SpeakEasy: Debbie Gioquindo, Hudson Valley Wine Goddess

One of my favorite parts of conducting our SpeakEasy series of interviews with bloggers is virtually traveling to a new part of the country, a new wine destination. Thanks to Debbie Gioquindo of Hudson Valley Wine Goddess, who grew up in the region and still calls it home, I've added another destination to my wine journeys. You'll find Gioquindo in LaGrange New York or, wine trailblazer that she is, in Cape May, New Jersey, which she points out as a budding wine region.

You grew up in Hudson Valley Wine Country and live there today. How has the area changed? And has the local wine industry played any part in its development?

Oh my gosh, it has changed leaps and bounds. When I moved there when I was 9, my friends thought I was moving to farm country to milk the cows.(I moved from New Rochelle, NY which is right outside of NYC) Indeed that is what the area was like. Now it is quite built up and has become a backyard community to New York City. Don’t worry, there is still that country charm. With the open space memorandum of preserving the farmland, I see many farms being saved that would have been sold off to developers.

There is a huge farm to table movement in the region and the local wine industry is growing as is the local craft beer and distillery industry. Tourism is a driving force in the Hudson Valley. I believe with the growth of agritourism, the local wine industry has played a part in the increase of tourism to the region. Many people didn’t know what the region holds. I believe when I was the marketing consultant for the Shawangunk Wine Trail and ED for Hudson Valley Wine Country I brought awareness to the region and helped shape the future of the Hudson Valley and the wine industry.

Travel and wine are two loves that you have combined and pursued professionally and personally. What are some of your favorites places to visit in the world and why?

Stateside, I love California. It offers so much, yes there is wine but there is so much more. As an East coaster, you can’t beat the weather. Two international destinations I love are Greece and Italy. Unfortunately I was in Greece before I found my passion for wine (I don’t want to date myself so I won’t tell you the year, but it was before kids) I would love to go back to Greece and explore the wines. I have had quite a few and have seen a great increase in the quality of the wines coming from the country. Italy was just wonderful. Between the food, the wine and the history, need I say more. One place on my bucket list is Hungary to explore my family wine roots in Tapolca.

People would probably be surprised by the history of wine in Hudson Valley, especially that of Brotherhood Winery. Can you talk about its beginnings and what the future of the industry looks like?

The Hudson Valley is the oldest wine region in America. In 1677 the French Huguenots planted the first vines in New Paltz and discovered the unique combination of soil, climate and sun makes it ideal for grape growing conditions. The Hudson River helps keep the climate temperate and the valley serves as a conduit for maritime breezes from the south. With Benmarl Winery home to the oldest vineyard in America “Slate Hill Vineyard” and Brotherhood Winery “America’s Oldest Winery” the area is full of viticulture history. Brotherhood Winery was founded in 1839 by John Jaques. The birth of “wine tourism’ occurred at Brotherhood Winery in the 1960’s. The Farrell’s who were the owners 1947 - 1987 began offering free winery tours on Friday afternoons. Soon Brotherhood began hosting thousands of weekly tour visitors and these tours became a major part of their winery business is it is today at most wineries.

As for the local wine industry today, I have seen such a tremendous improvement in the quality of the wine in the Hudson Valley over the past few years. The wine industry is working together to improve viticulture practices and winemaking. There is also new vineyards being planted and wineries opening owned by the younger generation bringing new ideas into the region.

[Find out ten of Gioquindos' Hudson Valley spots for food, wine, or a cold beer.]

Some of the wine grapes grown in the Hudson Valley will be familiar to everybody: Chardonnay, Pinot Noir. But there are also a lot of hybrids like Seyval Blanc and Vidal. What does it take to get people comfortable trying wines made from these grapes? Do people take wines made from hybrids less seriously?

I think if you look at a wine with no expectation and try a Seyval Blanc or any other Hybrid grape you will like it. With that being said, many people are just use to their comfort zone of Chardonnay, Pinot Noir etc…moving outside of it, to something they aren’t familiar with, they pre-judge the wine. My feeling is when you name a wine say like “Awosting White” which is a blend of Seyval and Vignoles from Whitecliff, people taste it, they like it, they don’t question the grapes it’s made with. I feel people look at wines made from hybrids less seriously, but one has to understand the climate that they have to work with. Not everyone can grow Pinot Noir. Understanding that, when you have a good winemaker that understands the grape you will get a good glass of wine.

I watched a video with you and Keryl Pesce, your business partner in the creation of Happy Bitch Wines. And it wasn’t a happy time for either of you, as it’s a story involving divorce and job loss. How did this partnership help both of you through some tough times?

I can only speak for myself here, and Keryl’s divorce was many years ago, where my downsizing was 2011. Creating a wine brand was something I always wanted to do and never thought it would materialize. I think fate put us together. If I wasn’t on twitter at that time I would have never seen her tweet. Any time you lose something, whether it’s a job or spouse, it is a blow to your ego. Creating this wine brand for me brought excitement back to my life and allows me to use both my wine and marketing skills, which is what I enjoy.

Keryl is the author of a book called “Happy Bitch”; what were your thoughts on using this name for the wines? What kind of feedback do you get from people regarding the name?

Honestly at first I thought the name was a bit racy and questioned whether it would be accepted. But then you have to be different and think out of the box. You can’t be dull and boring in society today, you won’t stand out. Especially in the wine industry which is so competitive. There are a lot of women that can identify with us and our struggles. (And men too – You would be surprised how many men give us the high 5 when out at tastings, you go girls!) For the most part our feedback has all been positive and we are growing a nice community.

You also have a podcast. What does this medium do for you that writing does not when it comes to covering a topic?

I am more of a verbal person and love a good conversation. Writing doesn’t come easy to me. In fact some of my best writing comes to me when I talk to myself in the car. When I try to recreate the thoughts, it just doesn’t look the same on the computer screen. If I grabbed the cell phone to record my conversation with myself, I would probably get into an accident. I feel podcasting allows you to get up close and personal. Listeners can feel a part of the conversation, more information gets exposed. Listeners can feel the emotions and passion get to know that person and what they are all about.