinot Noir. So we were at the right place at the right time—for once, we were lucky.”
He adds Pinot Noir is “one of the wines that I love to make because it’s one of the most challenging wines, and New York happens to have the right climate for growing Pinot Noir and making one of the best Pinot Noirs in the country.”
Baeza says that the Hudson River plays an important role in grape growing in the Hudson Valley. “The river is very important for growing grapes because like the Rhine River in Germany (where the Riesling grape originated), the Hudson River also allows the temperature to be temperate, not to have the large variation between day and night, it’s not too cold not too warm. So it’s always a good thing to be next to the river for a winery.” Brotherhood-winery.com