By Carlo DeVito
J. Stephen Casscles, better known by friends as Steve Casscles, is an accomplished lawyer and winemaker. He graduated Marlboro Central High School, attended the State University of New York, Albany, and got his law degree from Northeastern University School of Law. Ever the individualist, as a young man, rather than visit Europe, he traveled India and Nepal. He has been counsel to various New York state senators for more than 20 years. While his specialty is insurance and healthcare practices, he has also written or contributed to many of the liquor laws in New York state.
In 2002 he worked with Greg Quinn, of the Hudson Valley, to overturn a 100-year ban on the growing of black currants, which instantly made the Hudson Valley one of the largest producing regions of artisanal cassis in North America. In 2005 he co-authored, along with State Senator William J. Larkin, Jr., the report A Proposal for Renewed Growth of the Hudson Valley’s Grape and Wine Industry, which suggested remedies and proposals to improve the wine industry in the Hudson Valley. He authored several papers on increasing wine tourism, and helped to shape the language of the laws, again introduced by Larkin, which allowed for Beverage and Cuisine trails around the state, and improving farm winery laws, allowing those businesses to operate with more flexibility and encouraging satellite operations so those businesses could expand.
Steve’s love affair is generations deep- his family grew grapes and shipped grapes down the Hudson Valley for generations. He started working for Mark Miller and Eric Miller at Benmarl Winery while still in high school, and has been making wine ever since.
In 2006, Steve joined forces with the Hudson-Chatham Winery, and launched a series of wines that have garnered unanimous critical praise from the nation’s top wine magazines, journals, and web-based media. He has reintroduced a half dozen heirloom grapes into the commercial market through varietal releases. Under Steve’s watch, Hudson-Chatham Winery had achieved the highest rated Baco Noirs in North America, and created the first red hybrid wines to receive scores of 90 or higher.
Steve is also a grape historian, who for three or four years has been working on an intense project, cataloging all the grapes of the state of New York and the Hudson Valley, and writing down the histories and tendencies of each grape, along with the biographies of the hybridizers of the Hudson Valley and of the greater region. This research culminated in his book The Grapes of the Hudson Valley and Other Cool Climate Regions. Steve also has his own nursery, where he propagates and sells vines to private and commercial growers.